with Hate Dept.

The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA • June 22, 2001 and Club 5, Jacksonville, FL • June 23, 2001

Wow. Has it already been ten years? Um, no it hasn’t actually. But it’s pretty damn near close to a decade since Skinny Puppy tore through the south on the apocalyptic Last Rights tour. And aside from some cameos with Pigface and KMFDM, Ogre live activity has been non-existent. So when news broke that Ogre was hooking up with man/myth/legend cEvin Key and a host of capable hands to give newish record WeLt a live airing, well, I had to be there. Agoraphobia be damned.

First night is at that big ol’ barn, The Masquerade. This club always serves as a fit reminder of why I usually hate big shows. I won’t dwell on it here, but let’s just say I didn’t know that people still crowd-surfed. Eddie Vedder lives, doooooder.

The opening band on both nights is Hate Dept. I think I wrote a review of them before, and I wasn’t all that jazzed. Wild foreshadowing, man. Anyway, Hate Dept. singer boy stalks onstage with Matthew Perry hair and a bright pink fur coat. Wow, how shocking, how androgynous, that upsets my tender sensibilities almost as much as Scott Weiland’s clumsy application of lipstick a couple of years back. Waitasec, is he wearing Nike sweats underneath? What a fella, jumpin’ around like a twat, lookin’ like a football player in the middle of Spirit Week festivities. The music sucks too — Limp Bizkit crossed with The Prodigy’s “Firestarter,” and boy oh boy, we all loved that song, didn’t we? The singer keeps spoutin’ off about how the “goth” audience “sucks” and how they sure “don’t know how to have fun” and “punk rock” this and “punk rock” that. I’m not sure why he’s talking about Blink-182 so much, but it’s a shame he can’t have his ideal audience here to nod loving approval. From the look and sound of things, said ideal audience would be a circle of frat boys furiously engaged in a circle jerk, and he’s got first dibs on the cookie.

Okay, now its hurry-up-and-wait time. I hustle over to a prime position as close to the stage as I can manage (about ten feet away), and within fifteen minutes, I’m totally hemmed in on all sides by bodies. Some guys in front of me pontificate on the ’80s influence in OhGr’s music. They’re pretty spot on.

The OhGr band finally begins to emerge one by one, to a collective ecstatic release from the audience. It sure as hell ain’t mere applause. cEvin Key immediately secrets himself and his purple dreadlocks behind what must be the biggest and scariest looking drum kit ever. Christ, it makes Tommy Lee look castrated. And that’s all I see of him for the rest of the night. Frock-coated guitar player (William Morrison) and zombie keyboard player (Loki) stake out their appropriate spots. Then — what the fuck? Is that Marilyn Manson’s bass player? Nope, apparently that’s Tim Skold. I can’t just let this slide•

Lucky Motherfucker Note: Tim Skold. Let’s lay it all on the line here. As far as the skin-shedding/image rejuvenation goes, Tim Skold is better than David Bowie. With a seeming chokehold on the zeitgeist, Skold has alternately been poodle-haired glam rocker, grunge-lookin’ dark rocker, punky aggro-industrial boy, Keith Flint look-a-like, and the most recent incarnation appears to be Twiggy Ramirez’s slutty older brother. And he has suffered no fallout from any of these musico-image shifts! Yep, all the girls were screaming for Timmy Skold, as were a couple of fanboys who even resorted to shouting out “Shotgun MessIAHHH,” when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to acknowledge their existence on this planet. And why should he? Bleached Ziggy Stardust meets Johnny Rotten hair, enough eyeliner to choke a horse, fishnets on the arms, a razor-thin black minidress, and Slash-like control of a cigarette make him a visual spectacle on par with Ogre. That ain’t a mean feat. Skold gets my highest praise for pulling it off with impeccable cool. Now back to the action.

Ogre finally hits the stage, and oh my god, he looks like the fucking Predator. I hope the pictures come out. It’ll be the only way this assemblage gets proper descriptive justice. He’s a wonderful mess of dreadlocks, tattoos, masks, camouflage, bondage gear, ancient symbols, and warpaint. Fuck yes, Ogre’s back, and I’m not sure whether he’s gonna sing or start taking us all out one by one! He doesn’t look as though he’s missed a single step since Skinny Puppy. The band kicks in, and they just bulldoze over the songs on the WeLt record, propulsive but spare electro in short order becomes full on metal hellfuck chaos. The volume is oppressive but exhilarating, bodies press closer to the stage, hands reach out, desperately trying to make contact, to touch the feral being stalking the stage with flak jacket, leather mask, and Egyptian staff in hand.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ogre even bothers singing the first number, at least he never even comes close to the microphone. Instead he paces back and forth, gesturing, pointing, brandishing an Egyptian mask. The band seems unruffled by this, and power on as if nothing were amiss. Every song from WeLt as well as a few unreleased numbers are recast as absolute juggernauts, with little space for breathing, but lots of broken glass. And yet no subtlety or message is lost. “deviL” becomes an absolute monster, layered over and over with armor-like guitars and percussion, mirroring the mouthpiece, who is still hidden behind a dark green leather cowl. The music-box singsong verses of “earthworM” become even more druggy and disorienting when punctuated by precise bursts of guitar and random noise distortion. Somewhere around this point, that Egyptian spear/mask opens up to reveal a glowing mouth and eyes, Ogre hides his face behind this apparition shroud to unsettling effect. “soloW” is absolutely anthemic tonight, snuff film club sound, and the best part is when it sounds like Ogre is singing “Minnesota” over and over again.

I’m a fucking cracker,” and thus begins “Cracker,” a potent bitchslap ever pointed towards Marilyn Manson and the legions of other fakers who secretly know that they’ve been cashing in on someone else’s act for way too long now. “You think you’re evil but you’re not• it’s so deluded give it up,” brilliant lines all! It’s so gonna be time to pay the piper soon, bastards! “wateR” and it’s vocoders, the slow burn of “chaoS” culminating in a infectious Depeche Mode synth line, the plodding molasses riffs of “minus,” all rendered so beautifully and mysteriously. Towards the end of the set somebody gets the bright idea to bring a digital camera onstage and beam the images captured directly on the wall of TV monitors onstage. What must have seemed like a great Warholian concept at the time quickly degenerates into those annoying crowd shots from Pearl Jam videos. Thankfully, this doesn’t last too long. Ogre presides over everything masterfully, shedding skins, thrashing his arms and body around to a manic rhyme and rhythm that eludes all, and singing(!) with much less distortion and obfuscation than in times past.

Their set is punishing and draining, with both performers and audience straining to greater levels of endurance and expression. By the time the band are ready to begin the encore, the exhausted audience rallies and surges forward, desperate for this one last chance to connect. The band emerges unchanged, save for Tim Skold, who is wearing a cowboy hat, and Ogre who is wearing shorts and a white T-shirt. Weird. The encore boasted two new numbers, “Magic” and “Frozen Sky,” which are intriguing pointers for possible musical detours. I think the digital camera follies resume. By this point, Ogre’s ignoring all of that completely, choosing instead to trace invisible lines with his fingers, up and down the wall of TV monitors that backdrop the stage. Searching for patterns and logic in the midst of insanity and longing. Too perfect.

Aftermath Note: I stumble out of the concert into the cool, clear Atlanta night. Walking back to the car, I notice two guys sitting in the brightest, whitest truck ever, right next to us. As I wait to be let in the car, one of the guys yells over, asking what we thought of the show. Generally positive responses are met by disbelief, as shadowy guy number one declares the show a total letdown, and shadowy guy number two scornfully remarks that Ogre is nothing but LA street trash now. I about piss my pants at that one, as my posse reacts with disbelief and anger. When shadowy guy number one shoots back that this show was nothing compared to 1992’s Last Rights tour, the argument ends in my mind. That show was emotionally draining and life-changing; this time around it was just one of the best rock shows I’ve ever attended.

The second night’s concert is at Jacksonville’s Club 5. The only thing that differentiates this club from The Masquerade is that it has one of those cool theatre marquees that announces tonight’s entertainment. Guys And Dolls?

Truth In Advertising Note: The promoters billed tonight’s Jacksonville show as “The Remnants of Skinny Puppy.” For shame, for shame. Promoters are such cheap whores. OhGr musta been tickled pink over that one. Hey, as long as they’re dredging up the distant past, why didn’t they use Ogre’s high school yearbook photo for the promotional flyers?

Hate Dept. do their thing. Woo-hoo. I check my pulse, same as last night. We’re warned that Ogre is watching backstage, and that he’ll see how lame we all are. Heh.

Tonight’s between-band delay is damn near interminable.

Dorkspotting Note: An acquaintance from a couple years back walks right by me with real haunted eyes and doesn’t say a word. Turns out he’s all mopey cuz his girlfriend let this scuzzy local DJ have his way with her. Oh, those DJs•

So what if it’s almost a carbon copy of last night’s set? This is always one of the more interesting bits in seeing a band two nights in a row. You get exposed to more of the banalities and alternately the spontaneous magicks of seeing a group of artists respond to the demands of a performance routine. Collectively, OhGr does a great job on all counts, seemingly able to summon emotion and drama and gritty intensity out of thin air. If there is any tour fatigue, it surely doesn’t show. They’re as fresh as they were last night; and they’re not sitting there piddling and pantomiming to a tape for 32 minutes, either. No way, it’s at least two hours of sweaty, theatrical rock action, with enough costume changes to make Axl Rose jealous. I covered most of the salient details in my recap of last night. Let me just hit a few last points.

Ogre is a consummate showman. The live circuit has definitely suffered from his absence over the last few years. I remember when I saw him do a few numbers with KMFDM a couple of years back, and even though he had no props, costumes, and pretty short hair, he still oozed rock godhood. Tonight, he’s a total fucking star. He has the youth of today and yesterday in the palm of his hand, slipping in and out of personae while singing along to cut-and-paste lyrics that would make William Burroughs proud. He still looks fabulous. Better things are clearly on the horizon.

What Do You Have Against Pretty Girls Note: About halfway through the show, in my peripheral vision, I catch a blur of movement stage left way above the OhGr action. I look up and see that there’s this door/platform thing about fifteen feet above the stage, and there’s two dolled-up goth beeeeaaatches cavorting around in scandalous outfits in time to the music. But it ain’t yer standard bump-and-grind (well, not for the most part); no, it seems there’s some interpretive dancing going on. Lesse, so I’m listening to the music and lyrics real hard, and then watching the girls. You got yer ass-slapping, yer rump-shaking, yer cleavage-checking, yer faux lesbianism, etc. etc. etc. to infinity. It’s so wonderful to see that these two junior dominatrix wannabes visualize such complex and downright pained lyrics as truckstop strip/Motley Crue intermission routines. Sigh.

All too soon, Ogre introduces the last number of the night, once again, the encore “Frozen Sky.” Upon reflection, it’s my favorite song of the whole show, because it’s the least direct and obvious of all the material performed, though much more structured than Download. There are more oblique angles and drifts; it’s a cEvin Key composition, and will see release soon. This makes me verrrry happy in that it looks like Key has rediscovered his love for vocal-driven electronic freakouts that nonetheless have discernible (razor-sharp) hooks. There’s another reason. To see Key and Ogre locked into a tight musical synergy once again, feeding off and urging on one another; well, fuck, I’m smiling from ear to ear.

It is only on the ride back home to Tallahassee that I realize that I was dead wrong last night. In holding up the self-negating Last Rights shows as the alpha/omega epitome of Ogre’s art, I am missing the whole point of what Ogre is doing right now. To put it simply, he’s having a fucking ball. How can I begrudge him that? In 1992, Skinny Puppy shows were all about self-immolation and negation, with Ogre acting out characters like the needle-ridden Guilt Man, bleeding for his onstage excesses both literally and figuratively, and for all intents and purposes trying to convulse and contract and collapse back into himself as far as possible. All that would be left is a tiny black pinhole. Thankfully he never fulfilled nihilist aims. Thankfully, he’s found a way to enjoy creating AND performing again. And thankfully, the music that he’s creating now is both a logical extension of his legacy and a clearing of the decks so that the future is all his now, free of suffocating expectations. Good for him.

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