with Tweaker and Otto Von Schirach
New York, NY • June 20th, 2004
A profound example of the beauty of the live experience, Skinny Puppy’s mere presence let alone its performance Sunday night at Irving Plaza was a miraculous affair. Not one soul in the sold-out venue would’ve placed bets on such a reunion after such disastrous fallout in the mid-’90s, But the reunion of Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key was feasible after their one-off gig at the Doomsday festival in Dresden, Germany four years ago. The seeds were sown, and here we stand, four years later, about to witness one of the most influential electronic/industrial bands of all time, promoting an album of new material, The Greater Wrong of the Right. What are the odds?
Punks, Goths, professionals who used to be Goths, mosh-ready rivetheads, electro geeks and the simply curious all made their way into Irving Plaza for the first of two shows here in New York. By 8:15, the half-filled theater witnessed the IDM/noise blitzkrieg of Miami laptop hero Otto Von Schirach, who also assisted on the Puppy record. The ignorant meatheads didn’t get it, but the rest simply nodded, chuckled or were befuddled as Otto violated his Mac and mic, doing his own standup comedy act in between his digital dementia.
Once Otto’s half-hour set dissipated into half-enthused applause, Chris Vrenna’s band Tweaker quickly took to the stage a few minutes later. The former Nine Inch Nails accomplice (looking eerily similar to Trent Reznor nowadays) took to his drum kit, surrounding himself with a well-dressed Afro’d bass player, well-dressed guitarist/keyboardist and•er, a well-dressed singer behind him. Since Tweaker comes off as quite conceptual on its albums, complete with numerous vocalists and soundscapes, it was a bit difficult to pull it off live as the band sounded more like a better radio band than cool experimentalists. An unusual opening act, given its more rock-driven promise, but the band’s 40-minute set was appreciated enough, largely due to Vrenna’s irrepressible percussive skills.
With forty minutes of anticipation in between Tweaker and Puppy behind them, the crowd roared as the lights finally dimmed. Giant, dreadlocked Key made his way behind his bank of keyboards and effects, as the two backing musicians, including drummer Pat Morrison from Professional Murder Music on drums took to the stage. As the visuals on the screen soon began to flicker mutating anthropological images, a familiar voice began its gravely delivery from beyond the stage with the ominous, opening “Downsizer” from Greater Wrong. In fact, Ogre chose to remain out of view until he creeped out for the follow-up “I’mmortal” in the most peculiar of outfits. But then again, this is Ogre here and he came to the ball in an outfit that would make Mortiis jealous, replete with dirt, gauze and prehistoric headwear.
Since everyone who frothed at the mouth for a new Puppy album rushed to buy it a month ago anyways, beginning the set with a four-song medley of new material wasn’t so risky after all. Skinny Puppy’s brilliance not only lies in its music, but its art, and live, the constantly convulsing Ogre is the main attraction, turning the performance into an internal contact sport, with props in tow (including guns, caution tape, etc). Here, as the screen flickered films of Emperor Bush and his regime, pictures of the Nazi party were spliced in, with Ogre giving false praise and genuine anger during such songs as “VX Gas Attack” and “Dogshit” off Vivisect VI. In fact, many classics were dusted off, including “Worlock,” “Glass Houses” and “Harsh Stone White,” as well as recent material including “Curcible” and “Hardset Head” off 1996’s maligned, yet passable The Process. Though pits constantly erupted, the rowdy ones behaved well for the most part, because this was an experience to appreciate and behold. As the also-dreadlocked Ogre consistently dripped blood over himself, while menacing visual images of his likeness covered the screen in hellfire, one can gauge this show was just as psychological and political as it was musical.
There in lies the art of Skinny Puppy, and regardless of its serious, beautiful impulses, the at-this-point quiet Ogre opened up during the band’s two encores. Dressed in a vascular neon outfit, complete with even more bizarre head attire, he thanked the crowd profusely, even smiling a bit as they played songs like “Testure,” then finally closing with the club classic “Smothered Hope” off their 1983 debut Remission. There’s a reason why this band’s legacy has endured, whether in stasis or revival, and Sunday night’s show was sublime proof. Steel-toed, chain-walleted industrial fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Skinny Puppy: www.skinnypuppy.com