New York City/Brooklyn, NY, Europa, 12/07/2012
There comes a time in any artist’s career when the genre he or she helped to create evolves or mutates to such a degree that a scene is spawned, having little if anything to do with the mentality that set it into motion; by this point, said artist will usually eschew any notions of adhering to the scene, favoring the purely artistic route of simply following his or her own original path. Such can be said of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the enigmatic philosopher/poet/performance artist whose voice and words have become the stuff of legend with such proto-industrial luminaries as Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. With a bevy of like-minded musical miscreants in the latter entity, P-Orridge has managed to defy not only established categories, but managed to establish a few new ones… only to defy those and settle into the oh-so-dreaded niche of the highly respected yet painfully misunderstood genius, appreciated because of/in spite of the idiosyncrasy. And yet, was it not such oddities of thinking that drove the creation of such experimental modes that would lay the foundation for everything from industrial to techno, post-punk to neo-folk, and all points in between? On the rainy night of December 7, 2012 at Europa – a second story club next door to a Brooklyn police precinct – the living legends of Psychic TV take to the stage to demonstrate this exploratory spirit, free from the trappings of genre, clique, or scene expectations.
Kicking off the proceedings was the ethereal groove of Starred, which was to this writer an admittedly saccharine intro to the night. The ghostly image of Liza Thorn draped in flowing colors that bounced off of the lighting presents an aura akin to the likes of Janis Joplin or Grace Slick, her voice floating and reverberating atop gentle strums of acoustic guitar made for a lush and ambient opening, bringing to mind the likes of Slowdive or even Julee Cruise’s angelic performances on Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks for David Lynch films. Starred’s set was rather brief, lasting all but a half hour, but to the diverse crowd encompassing everything from pseudo art house hipsters to old-school post-punks to all points in between, the band’s brand of folksy shoegazing was enough to setup a luscious atmosphere that would only permeate throughout the evening, albeit in a darker form.
After a brief pause, a throng of galloping drums and reverberating guitar strums resonate through the speakers, topped off by the gritty baritone of T.J. Cowgill as the dark folk styling of King Dude marches on. The trio armed with a pair of Gretsch guitars and deep tom percussion darkened the mood quite effectively with a helping of songs from the band’s Burning Daylight
albums, evoking the barren expanses of the old west and the pre-civilized frontier spirit of ancient Americana; as if the band were trying to raise the spirits of long dead pioneers and natives lost in the mists of history. Cowgill’s voice bore the subtle country twang of Johnny Cash in his more sullen moments crossed with the gothic whimsy of Nick Cave, as the energetic yet deceptively sparse arrangement of guitar and drums made for a simplicity of tone that belied the depth of the ambience. Decked out from head to toe in black, there was an almost religious reverence to the band’s appearance, which suited the haunting qualities of the music, making for a harrowing and spiritual performance from a band that deserves far more attention in the annals of experimental neo-folk.
As if to channel an emotional shade even darker than King Dude while continuing to tap into the musical consciousness of old-time America, the duo of Bryin Dall and Derek Rush plunged the night’s atmosphere to the abyss with an austere performance of Deconstructing Hank
, Dall’s solo album paying homage to the songs of Hank Williams. With Rush appearing as a wraithlike troubadour providing the musical backbone on a steely acoustic guitar, his face concealed in shadow by his brimmed hat, Dall took to the front with his grim baritone conveying the intensity of emotions prevalent in Williams’ songs, piercing the psyche with tales of heartache and loss the likes of which can only be told by an experienced storyteller who has lived it. Once Dall turns up the volume on his guitar, layers of distorted noises burst from the speakers – the howls of ghostly wind, mechanical shrieks like knives in one’s heart, like a sonic rendition of Williams’ wordplay assaulting the audience with Dall as a fiery gunslinger. Songs like “May You Never be Alone Like Me” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” resonate with a deeper sense of meaning when stripped of their original upbeat country leanings and given the ambience of a decrepit soul in its death-throes, Dall’s voice and aggressive but mood enhancing noise. Ending with “Cold Cold Heart,” Dall leaves the audience aghast at the sight of a virulent display of guitar histrionics, attacking the strings of his axe with a machete – a move that has brought him much renown in the underground avant-garde community. While the audience by this point in the evening might have demonstrated a fair amount of restlessness and impatience for the headliners, as well as a level of confusion at the night’s tonal course, Bryin Dall and Derek Rush exhibited a passion and zest for dark experimentalism that proved a wonderful precursor for what was yet to come.
As stated, Psychic TV has through its three decades of productivity explored the gamut of sonic ranges, touching on virtually every form of music imaginable and creating a few new trends along the way. Commonly associated with acid techno, the collective has through P-Orridge’s guidance strayed even from so simple and rudimentary a categorization, encompassing a genuinely live and off-the-cuff style that attracts a diverse audience such as the one attending this night. From Alive Genese’s rhythmic and sensual bass guitar to Eddie O’Dowd’s energetic and unorthodox drumming, with the addition of electric violin, flute, guitar, and keyboards, fronted by P-Orridge’s commanding presence and performance, with vocals ever shifting between some semblance of melodic whimsy to spoken word, Psychic TV is perhaps the underground music scene’s answer to the psychedelic jam bands of the ’60s and ’70s; a sort of avant-garde proto-industrial improvisation more akin to the likes of The Grateful Dead than to later luminaries of the style such as Skinny Puppy. With a plethora of lighting displays and projection displays to augment the music (with a little audience participation by way of the almost obligatory scent of the ol’ Mary Jane), it would be useless to identify individual songs as each member seemed locked in an audio stream of consciousness, moods and motifs mutating from one phrase to the next with such fluidity that it bore all the benchmarks of a finely tuned machine – well rehearsed enough that each dynamic flight of fancy was met with little to no resistance from either band or crowd. This writer admits to allowing fatigue to settle in, closing my eyes for a period of 25 minutes in a state of half-conscious bliss as the music passed through with all the intoxicating effects of the most potent drug. Adding to the visual component was each musician decked out in denim jackets adorned with various accoutrements; in this writer’s mind, they appeared more as a gang from The Warriors
rather than one of the pioneering forces behind modern music – a statement appropriate to their often confrontational subject matter. By the night’s end, fans young and old were given quite an experience as only Psychic TV could provide.
It is quite a thrill to see a musical force so dedicated to its own craft that the end goal of the performance was simply the enjoyment and fulfillment of the art and to revel in the adulation of those who were witness to it. It didn’t matter whether you were a punk, a jazz aficionado, a rivethead… whatever your subcultural choice, Psychic TV had some thing to offer you, making the performance at Europa on December 7, 2012 a night to remember.
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Photographs by Jessica Pariah (Pariah)