House of Blues, Chicago, IL – 11/25/2016
There I stood… a man unawake at day, underneath a bus stop sign, near a rat hole. November, Turkey Slaughter Day. Coffee… still… kicking… in. Must… not… die!
I’m waiting for the always late Cermak St. bus to take me to the 25 Years of Pigface rehearsal at Reggie’s club in the south loop district of a chilled Chicago. Sun… set. Lake-effect chill… mounting. Demeanor: “M’good… FUCK, it’s cold!”
I was to coproduce the concert video recording and live video stream of this Pigface reunion concert the night following at the House of Blues. This was the warm-up show where you work out all the kinks – a vital and ‘spesch fan musical lovegasm as chummy musician buddy tighten-up, all so ‘nesh for a group as wicked, widespread, and worldly enormous as the behemoth Pigface!
I looked up at the White Castle Hamburgers joint across the street and longed to see the old, now demolished, 11 story building where Martin Atkins had started Invisible Records three decades earlier. And that’s when it hit me… like a pie in the sack of bricks face! Wake up! BAM!!!
No, it wasn’t a Lake Michigan cold front blast (though deadly), nor the occasional pothole “slushy splash-leg,” but indeed it was the slap-in-the-face realization that this supergroup Pigface, was essentially the seed and fruit of a phenomenal, rare, and precious socio-cultural historic anomaly. Anomaly? Yes, Roget. Let’s backtrack. It’s 1985. Yeah, I know, yacht rock. Wrong article. Go jam “The Reflex” in your penny loafers down the block, Wayfarer fool!
Now stir in the birthing “house music” revolution. While Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter, Mickey Oliver, Bad Boy Bill, Ralphie Rosario, J. Silk, and more were sampling breaks and blowing up the Warehouse club on Madison Ave. and Halsted St., young DJs across the south and west sides of the city were throwing “house parties” (yes, da poor folk… Michelle Obama, Common, and Jennifer Hudson included), identified usually by a handmade sign in the window that said “house party tonight!”
“House Music” allowed lots of people to drank cheap and “git dey party on” without having to drive to the city, “look for parking, seriously?!,” and all that jazz. Mr. Lee stepped out one day with the track “Get Busy.” H-GUN! Labs made the video and MTV again shined on Chicago. That’s when Trent Reznor called up, flew in from Ohio, and some H-GUN! Labs intern chicks from the School of the Art Institute grabbed him and his crew and marched them straight to the leather and metal boots and clothing store, the infamous, 99th Floor… in boys town. A bunch of leathery pant purchases, Manic Panic! hair applications, and satisfying polo shirt burnings later, and you’ve got the band we saw in H-GUN! Labs’ seminal music videos “Down In It” and “Head Like a Hole.”
Suddenly, Al Jourgensen and his group MINISTRY were seeing his dominant stranglehold on Chicago’s subversive electronic music scene, (MINISTRY) being celebrated and expanded by Mr. Reznor and later Tool, Filter, and just about everyone the fuck else! Psychic TV and Killing Joke were breaking molds across Europe and fave drummer of them all, Lord Martin Atkins, got that little spark brewing in his keen Leo lion’s eye. It was a hot iron and strike time was optimal.
Uncle Al and crew played a show that was filmed by the H-GUN! Labs team in nearby Merriville, Indiana, called In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up – soon to become a seriously sold/traded VHS tape around town. Out of this supergroup-type show was said to have been the foundations of Pigface. I mean, the blokes literally walked up the stairs past Invisible Records and vice versa going to and coming from H-GUN!. It was perfectly placed.
T’was around this time that Joe Shanahan, Jam Productions, Pure Productions, Kevin Berg (KBA), Smirnoff Vodka, and droves of quality promoters would be taking advantage of both the house music and industrial music fires heating up in the basements, garages, and loft spaces around Chi-town.
The Metro Club (Smart Bar), the Vic Theater, Riviera, Aragon Ballroom, Congress Theater, and more (all burned out and refurbished former “movie palaces” of the 1930s) were booking national and international talent including some newer electronic acts out of Europe and Japan. Apparently, enough heavy PA gear was also being rented and sold around town as the Chicago house sound always could be heard thumping in the distance from some old meat packing building on the south side. It’s pronounced “ser-vo dri-ver,” and if your club didn’t have that 808 kick *WHOOMP*, your party was dead empty.
With breakout music video house H-GUN LABS! three stories above in this old office building on south Wabash Avenue (the scariest public and freight elevators of all time, ever… known to fall/slide up to four flights during frequent malfunction… whoa!), Martin Atkins and team began meticulously bringing industrial music to the entire rest of the godforsaken world! Ahoy, Mateys!!!
Suddenly, the town known for “Da Bears,” Al Capone, and scrumptious high fat pizzas, was about to taste and share some incredibly influential talents with her neighbors in far, far distant, often fascist lands.
Equally, local Chicago alternative electronic groups followed the global promoter paths the Chicago House Music DJs were already finding. With support from Invisible and WaxTrax!/TVT Records (who were signing many fresh acts from both parts of the world), weekend Euro gigs and mini-tours were slammin’ packed, smelly rock bars and sweaty, sexy hot discos all over Europe, Central America, and into the far East.
Chicago had found a niche that New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Austin, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami, and all the other great U.S. music cities had not tapped into. MTV found it, NIN jumped on it, and so did every music producer born since.
And hence, my waking bus stop realization: This perfectly set table had EXPLODED into something very special indeed. Can you say “120 Minutes on MTV?” I knew you could. Enter the obviously needed glue and flagship group for all this creative synergy, Pigface, which popped up like Mt. St. Helens on a moist, balmy day.
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM, Die Warzau, Moby, Killing Joke, Hate Dept., Nine Inch Nails, Gravity Kills, Lords of Acid, Evil Mothers, BILE, MINISTRY, Pop Will Eat Itself, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Ruby, Public Image Ltd., Kittie, Beer Nuts, Test Dept., and more…
Y’know… just your typical little experimental electro band buried in the Midwest cornfields somewhere (WTF!). So, suffice it to say, I had little expectation of quality going in to film this show (satire).
Move ahead past the free turkey and stuffing bins at the surprisingly finger-lickety rehearsal jam at Reggie’s that Thursday, and jump ahead to the audio dynamic wonderhaus known as Chicago’s House of Blues.
It was Friday now. My turkey sandwich, properly wrapped for moisture, refrigerator kept. Memories with family… photographed and secure. Onto the jam I was 25 years in the waiting for. I walked past the ominous Trump Tower and wished it would crumble and be replaced by the old arts-mash building on Wabash; tall and shadowy it was.
Upon entering the HoB club and walking up the plentiful steps to the main room, all I could hear were angels playing harps… well… almost. When I reached the top, I realized it was BobDog filling the enormous venue with electronic string plucks on calibrated echo using some mini Indian Sitar he had strung to his chest and digitally enhanced. The band cadre was beginning to plug-in and it’s always an exciting time to be there in this pre-ether of soon-to-be hard rockin’ merriment.
In attendance were Martin Atkins, Curse Mackey, En Esch, Steven Seibold, Lesley Rankine, Greta Brinkman, Mary Byker, Groovie Mann, Bobdog Caitlin, Jim Marcus, Charles Levi, Krztoff Liggio, Fallon Bowman, Dirk Flanagan, Leanne Murray, Michelle Walters Seibold, Jeff Scheel, Roger Ebner, Gaelynn Lea Tressler, Leyla I. Royale, Martin King, Joel Gausten, Laura Gomel, and Jesse Hunt.
After checking in with the video team and making sure the gear and streaming plan were on point, I got my all access artist pass. Now knighted for the evening, I decided to take a stroll around and see who was already warming up. Historically, and I would say expected for a group as large and diverse as this, there have been those “on” nights, and those “oh so hard to make forgettable once your eyes have seen it,” drunken “sloppy” nights where the band was more of a loose party and less of a cohesive crew of gifted electro-gypsies. But, lucky for me and the rest of us, I found the vibe at the club and backstage as… serious, “game-on” time.
Martin told several tales and acknowledged the absence and politics of the missing Chris Connelly, whom he stated had been asked to come. He had entered the stage holding a sheet of paper and boldly announced that he was now going to read from his “Fuck List.” It ended with him and the entire house chanting “Fuck Pigface.”
As I watched the band from the side balcony opera box, I could see Curse Mackey sitting on an amp, Charles Levi (sunglasses on) brewing, Greta Brinkman, blonde hair on fire, bass guitar strung sexy, the perfect complement to her Naxi war-march boots. NO! Not yet… still not yet… tick… tock… I felt for them. They were like pornstars waiting for the crew to finish the lighting. LOL! Eager.
Enter Steve Silver, the first Pigface tour manager for a second rant; this time, more eloquent and spoken wordy. Later, looking back at the end of the LONG night, these fireside chats were the necessary pre-ice for the inferno of acceleration that was about to ensue. You know when you see a show and there’s that one song that makes it all worth it? When that beauty comes up, you go, “Oh, the tickets were worth the price now.” Well, this show was one where EVERY song was like that!
Story time over… the wind up… the pitch… SMACK! First song – “Insemination” from the album Fook; a release, a loud bangfest! Someone had cut the leashes and these guys were so pumped and so urgent and so ready to give it all to the crowd.
The fans went nuts when it ended and four clicks together of Atkins’ magic drumsticks later, we began a sonic barrage. 30 seconds into the next song, “Asphole,” and duly so, some drunk dude unconsciously falls face forward over the railing behind me six feet to the left and lands on top of some chick in the first row of the opera box (had he been in that first row, he would’ve plummeted onto at least 10 people and death and injury would’ve occurred at the sidebar 25 feet beneath my opera box on the main floor). “Holy CRAP!” It was time for me to move away from the stirring chaos and check in with my streaming video crew. The rest of the set went like this…
Better and better each song, I swear it! Like a vibrating wrench tightening up more and more with each tune and each decade of memories getting more vivid for every devout Pigfacer in the building. Right in the middle of this three-plus hour onslaught… a miracle occurred: all that energy had been manifesting and somewhere in there, I believe after “Weightless,” out rolls Gaelynn Lea Tressler in her wheelchair!
Tressler played one of her amazing songs where she layers several sweet and deep violin riffs and then sings on top. Atkins then asked her to stay and play a follow-up song with the full band as an encore. She later came back for the final songs of the evening. Unreal… truly UNREAL!
Atkins was on one knee next to her, glasses off, weeping during her song, for he felt it inside himself. Not only was this a good performance by a highly challenged person, but this was an INCREDIBLE effort by someone who had overcome her own demons and battles to find glory in music and creative expression. And I’m not just talking about Tressler; I’m talking about Martin Atkins and EVERYONE ON THAT FUCKING STAGE! This was that priceless moment of THIS entire show, where it’s so consistently great, that before long, a spirit appears onstage and broadcasts the show to the heavens. Nobody in the crowd expected that angelic vibe in the middle of this power set – Epiphany.
After the wall-shaking performances of “Godlike” and “Suck” with Jim Marcus front and center and En Esch powering out the chorus like Gods down from a higher realm, everyone took their bows and the joyous ear-buzzing concert ended… huge patchwork velvet curtain flopping closed with authority.
It was 3:00 am now – only one thing to do to cap it all off, just like in the old days. I tossed my turkey sandwich into the rat hole and stepped in through the door as a small bell rang… “Sack of six with cheese, onion rings well done, and a vanilla shake.” It all went down smooth… REAL smooth, people – the night, and the meal. I don’t even remember arriving home honestly. I went from frowning cold night walk face, to greasy, sugar beef lickin’ PIGFACE! Bedside lamp chain tug… rest. Thanks Martin and family. It was one hell of a Thanksgiving weekend and the culmination of a 25 year magical anomaly that was truly divinely inspired.
To watch a webcast of the full performance, visit the Pigface25 website – proceeds from the webcast benefit the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, “a national nonprofit that accelerates real-life skills for youth using music as the bridge to success.”
Article by Chrys Anthem-Wozniak (Chrysanthemum)
Gub (Remastered and Reissued) on PledgeMusic
Martin Atkins/Invisible Records
Website, Facebook , Twitter, YouTube
House of Blues Music Forward Foundation
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube