Robert Lund - Man
Partying Our Way Into Summer
New York Waste, July-Aug, 2003
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NYC Rock at Coney Island Sideshow Theater
Out at the Coney Island Sideshow Theater, you can see freak shows of all kinds during the day. But on many nights, this unique venue presents rock shows in a carnival setting (see www.coneyisland.com for info). On May 29th I attended a show booked by the ubiquitous Frank Wood featuring Peelander-Z, The Drive, and Banana Fish Zero, which excited a bunch of folks who made the Thursday evening journey out to the ocean.
I admit I'd had some trouble at past shows shifting from pure rock-n-roll mode to the cartoon antics of Peelander-Z, but this circus setting was perfect for them, and I was ready. As always, Peelander Yellow, Blue, and Red delivered an intense mix of hard Jap-punk and outrageous theater, involving audience members on stage, eventually handing off their instruments to volunteers so they could cavort about, and the whole set evolved into a melée of punk rock exuberance. Before The Drive took the stage, we were treated to a demonstration by a tattooed lady named Insectivora, who gobbled up live crickets, worms, and maggots, maintaining the sideshow atmosphere. The four lovely ladies of The Drive delivered another great hard rock set, supercharged with Peelander energy. BFZ closed out the night with a great performance, inspiring most of the audience to dance wildly before them. Don't miss the next Wood show at the Sideshow Theater - Sea Monster, Jones Crusher, and The Cyclones (y'know, USA Wasted) on Thursday July 10th.
Les Baton Rouge, headed by the incredible punk rock woman Suspiria Franklyn, is a group from Portugal presently living in Berlin. They finished up a two-month tour of the US with a show at Don Hill's, and I was not the only member of the audience who was blown away by their performance. It was one of those rare shows where the crowd erupts wildly with loud verbal appreciation after each song. Comparisons can be misleading, even mindless, but I have to say that Suspiria's vocal quality, facial expressions, and the boundless energy of her delivery reminded me a lot of Nina Hagen in her early punk period. An extra-long mic cable allowed her to climb all over the speakers, wander through the audience while singing (I just LOVE dancing with the lead singer), and wind up her show singing from the bar in the next room.
Their web site says "We like to think of our music as 'a friend punching another to wake him up from a terrible catatonia.'", and that describes it perfectly. I've been playing their CDs while DJing in various clubs, and someone always comes up and says "This is fantastic, who IS this?". Suspiria started playing punk rock in Portugal in the 1990s, a time and place where people were not accustomed to such powerful manic grrrl rock. She persevered undaunted, forming two other bands before starting Les Baton Rouge with current guitarist James Jacket in 1998. With guitarist Peter Shamble and new drummer Lars Friedrich, they create a feverish blend of punk rock counterpoint which ensures there's never a dull moment in a performance. LBR is taking Europe by storm, and we were quite fortunate to have them visit NYC.
While continuing to write songs and produce and perform music, and having also spent a great deal of time in India on her spiritual development, Nina Hagen has also been hosting her own TV talk show at the Luftschloss in Berlin Germany. She has recently brought this program to American audiences, and I attended her Talkschau at Joe's Pub on June 12th.
The show was as varied as Nina herself, and she exuded a warmth that brought us all closer to her as she shared her interests with us. She told us of her 26-year-old boyfriend, and told us excitedly about a new CD she's recording of Gershwin duets with a big band. Throughout the show, a screen above the stage displayed images from her punk past, and excerpts of her film "Om Gottes Willen" about her spiritual journey and her mentor Baba Ji. Nina performed a number of songs, sometimes playing acoustic guitar, and often backed by the Fisherman Xylophonic Orchestra (including our friend Brucifer on guitar). She spoke with a guest named Lee about mediumship, communication with those who have passed on from this life to another existence. Two white-robed friends Lee and Jeffrey joined her on stage to sing a number of spiritual songs while she played her harmonium.
Jayne County then took the stage to perform her signature anthem "NightTime," and sat with Nina exchanging stories about their long illustrious lives. Then with photographer Amber Gray, Nina discussed her work, and a number of photos Amber had taken of Nina were projected on screen. One, with butterflies, prompted Nina to inform us of their sacred status in some cultures. After more songs with Nina and the band, a most lovely, delicate Iranian man named Armin Ray performed an ethereal piece on the theremin (an instrument which seems to have been designed with him in mind), accompanied by a synthetic string orchestra. The show ended with a bawdy burlesque performance by a considerably-endowed stripper whose name I unfortunaely did not catch.
As ever, one of the most endearing qualities of Nina is how all the disparate aspects of her personality we've seen through the years seem to be present at once. While conveying an idea of the deepest spiritual significance, her active mind will toss in humorous asides, and her face will contort in the same zany way as when she's doing a punk number. Nina has kept the inner child alive through the years, and it lifts the spirits of everyone around her.
I have to mention one other show this month that left me stunned. Arthur and Fred of Sea Monster performed on June 21st at Jayne County's "NOT MAX's" Saturday night party at Otto's Shrunken Head. I've heard great things about Sea Monster for years, but have never seen the band perform. Now, in case you're thinking, as Arthur's friend quipped when I said that, "You must be retarded" - no, I'm not retarded, I just missed a lot of school, and I'm busily catching up on what I missed during some nullified years. The audience was full of Sea Monster fans, who sang along on "The World's Smallest Violin." Arthur and Fred started with a couple of guitar duets, but Arthur went solely vocal when Wild Bill Thompson joined Fred on guitar, crooning with his squawking rubber chicken on a number of songs. Arthur delivers his songs with an intensity I haven't seen anyone match, and the lyrics are anything but inane, packed with content and wit that leaves me yearning to hear them again and again. Jayne County was persuaded to join Arthur for a final duet on "Max's Kansas City" with most of the crowd joining in on harmonies. I'll definitely catch Sea Monster's show at the Coney Island Sideshow theater on July 10th!