SCREAMERS AT THE WHISKY
The Screamers at the Whisky were terrible.
The Screamers have not always been terrible. I've never been a dyed-in-the-wool, confirmed Screamers fan, but I saw them once in New York, October of last year, where they were anything but terrible, in fact they were great. The scene was another of those ubiquitous art/punk parties, but this N.Y. version was, or appeared to be, much more sophisticated that its L.A. counterpart. This crowd was so nonchalant, so cool that I was sure they would be unaffected by anything short of decapitation. I think the Screamers sensed the apathy, too. They knew it would be no small task to capture the attention of that senseless bunch of narcissists. Suddenly, the band ripped into their set, stinging and scratching for survival like some monster insect. The alternative to success this time would have been the torture a Screamer fears most: they would simply have been ignored. The band responded perfectly to the situation, and the result was that I and a number of other disbelievers and N.Y. nonchalants found ourselves writhing and convulsing under the attack until the band took pity and stopped. When it was all over I felt that I was the one lucky to survive, and wondered if any performance by any band could ever match it.
Six months later at the Whisky. You know the setup, the legit Hollywood night club and everything that goes with it, (lights, stage, groupies, press). The shows (6) were sold out, or rumored to be for weeks. The Sheep, (myself included, based on the band's N.Y. performance) were drooling to see the Screamers after a self-imposed hiatus taken to work on some new material (and I suspect a little media manipulation).
When a performance is really good everyone knows it and simply says, "it was good", usually a lot of times. When a performance is bad and the fans badly want it to be good what you're likely to hear is something similar to the following, mush served up by Screamers fans in an effort to make the Whisky performance palatable: "The instrumentation was ambitious", not good but ambitions, so we should gibe them extra points for trying hard? Another die-hard fan: "The music was meant for a movie score", So save it for the movies where it at least has an outside chance of giving life to a plot or a film image, rather than a live performance where the audience has every right to expect and demand direct and spontaneous communication, not pre-dated contrivance. Another fan: "Well, their intentions were good". Obviously, this person could not digest the reality of Tomata and band doing New Wave show tunes complete with female singer and violin section. I guess this fan thought if the intentions were good then everything that came afterward should be good too. If anyone out there can explain why good deeds are the inevitable result of good, that from good intentions come intentions, please write.
I sat through the performance and about half way though it occurred to me that this show belonged on Melrose, Tomata was only playing Tomata, he was acting, and the rest of the band... the same. Everything about this performance in N.Y. and the L.A. one was different (audience, material, stage, lights, attitude, etc.) and it wasn't progress! It was PHONEY, unnecessary, and useless. I hung in there hoping it would reveal itself as some Spike Jones pup, wishful thinking. The Screamers were much too ponderous, much too contrived, and much too serious to achieve even a Spike Jones brand of respectable lunacy. They stuck to the script and stayed in step until all hope of honest spontaneity was displaced by their empty theatrics.
My band update would say, "The Screamers are the first L.A. band to become a parody of themselves before anyone really knew who they were."
THE SCREAMERS AT THE WHISKY:
Unlike someone else I know, I have ALWAYS like the Screamers. I've liked them ever since that prehistoric first slash concert over two years ago when they played on a concrete floor in Samiof's studio to an astonished audience that had never heard of punk, spiked hair or electrical tape fashion. There was no stage then, and the only thing that kept the audience from engulfing that band was two of us armed with axe and revolver (unloaded). The Screamers had never played live before, but that night they must have converted two hundred people on the spot. IT WAS DIFFERENT.
A lot of polluted waster has passed under the bridge since, and we've all heard so much "different" music in the last couple of years I'm surprised we still can talk and smile. The Screamers have gone from concrete floor and borrowed amp to elevated showcase stage and precision lighting, articles in Interview and snotty english papers, shows on television and lines around the block at the Whisky. No records yet, but they probably consider that also and achievement.
I expected a lot from that show. Someone who had seen them the night before thought they were superb. Of course I did not like the high door price, and I did not like the novelty item that made up the 1st part of the show. Ron Davies and his wacky wifey isn't my idea of a perfect opening "band" for a night of new music. Had seen him (minus the missus) years ago opening for Beefheart, and the old time hasn't exactly improved since. Might make it on the Gong show or in the Guinness Book of Records, but you'd think the Screamers would have more empathy with their music peers than to let a tired put-on hardly good for a giggle or two take the spot instead of rightfully offering it to a deserving local band. If the prices are going to be what they were, let's get our fuckin' money's worth.
But the Screamers came on, and the one-man mess was immediately forgotten. Everyone was anticipating real heavily, like. See, the Screamers rate real high with the non-punk crowd too. Maybe higher. They capture the imagination, they dazzle but they don't especially demand a personal involvement. That's what the non-punks like: a real show, with options. And so Tomata jerkily puppeted (?) his way across the stage, the whirring whining and clanging of the synthesizers and keyboards shot out in every direction and K.K.'s metronome drumming filled in the interstices and coated the discordant explosions. Which is usually heaven to the brain. Chaos made to order while you watch and find your rhythmic space to slip into. Except it soon became obvious the odd miracle was a bit... rigged. Even from the start the presence of two long haired violinists with berets and classical concert pause seemed a bit stretched. They sounded fine but total unneeded, simply cluttering the jagged sound attacks with gratuitous diversions. Then the tapes started spinning, adding to the distance between us and them. As if too many strings were being pulled and the puppeteer's hands showed by mistake. Finally, the overall sound did not ATTACK the senses. It PARADED. I don't know if the music was less loud than in the past but it sounded like it was. Tomata sand well but was kind of mechanical in his inspired jerkiness. Guest star Sheila (they kept throwing us surprises, those cunning showmen) burnt her way through her portion of the set as if this was here one and only chance to grab her chunk of immortality. She wailed like a banshee in heat, paced like a demon in a monastery cell and during "I Wanna Hurt" kissed the living stagelight out of Tomata. She brought the energy level up to respectable proportions all by herself but soon vanished. Hopefully we will see and hear more of her. There will always be room for people of her stature. Sheila, do something before the little piggies eat you. The set ended in a respectable triumphant manner, complete with shrieks, requests, possessed pogo and ovations. I clapped with the rest, but I was already wondering where to go afterwards. There was no knot in my stomach, no humming between my ears, no trembling in my knees. I had remained attentive and curious. I am STILL determined to feel my brain sizzle next time the Screamers perform. I expect nothing less from them.