THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND 


How ironically droll it was to receive a letter (published last week) chiding me for not being "more thorough than the average concertgoer." Curious when you consider a day I had last week.

All in a day's work

6:55 pm Rolled into the parking lot of Solid Image Tattoo to see bluesman Jake La Botz play. Interestingly, this is part of a tour ("Tattoo Across America") of live shows in tattoo parlors across the country. Sidestepping the conventional circuit, it's a fairly original concept that keeps the music tied to a scene that's culturally and artistically invested.

Peppered with wanderlust, crime, a passion for the blues and even a few indie-film acting credits (Ghost World, Animal Factory), the guy's got an interesting story so I rapped with him awhile. Apart from a shiny gold tooth, he's got a deceptively young face for a man with a 19-year-old daughter (who's also his roadie). He's an affable fellow who's eager to sit down and chew fat about casual things normal people might discuss — he's conversant on Vietnamese cuisine, for instance.

La Botz's warmth is not just reserved for journalists, either; everyone received the treatment.

Though it was jarring to experience a show under the sperm-count-crushing glare of fluorescent tubes, the high-pitched grinding of tattoo pens in the background added texture to the ambience. Even stranger, perhaps, was seeing La Botz's stripped acoustic blues — with grit that was fit for dusty roadhouses — in such sanitary environs. The appearance on the set list of Robert Johnson and Hank Sr. songs showed him to be clearly rooted in the American music tradition, but his live performance rang with a more authentic and natural tenor than his recordings. The raw setup highlighted his soulful voice and picking style.

9:30 pm — Trucked it down I-4 to House of Blues to catch veteran clankers KMFDM. As I'm fully aware of how far industrial music has tumbled — that is, right into the slick asshole of gothic techno — my high hopes stayed in the car on this one. I was nicely surprised, however. The venerable band proved worthy of their legendary cult status by dropping signature foundation-shaking beats like an anvil. The tight integration of prerecorded elements with live ones provided just enough production sheen to give the sound girth, rendering their apocalyptic junk-machine grooves in full splendor. They made classics like "Rip the System" and "More & Faster" sound astoundingly vital. Well, relatively speaking.

Unfortunately, the jackboot dance party was cut short as leader Sascha K. announced there would be no encore because the drummer twisted an ankle while stepping off the riser, which I can confirm since my upstairs vantage point offered a clear view of his condition. But it serves this crowd right because they proffered a flaccid effort to beckon the artist back on stage, even necessitating lighting cues from the house urging them to applaud. I suppose all that patent leather can be pretty motion-constricting.

11:10 pm — Boogied back downtown to the Social to see celebrated noisemongers Wolf Eyes peel the paint. Sadly, what I saw of the performance reflected a generic approach to noise (i.e., sheets of in-the-red dissonance generated by suitcases crammed with electronic widgets), which was odd considering the rich mood of their new record, Human Animal. It was still a showing superior to the majority of noise bands out there, but it was a pale shadow of their last dramatic performance, which was heightened by the inclusion of organic and tangible sound sources.

Now how many average concertgoers — or even music journalists, for that matter — stack a night like this? That's right, sweetheart, Jack Bauer ain't got shit on me.

Aging gracefully

You wanna know why I love the Pet Shop Boys? Because they've managed to outsmart even their detractors (y'know, smarty-pants music critics), and they still believe in putting on a grand spectacle. Considering the largely preprogrammed nature of their aesthetic, it's only natural that they compensate in visual appeal. Very few acts go the whole nine like they do when it comes to theatrical productions, with elaborate and iconic mise-en-scène. Though significantly more economical than the modernist, Zaha Hadid-designed stage from the Nightlife tour, the mobile light-cube installations at their Oct. 18 Hard Rock Live performance were high-impact. It was an impressive, career-spanning set that rewarded knowledgeable fans with lots of their best non-single material, even forgoing predictable choices.

The absurdity of being a pop star in one's 50s didn't occur to me once during the show, so they were doing something right.

music@orlandoweekly.com

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