Before every road trip, the members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum dumpster-dive for corporation-discarded carpeting to line their tour van. This mildly unsanitary task pales in comparison to the rest of the grueling preparation ritual, which involves removing the previous padding from the floor and, says drummer Matthias Bossi, "brushing out acres of dust and debris." Then there's the "regrettably disgusting" refrigerator, caked with "a sea of black and green mold."
"We always start fresh, but within moments of embarking we'll roll over a bump while preparing pasta sauce, and everything will be filthy again," Bossi says.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum isn't exactly making a clean sweep of its set list, but it has added 10 songs to the mix since its last visit to Orlando. Most of these stem from an improvisational session with choreographically gifted Butoh clown Shinichi Momo Koga, the results of which also appear on its recently released DVD, The Face. Billed as the "Last Human Being" in the live stage show, Koga occupies a suspended metal cage on a plexiglass catwalk and undergoes various metamorphoses, transforming from a demon to a train conductor, among many other incarnations. For its part, the group dons suspenders, gunnysacks and tattered white smocks.
Musically, the music is as ambitious and odd as the visuals, yet relatively accessible, remaining within rock's recognized boundaries. The program includes a Broadway-style tribute to the Last Human Being and a manic dance tune as well as several of the band's signature melodic metal-damaged art epics.
"We could just plug in and let the feedback screech, and some people would claim to love it," Bossi says. "But we love our fans so much, and we want to please them. We're not some super-selfish, pretentious compositional colloquium."
Bossi, who previously played in Skeleton Key, made his Sleepytime debut on New Year's Eve 2003 in San Francisco. "It's our most hated holiday, a sanctioned night of idiots screaming," he says. Behind the kit, Bossi wore a bonnet, bloomers and red patent leather boots.
"In Skeleton Key, we wore matching jumpsuits, but this was the first time I pulled out all the stops," he says. "That night, I became a woman onstage."
For Bossi, dressing in drag and scraping grime beats the alternative. "I've never had to play Dwight Yoakam beats as a session-pro drummer," he says. "I've been allowed to do whatever I like."