There was a point in the middle of Lydia Lunch's set tonight where a trio of drunk motherfuckers at the bar felt that their conversation was more important than her performance. Of course they were all men. One older, one young. One somewhere in the middle. It was as if the ghosts of assholes past, present, and future had showed up spontaneously to make her point for her. If any of you three are reading this now? Kindly die in a fire.
Or, better still? Become better men.
I'm a fan of Lunch from more years ago than I care to contemplate. Somewhere around here I've got a cassette with Queen of Siam on it. Nominally referred to as No-Wave by critics these days, I myself always thought of her as the bastard child of Punk meets Goth meets Noise-Rock filtered through Dadaist formlessness. But back then we didn't have people on the internet to come along and tell us what's what, so what did we know?
I loved her, all the while knowing that it was probably foolish to love her. And that if I was ever stupid enough to stand in front of her and profess that love, I'd be lucky to escape with my bowels intact. I'm under no illusions that she has any fucks to give as to this review, but it's what I do.. So.. Yeah. Here we are.
. . .
Verbal Burlesque is very different from what I remember. More spoken word than music -- though Tim Dahl's accompaniment on bass is brilliant beyond belief. Equal parts noise rock and alt-jazz, through the employment of loopers and any number of mad alchemical pedals he exceeds every limit of his instrument to provide a full-on symphony behind her voice. Most importantly, he knows when to stop playing and let her words carry the moment.
I'm at a loss to properly elucidate what it felt like to experience this work. Her piece explored the psyche of a victim turned avengeress, a survivor who in turn picked up the mantle of serial killer targeting men who had raped and murdered women. I think I'm explaining this correctly? The piece was gut-wrenching, visceral, and bloody. I almost hated to photograph her throughout the performance -- I felt like I was intruding. I felt like I was taking pictures of someone living through a rape. But I was asked to come out and document this, so I swallowed the discomfiture of it and just did my fucking job.
. . .
Lunch is controversial in all the right places, with any number of statements that have been blasted out for being anti-male, but in a society where men are exponentially more likely to abuse, assault, or murder women it really doesn't feel all that out of bounds to point that shit out. As a man in the audience, you aren't getting out of there unchanged if you have any goddamn empathy at all in you. There's a window in all of this where you can glimpse what it feels like to live as a woman in this fucked up world where a rapist can be elected President not in spite of the fact, but at least in part because of it. I walked away from the evening in a kind of shock. Women are trained from birth to hate themselves, and it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that she hates men while she's turning the tables on that fact.
I don't think she does, rather.. She has loved men, and does love what men might become if they'd let go of the shackles of patriarchy. At points she mourns the suicides of men she once held close. At points her rage is directed at the world that drives men off cliffs every day. Lydia Lunch is well aware of who and what the enemy is, and it's clear that she knows it isn't men per se. It's the prevailing culture and normalization of abuse. And the roots of that abuse. This is a woman dead set on using her work to bring you through the other side with empathy and violence in equal measure.
Watching her once the set had completed, while she sat behind the table and chatted with well wishers, it was hard not to notice how kind she could be to those who came up with her. I thought about going up to her and telling her how much the work has meant to me over the years. But my awkward was in full bloom tonight and I couldn't talk to her in any way that I wouldn't hate myself for afterwards. So I spared both of us the pain of that, gathered up my shit, hopped on the motorcycle and headed home.
. . .
Sitting on the couch hours later, trying to unpack the complexity of what I heard and saw and felt tonight, I just started weeping uncontrollably. I can't explain why, exactly. I suppose I've survived some things that were in some way related to what she describes and it got a little too far past my armor. Lydia Lunch weaponizes truth and there's no hiding from it. There's no dodging it.
This is how you know that what she does is art.
Wandcarver handled the opening support duties, playing for the first time since Summer, as far as I'm aware. This is a band that sounds like no other in our city.. Possibly like no other anywhere. I apply the label of Alt-Psychedelic mostly because I don't know what else to call it. Lead guitarist Seth McPherson is a straight shredding beast from the pit on his instrument -- though really all of these musicians are phenomenal. This is ominous music, at times atonal and sinister. At points threatening to break into what Rage Against the Machine might have become if it had crashed drunkenly into John Coltrane after being extracted from the wreckage with the Jaws of Life.
We need more bands like this, more music like this. I pray they've been missing in action due to some recording project they've got going on. I need things like that to look forward to keep on going on.
. . .
All kudos to Anthems of The Undesirable for bringing her back here. More of you should have come out for it. You worry me sometines, Nawfuck. If you don't support this scene it'll go back to being shitty ass cover bands. No one needs that, so uh..
I mean, I get it. But try to push on past and leave the house, yeah?
-- end transmission --
NYC. No-Wave / Spoken Word.