This past Month, local industrial music legends, Skinny Puppy, performed at the Commodore Ballroom, offering a “show of the year performance”. It was an event made of many fantastically moving parts, but complete show equal to more than the sum of all- more than the music, more than the lights, this show was a presentation of many messages on several levels.
If one word could summarize the show, Dystopian could BE that word, but one word alone would not do justice to the riot of rancid hues, blood spatters and disturbing props witnessed on this stage. A bank of eight cameras were lined across the front of the stage (plus a few more interspersed) while a large flat screen display presented the output to the crowd in such a way that the presentation fostered such a macabre sense of the invasive- all of which hearkened back to the origins of the band in the early 1980’s when Skinny Puppy were one of the pioneers of the industrial music scene in North America- a time when everyone on Earth lived with some apprehension of the Cold War and the very real fear that Nuclear Fallout might kill us all if not a Direct Nuclear strike.
For a “Coles Notes” version, the early 1980’s were a time when the fear of AIDS was used as justification for widespread homophobia, Reagan and Thatcher espoused trickle down economics (where the rich got richer, the poor-poorer, the middle class – disenfranchised), music videos were killing radio stars, and the underground scene was coming up for air. Especially relevant to the Industrial Scene, rapid advancements in technology and the omnipresent specter of Big Brother were ongoing concerns. In short, it was a confounding time for the world, and most of us growing up in it truly had no idea whether there would be a future worth living through.
And so, the start of our show brought the crowd right back to that era. Strange people walked the stage wearing clean suits and masks, scanning the stage for radiation as our unfortunate protagonist (singer Nivek Ogre) was presented to the crowd in silhouette, machete blade in hand. It was hard to tell whether our subject was the hunter or hunted but the overwhelming sense was one of malice, and as the lights started to catch the singer in their rays, they revealed the masked one to us all as he walked the stage wielding his dull blade along with an opened umbrella, perhaps using the parasol as feeble protection from the radioactive fallout from the sky.
Moving into the second song, our singer and subject took time to survey his surroundings, shifting his mysterious box from one side of the stage to the next, and then on discovering the effigy of a dog, stacked the unfortunate animal atop the box. He took time to study the canine, to let the leash off his inner animal. As our masked subject went nose deep to sniff the doggies behind, concert goers were no doubt left with questions.
“the events on stage were perhaps symbolic of the breakdown of society, the impending anarchy of a post apocalyptic world where right and wrong would naturally give way to baser instincts”
As an explanation, the events on stage were perhaps symbolic of the breakdown of society and the impending anarchy of a post apocalyptic world where right and wrong would naturally give way to baser instincts. In any event, any Sociology major would have a field day interpreting this performance. Perhap words do not explain it enough…
Skinny Puppy have been performing for decades and while their career waned during the 90’s (and they disbanded for a time after the death of keyboardist Dwayne Goettel) their influence on several bands to follow cannot be underestimated: Nine Inch Nails, Filter, The Prodigy, Orgy,and Marilyn Manson (among others) all owe a debt to Skinny Puppy. Their synth-drum driven music and hard sung lyrics, as darkly heavy as the heaviest metal and as angry as the angriest punk, fully realized on a stage in front of a crowd of cheering fans, captured the imagination of many aspiring musicians through the years.
For those who are interested, here was the set list for the evening’s show:
illisiT * I
The Choke * VI
wornin’ * I
plastiCage * I
Deep Down Trauma Hounds * V
Worlock * IV
paragUn * I
Hexonexonx * IV
tsudananuma * I
Pasturn * III
saLvo * I
First Aid * V
solvent * I
Far too Frail* VII
Glass Houses * VII
Smothered Hope * VII
Overdose * I
Assimilate * VI
Ashas * II
* I – Weapon (2013)
* II – hanDover (2011)
* III – Mythmaker (2007)
* IV – Rabies (1989)
* V – Cleanse Fold and Manipulate (1987)
* VI – Bites (1985)
* VII – Remission (1984) EP
If you ascribe to a certain line of thinking, the break of the Soviet Union and the return of the Eastern Block nations to their past state of sovereignty may have reduced the potency of the message contained in Skinny Puppy. Then again, by following the same logic, the messages from Skinny Puppy are as vital now as they ever were. At this time, our world feels less safe, our privacy more invaded, our government more corrupt, our protectors less trustworthy, and at times our fellow citizens seem more psychopathic.
Darkly mysterious and openly creepy, a band not afraid to expose the perversions of society to the air for all to see, to rub them raw, and then to rub them again until the resulting scabs ooze infectious ick, Skinny Puppy closed their Friday show with perhaps the most loved song of theirs, Assimilate.
Skinny Puppy – Assimilate
Photographs and words © Gerry Toews / anditrocks.com All Rights Reserved