June 27, 2002

Here's a review of a show I went to last night. I'll post a link when this is published at PopMatters next week.

26 June 2002: Knitting Factory – New York City

by Jody Beth Rosen

I wasn't thoroughly bowled over by Jucifer’s new CD, I Name You Destroyer, and when I went to cover the Georgia band’s recent New York City performance, I'm sure I could be heard muttering from miles away about how bad it was gonna suck, how I hate the Knitting Factory, how I just wanted to go home and snuggle up to my air conditioner. I can be cantankerous in weather like this.

Actually, the show was a lot of fun, despite a bit of the expected Knitting Factory assholism (the door person waving me away with a glib "The house isn't open yet... we'll make an announcement" when I tried to go in early). The first opening band, Cracktorch, were fine, but I can’t help but question whether they honestly believe that ripping off the Stooges and MC5 is an original move.

I started developing a crackpot theory about how the Stooges never had their own easy-to-steal punk template the way, say, the Ramones did, and when people use the Stooges in their sound, they do so on very specific terms, not quite as loosely as the Ramones' formula allows. Is this why Ramones ripoffs never feel trite or old, but every time I hear a Stooges-influenced band, I have to groan and say "Oh no, not again"?

Cracktorch’s MC5 theft was even worse: If you've ever heard the Kick Out the Jams album ("Bruthas and sistas... the time has come to decide whetha yuh gonna be part of the problem, or whetha yuh gonna be part of the SOLUTION... I want you to TESTIFAHH!"), you'll recognize this singer's testimonial chorgling ("Are you gonna waste yuh lahf away?") as all too familiar.

Aytobach Kreisor, the next band up, reminded me of Agents of Fortune-era Blue Oyster Cult – nerdy, aging suburban Jews playing gamer-metal with a sense of irony and cheeky humor. (Blue Oyster Cult were the Beastie Boys of the genre.) Aytobach’s bassist-slash-singer looked like Beat the Geeks Horror Geek Mike Bracken, sang like David Lee Roth, and wore a faded, misshapen Lunachicks t-shirt that had probably been through the wash cycle several dozen times. I loved their songs and their shtick, and their courage for taking the road less Stooged – what other Knitting Factory band has ever claimed BOC as an influence?

I had overheard a lanky, Matthew McConaugheyish dude outside describe headliners Jucifer to his friend as “heavy Southern gothic death rock.” I Name You Destroyer came to me by way of a publicist’s “Black Sabbath meets Portishead” recommendation, and I thought the disc was all right, maybe a little generic with the riffs, gimmicky with the Julee Cruise-style vocals.

But holy Jesus fuck. Holy fucking thudding heavy metal whup-ass.

Jucifer are a two-piece: a girl (Amber Valentine) on vocals and guitar, a guy drummer (Ed Livengood) who plays like Animal from the Muppets cuz his kit is seven feet wide and he has to wildly flail his arms and contort his body in all kinds of crazy directions so he can reach certain pieces. The guitar (which boasted the word “Asslord” on the head) is channeled through a RIDICULOUSLY DENSE FORTRESS OF STACKS (that’s what I wrote on my pad: RIDICULOUSLY DENSE FORTRESS OF STACKS, underlining “STACKS” five times). The amp setup took up most of the height and width of the stage, and much of the breadth, too.

Valentine’s delivery is a kitten-purr (not a Kittie growl), and her look is part punk-rock Zsa Zsa Gabor, part Russ Meyer bombshell queen – false eyelashes, push-up bra, little red minidress, long blonde hair with thick streaks of black. When she plays, her head tilts back and her mouth drops open, and she wields her guitar in ways that suggest deforestation and mass murder.

The set was just a bit too long, but it was staged well – Valentine waits until our ears are accustomed to her tiny, sweet voice, and then she pulls a fast one on us, turning into a ghastly, gravelly Linda Blair hellhound. It’s effective; she whips it out for 20 seconds, puts it away, and brings it back later on for a minute or so. It’s the ultimate death-metal cocktease. The tempo speeds up, slows down, grinds to a halt, pauses, pauses, pauses… and continues on in a centrifugal fury.

Strobelights were used (sparingly), and whenever I looked up during one of these displays, the fan on the ceiling seemed to be oscillating in some sort of experimental-cinema stop-motion, encased in a blue glow.

Towards the end, things started to plod. An encore wasn’t really necessary, but the duo came back with their instruments to do 15 minutes of improvised bedroom-wank. I left when I decided I’d had enough – their set must have run an hour, and for a nobody band like Jucifer (whose shortcomings on record beg that they prove themselves as a live act), you wanna leave your people wanting more, cutting them off when the getting’s good.

But holy Jesus fuck.