Music Features
May 15, 2009, 08:18

All photos by Tim Bugbee © 2009


THROBBING GRISTLE / EMERALDS Live @ Masonic Temple, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY; April 28th, 2009

In the last handful of decades, it would certainly seem that in terms of musical reunions anything is possible. From the inevitable (Buzzcocks/Wire/Pixies) to the inexplicable (Mission of Burma/Cream/Stooges), as well as the truly wonderful (Magazine/Chameleons/Bauhaus), and the nearly impossible (Thin Lizzy/Alice In Chains/Queen).

Throbbing Gristle would fall somewhere within the latter three distinctions. All four members firmly established themselves in terms of new musical definitions and distinctions (Psychic TV/Thee Majesty/Coil/Chris & Cosey/CarterTutti) following the termination of TG in 1981, not only gaining new fans and followers in the process, but also continuing to part the waves of what is possible in terms of sound and the definition of music. Throbbing Gristle, frankly, did not need to get back together for a reunion as their post-TG musical ventures continue to command crowds and respect aplenty. TG also always insisted that one must look and move forwards and never backwards, as guitarist Cosey Fanni-Tutti stated in 1986 in the liner notes to the postmortem CD release CD1: "The years of Throbbing Gristle were a time of great positive changes, experimentation, and affectionate memories. We all have to move forward."

So hence, it was a truly pleasant surprise when the CD TGNOW appeared in 2004 and showed precisely that TG were true to their word: this was 21st century music, not merely a rehashing of old theories or a brand new reworking of "United." It was modern industrial music, blending everything that the members had done beforehand and were continuing to do within their own projects, only here they were doing it together. This was only further emphasized and defined when Part Two: The Endless Not was released in 2007.

I must confess that initially, though a huge fan of TG and related projects, I was hesitant to attend one of the reunion shows. I did not need to hear a "live greatest hits" and I found it perfectly acceptable that the previous chance I had had to see Throbbing Gristle—at the Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco on 29th of May, 1981, their final performance—was missed not only because, well, I don't think anyone in my family was a fan, but also because I was merely 6 years old.

So putting aside my presumptions, Throbbing Gristle live 2009 were an awesome experience. The choice of a grand old Masonic Temple was astute, even if the performance took place with all of the house lights on was not, or at least, was a tad confusing. Nonetheless, the group appeared and showed themselves to be as individualistic as ever: Chris Carter looking ever so much the suburban father and qualified technician at leisure, Cosey Fanni Tutti simply lovely in a black one piece though fighting a nasty cold (thankfully no one made any swine flu jokes), Genesis Breyer P-Orridge as always extremely idiosyncratic in a get up that fell somewhere between Morocco, Tibet, and Orange County, and Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson literally taking the cake in a grand black and white cow-spotted robe along with pajamas, reading glasses, and smirk. There were no amplifiers on the stage but there were three laptops, three stringed instruments, four Gristlelizers, and a lot of unknown and unrecognizable electronic gear.

The magnificent set opener, "Very Friendly," one of the group's earliest pieces, banged and throbbed with might and purpose beginning with one of the greatest opening lines of all time: "It was just an ordinary day in Manchester…" The distinctive train track clang of the original analogue beat was replaced here by a nastier, meatier digital recreation interspersed with Cosey's spooky, spindly slide guitar, the mournful drone of Carter's keyboards, Sleazy's bizarre electronics and sound manipulations, and Gen's nightmare inducing voice and observations. Sure, s/he left out the eerie refrain of "DRINKING GERMAN WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNEEEEE…" that was ever so present on the original, but it did not matter: the piece still blew minds and made the audience move. The group also was also not unbearably loud so much as they were concrete and substantial, presenting the sound and volume from around, within, above, and below but distinctly not at. The space was filled completely, as opposed to being merely voluminous.

Upon completion, the crowd roared and screamed with approval not unlike some sort of classic Psychic Rally. Gen, who has to be the quickest witted and one of the funniest people in music, remarked "Don't shout like that, you'll hurt your throat. Frank Zappa said that." And following a scream of "I LOVE YOU!" responded with "If someone told me they loved me like that, I would run in the other direction. I mean if you scream like that, what do you fuck like?"

The high spirits continued into an amusing "Persuasion" (from 1979's 20 Jazz Funk Greats, with Sleazy working in some truly twisted bestiality samples), a wall shattering "Something Came Over Me" (a 1980 single), and a somber "Hamburger Lady" (from 1978's D.o.A.), during which a reasonably "in the zone" reveler, possibly attempting to re-create the end of the Kezar set several songs too early, was ejected to cheers and Sleazy's laughter. Gen immediately dedicated the next number—the ode to departed loved ones "Almost A Kiss" from 2007's—to "the mentally impaired".

After several of the more ambient, reflective, and almost laid back newer tunes, the group did a live improvisational number using its brand new, recreated Gristlelizers picked up at the previous gig in Chicago. The energy thus picked back up, the group then launched into "What A Day" (also from 20 Jazz Funk Greats), kicking and screaming the whole way through like a rabid animal. Though it is still a difficult concept that artists and audience members alike can "rock out" to laptops, nonetheless TG pulled it off, often making it indistinguishable who does what as the sound is a unified, physical whole spreading outward, somewhat chaotically, in all directions.

The group closed the set with their classic call to arms "Discipline," incorporating the hyperactive beat of "We Said No," the very tune that caused the infamous riot at the group's 1980 Oundle School performance (it's all on video), in place of the thump thump gut kick of the original. As no riot ensued this time however, this may be why Carter chose to abruptly change the beat mid-song to something a little more closely resembling the original. Gen responded in kind, never stopping the enthusiasm, never discouraging the clamor.

Following the stage departure of the members of TG, a chair was placed in the middle of the stage and one of the larger security men promptly sat in it, crossed his arms, and stone-faced the audience to cheers and jeers. Even after TG's curtain call and subsequent bow, the gent never moved, except to shake his head slowly from side to side when someone asked for a set list. This must be the 2009 version of what TG used to do, which was to merely play ABBA or Martin Denny at full volume following their set to encourage the punks to leave the venue. I guess Brooklynites require something a bit more subversive or rather in your face.

The opening trio, Emeralds, performed a lovely, slightly ambient and partially retro whorl of sound finding the perfect space between early industrial music (particularly nodding a bit strongly towards Chris Carter's The Space Between from 1980) and the slow burn of Oxbow's "Shine (Glimmer)." Emeralds actually employed analogue synths and amplifiers, so it was not unlike, perhaps, an electronic Ex-Lion Tamers moved up 23 years.

-Nick Blakey


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