Dance this meth around
A few lucky (and smart) souls got to experience the joyful conjunction of cutting-edge dance music and performance art culture on Monday night, when the multi-national entertainment conglomerate Chicks on Speed, along with some great supporting acts, paid a visit to the Senator Theater.
Kicking off the night in high-spirited if electro-droney fashion, a local group called Razor Death Squad treated the audience to a short set of guitar-heavy, post-rock music punctuated by precise ultra-quick double-bass drumming, with gruff vocals provided by guitarist O. J. Karsh, who was filling in for the group’s “sick” vocalist.
Next up was a personal favorite of this reviewer, Experimental Dental School (formerly known as Meyow), featuring the mutant guitar antics of Jesse Hall and the carnival keyboard shenanigans of Shoko, supplemented by the fluid hammerings of a new, genuinely awesome drummer whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch. Adding to the fun and weirdness was that, due to the lack of carpeting on the Senator stage, the bass drum had to be held in place by a series of congenial audience participants, who had to lie on the floor to hold the errant drum in place with their feet. Genuinely great.
But the real meat of the evening belonged to Chicks on Speed, a musical performance art collective that got together in Germany a few years back with the intention of satirically contradicting and counteracting the prevailing, and generally humorless, paradigm of academic art. Based on what I saw and heard, they’re succeeding in their mission.
At the show on Monday night, despite a woefully inadequate and dreadfully malfunctioning sound system, the three women who comprise the Chicks managed to generate an aura of highly intelligent fun nicely complemented by self-consciously humorous, but nonetheless genuine, artistry.
So, yes, there are major Devo-esque elements in their performance, including handmade costumes, a “high"-tech video backdrop featuring (among a multitude of other visual snippets) band members doing foot-stomping laundry in a bathtub in Berlin, unsyncopated but oh-so-precise dance moves, and all kinds of sonic weirdness incorporating technical difficulties derived from the group’s recent decision to move from performing with pre-recorded mini-disc background music to playing, or at least triggering, their own all-MIDIed-up background tracks through a network of interlocked electronic music devices.
Lyrically, the songs good-naturedly explored the boundaries of queasy ambivalence generated by the culture of mass-marketed “art,” and, again like Devo, danceable songs such as “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Turn of the Century” negotiated the tricky territory that makes up the comic no-man’s-land between the group’s honestly stated commercial aspirations and their just as honest disdain for too-easy mass acceptance.
Not to rub it in, but if you missed this show you really did miss something rare and wonderful—a show by a group of performers whose intent is motivated not by commercial avariciousness but by genuinely humanistic optimism and good humor.