It wasn’t my most memorable Merle Haggard concert. That honor goes to the one in the late ’60s where I heard him debut “Okie From Muskogee” to a crowd of 2000 well-groomed white people, and, having the only shoulder-length hair in view, felt it prudent to leave before the next song began.
But Monday night at Tramps was certainly my best Merle Haggard concert. The last time I saw him at Tramps, Merle appeared to be applying the ennui of Dean Martin to the subject matter of Woody Guthrie, and the Strangers subseuqently sounded, well, as strange as the crowd, a mismatched mix of defensive country boys and edgy hipsters. This time Hag himself was in fine form, tearing into a punched-up classic set. His voice was as controlled, expressive, and varied as his songs, and the Strangers were so tight and full of swing you wished they could jam all night.
But credit must also go to the crowd, who greeted Bonnie Owens and then Merle with a roar that never let up, even during selections from the three pillars of Haggard tradition—Jimmy Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell, and Bob Wills. Yes, the guys in big cowboy hats were there, mixed with Big Apple media middle-managers. But this time around they were both outnumbered by lots of good-timin’, honky-tonkin’ twentysomethings with no obvious identity-projection needs (including groups of dancing women friends out for a night on the town). And so we all grooved to the music of a great American and—shades of Pete Seeger—even did a hootenany-style singalong to “Okie From Muskogee.” Clearly, a corner in our city’s, if not our nation’s, culture has been turned. But I’ll be damned if I know which one. —Tom Smucker
Surely this had nothing to do with nostalgia. Never mind their status as punk survivors; Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 20-year run ended only three years ago, not enough time off to warrant sappiness. So when Siouxsie Sioux and husband Budgie took to the Irving Plaza stage Thursday as their long-running side-project The Creatures, the event hardly reeked of rotten intentions à la a Sex Pistols reunion, or even of a full-scale resurrection, Bauhaus-style. Rather, it was DIY pride that they exuded, tinged with resentment at an unwelcoming record industry.
Legends without major-label sup port, they assumed total control on the Creatures’ third album, Anima Animus, on which they are the only two players. For the tour, they added a guitarist and a bassist (who also fills in on keyboards and violin)—though live, one could swear that Budgie grows additional limbs to cover the percussive responsibilities of two men, pounding out overpowering tribal polyrhythms over electronic samples and distorted guitar screams.
To look at Siouxsie, clad in jeans and a spaghetti-strapped top, thick eye makeup and lavish costumes long gone, you’d think the Ice Queen had thawed. But otherwise, the stuff of her former self remained—stalking stage sweeps, frenzied head-shaking trances, mesmerizing wails. Whether whispered spookiness (“Same lips same hair/the same stare/I’m not recognized or heard but I swear! I was me”) or bellowed anarchy (“I’m sick of it/I want to fuck it up”), the sentiments were a return to previous battle cries, but without the desperation of regression. The Creatures are not so much building new fires as keeping the old one burning, softly shrieking, “Indeed, goth can age gracefully, fuck you very much.” —Robin A. Rothman
Overlords of Darkness
The curious thing about scenes that occupy the sonic extremities is the way they splinter into microgenres as they get further from the mainstream. Like thrash/speed /death/black metal, the sound purveyed by Manhattan’s I-Sound rejoices in multiple monikers: “harshstep,” “splatterbreaks,” “broken beats,” “shrillstep.” Semantic excess aside, the style basically merges the jagged breakbeat dynamics of early jungle with the blaring distortion of hardcore gabba. At Abstrakt Future Lounge (the Soundlab night at Fahrenheit) last Tuesday, I-Sound’s DJ set was like an unoffical soundtrack to Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music: all dive-bombing scree and low-end ordnance, leavened with deft scratching and electro-acoustic burbles. Understanding that relentless din ultimately dulls the senses, I-Sound varied the breakneck pace with midtempo excursions into underground rap and roots reggae, before climaxing with DJ Scud’s “Total Destruction,” a shrillstep classic that thrillingly combines ragga boasts with berserker beats.
Fresh from a recording session with Scud, German DJ Panacea was the populist ambassador for this jungle-meets-gabba frenzy. He drew a crowd evenly divided between drum’n’bassheads and gabba scenesters (like Lenny Dee, whose Industrial Strength label licensed Panacea’s recent Twisted Designz). With his disconcerting blind-looking colored contact lens in one eye and alarming facial piercings, Panacea’s image shtick is “Overlord of Darkness.” You might recognize him from Modulations, or maybe not—he’s recently shed a staggering 130 pounds. Panacea’s music’s gotten sleeker too, scaling down the Carmina Burana bombast of his two albums in favor of the streamlined, clinical sound of current drum’n’bass (labels like Renegade Hardware). By most standards, though, it’s pretty fucking fierce—180 bpm breaks, swarf-swarms of low-end turbulence, B-lines that ping like the elastic of your mind’s snapped. As his own track “Motion Sickness” suggests, the effect is simultaneously kinetic and nauseous. Compared with I-Sound’s shifting guerrilla tactics, Panacea’s set was a war of attrition, a plateau of pleasurable punishment. —Simon Reynolds