Burlesque Attitude, Nighttime Frills
The all-media collective known as Chicks on Speed take their most crowd-pleasing form as an art-damaged party band. Laptop-filtered and totally Teutronic, they play lots of covers and some originals that sound like covers. (“Glamour Girl” is their Pet Shop Boys song, “Floating Pyramid Over Frankfurt” is their Buzzcocks song, and “Turn of the Century” is, duh, their T. Rex song.) In other words, CoS are the best kind of fans—creative and proactive. Alex Murray-Leslie (the Chick from Australia) played the part when she opened Thursday’s Knitting Factory show with a glass-shattering oh-look-there’s-Gary-Numan! shriek and then hopped into the audience to pogo with the masses while the more impassive Kiki Moorse (from Germany) and Melissa Logan (from the States) held court above. This was the last of three shows marking their NYC debut, and even the glitches felt like source code. Sound snafus lent themselves to Dada visuals (Melissa chanting inaudibly into an obstinate gizmo), and the set’s stutter-stop pace matched rhythm with Melissa’s percussive, android-as-valley-girl vocals.
The tunes sounded like the records, but the execution was gloriously shambolic: non sequitur video projection, Sprockets-on-quaaludes dance moves, natty white pantsuits (with fluorescent-cardboard belt buckles that read “WOOOW!” and “OOOOH!”) giving way to their patented paper dresses. Alex bodysurfed, injected something approximating desire into “Warm Leatherette,” and attacked their massive boob-monster prop. As if to reciprocate, a few faithful chaps up front stripped off their shirts, but Alex couldn’t stop giving—she tore the Factory schedule off the wall and sailed it into the crowd. The video screen displaying colorful abstractions behind them rolled up, but the Chicks pressed on with the neu-wave Dance Party U.S.A., the projector beaming its spectrum on their bodies like confetti. —Jessica Winter
Cummin’ Atcha Live
Pretty much out of nowhere, groundbreaking newish music magazine gives clueless young writer his first big assignment: a 12-part series following up-and-coming “classic rock” band. Young man hits road, wacky hijinks ensue, but magazine turns up its nose at his report. Hero, disconsolate, retreats home.
Sound familiar? Guess again: 1989, Spin, me, Tesla. Unlike Cameron Crowe, though, I never got laid or almost killed, my stories sucked, Spin never ran them, and I had nothing to do with Jerry Maguire. But Tesla kept the faith: After pioneering the “unplugged” concept, selling 14 million records, and splitting up, they’re back, and in honor of their nearly sold-out appearance at the Beacon on April 2, I dug out my red notebook with the all-access stickers from their tours with Poison and Great White. There was still a blank page between the notes of my first impressions (in Scottsdale, at a water park with the world’s largest wave pool, some dude from Kerrang! told me we should have picked Warrant, who were opening) and my first law school assignments.
Tesla were never hip: Spin picked them in part because they were unlikely to be covered by the magazine in any other way. They would have made a great Stillwater: Singer Jeff Keith looks like Steven Tyler, only not as ugly; ax-men Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch have a virtuoso/wildman thing going on, and drummer Troy Lucketta and bassist Brian Wheat are the salt of the earth. Distinguished primarily by their lack of distinction, they had no gimmick, no hairstyle, and no philosophy; they’re not even sexist. Their one decent love song is called “Love Song”; the swaggering opener is “Cummin’ Atcha Live.” They’ve borrowed some monster riffs, but they wouldn’t know a hook if it caught them in the ass.
So why would so many thirtysomething headbangers give them a heroes’ welcome? See above. Tesla are so unreconstructed, earnest, and upbeat you can’t help but like them, unless you have not one positive memory of junior high. They rawk effectively, if not contemporarily, and they’re thrilled to be here, especially since they’re currently bereft of single, album, label, and buzz. At the end of the night’s biggest sing-along, the Leppardian “Gettin’ Better,” Hannon scaled the drum ziggurat and pumped his fist, grinning triumphantly. New York Sit-tay gave the love right back. Everyone was happy. Is that too little to ask? —Josh Goldfein
New Miserable Experience
On April 6, the New Year kicked off their Knitting Factory show with a cozy and appropriately brotherly looking four-man huddle. (Siblings Matt and Bubba Kadane, formerly of Bedhead, front the band.) This formation kept reinventing itself: Drifting into close proximity on the small stage, the guitarists and bassist appeared to be in a latter-day western—think of a gaggle of men riding through the desert on horses with solemn companionability.
The mood was set by a new, as-yet-unnamed number that described being “18 and on the outside,” and each song intelligently articulated this kind of low-grade melancholy. The midtempo “Half a Day” (which opens their record, Newness Ends) closed with the line “When I see you I won’t believe you ever again.” In the same vein, the standout “Simple Life,” sung by Bubba, commenced on a languid, dazedly romantic note and slowly built momentum—driven by crushworthy Chris Brokaw’s subtly ferocious drumming—to the proclamation “I never thought I would think what I’m thinking now.” Songs most often predictably climbed in intensity toward the end, layering sound and increasing the pacing, but the New Year’s unfaltering precision, in terms of both technique and transmission of emotion, added intrigue to their set. Entirely unflappable throughout, the group panted only as they exited the stage after two encores, as the head-waggling crowd waited for more. —Hillary Chute
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 17, 2001