One-horny Montreal indie kids sink drinks and think pink
At their mostly empty Mercury show in December, boyish Montrealers the Unicorns reprimanded Max Grody, their inebriated roadie-cum-dancer, for fucking up the band’s flow. Stripped of his satin unicorn bonnet, he wound up sleeping his booze off stage-side.
Meanwhile, swaddled in a pink James Brown cape and maneuvering through an overgrown Thurston Moore bowl cut, Nicholas “Niel” Diamonds heckled the crowd with legitimately funny NYC one-liners, then exchanged a brief kiss with his more shy half, Alden Ginger, an adolescent Elijah Wood in a pink vest. The trio turned “The Clap” ‘s disco-punk into an “I Can’t Get You Out of My Head”/”P.I.M.P.” medley, obsessed over ghosts (Biggie’s, “tuff” ones, those who inhabit pink houses), and ignited a one-on-one inter-band wrestling match. Backed by newest member, J’aime “Jamie” Tambour, a sometimes-masked drummer straight out of Strange Brew, the Unicorns stumbled through the best pop show of the year.
Last Wednesday night, in a very sold-out, barely navigable Southpaw, Diamonds, suspenders sans cape, ditched smoking-ban jokes for a prolonged power struggle with the sound guy, a quest for his lost Scottie Pippen rookie card, and wisecracks about his descending nads. Through it all, Ginger seemed kind of depressed. Tambour donned no death mask. And despite condom tosses and tail masturbation, Grody looked sober.
But transcending increasingly long be- tween-song pauses and an impatient crowd, the band was dead-on, lighting into slipshod takes on their second full-length, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, which suggests GBV’s scattershot compositional grace goofily re-enacted by a street-smart Microphones. Live, the anarchic bubblegum rambles further afield: Diamond’s voice cracks; Ginger gets plaintive; and everyone’s a multi-instrumental tumble birthing melody from feedback, pennywhistles, cheap keyboards, drum machines, and two-part harmonies.
Uncharacteristically anxious, the band closed the set with tight, straight-faced performances. Admirably pursuing a return to form, and at the same time redeeming himself from last month’s beat-down, Grody by curtain close was down to his black underwear, swilling beer center stage. Yeah, Unicorns are real—as are drunken Canadians. —Brandon Stosuy
Paying homage to Rube Goldberg’s inventive old lunacy
The cartoonist Rube Goldberg began drawing his absurdly complicated “Inventions” in 1915, just as the Age of Anxiety really got anxious. Mechanized warfare was pulverizing Europe’s manhood, and America’s puritan soul was being shaken by increasingly complex scientific, technological, and psychological advances (or not). Freud’s belief that “the imposing mechanism of the male sexual apparatus lends itself to symbolization [through] indescribably complicated machinery” prefigured Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), with its paddle wheels, abstracted suitors, and chocolate grinder clamped in plate glass—a debauched invention.
Goldberg struck a particularly Yankee vein of Dada: It may take 17 perfectly meshing gears of speeding motorcycle into flying cat into tipped acid jug into fast-growing corn into leaping lima beans—”on account of the natural affinity for succotash”—into a fever-ridden sardine, but in the end you have A Simple Way to Light a Cigar in an Automobile Traveling 50 Miles Per Hour. Goldberg, an engineer, took pride in the fact that his outlandish chain reactions might actually work; clarinetist and composer Andy Biskin isn’t convinced. (He worried that a physicist in the audience might poke holes in Goldberg’s logic). But in naming his recent suite Goldberg’s Variations, he pays homage to both the engineered elegance of Bach and the jazz age lunacy of Rube.
Biskin has created computer animations of 12 Goldberg gag panels, setting the resulting cartoons to music. Last week at the JCC, his sextet listened through earpieces to a click-track (an old animator’s trick) that kept them in sync with scrolling on-screen diagrams: “Hat rack is suddenly extended and boxing glove hits punching bag which in turn is punctured by spike.” Between cartoons, the sextet performed Biskin’s “Interludes.” The difference in experience was palpable: The cartoon accompaniments are punchy with trombone bellows, clarinet bleats, and drum thumps anthropomorphizing into sound effects; the “Interludes” (especially “Hourglass”) travel from Ellington élan to Rite of Spring dissonance, purveying a mood somewhat at odds with Goldberg’s whimsy. There’s humor in Biskin’s music, but also something smoky and dark: the insouciant collisions within urban culture that gave rise to modernity. —R.C. Baker