How to summarize the hydra-headed career of hardcore punk pranksters turned worldly weirdo-music overlords the Sun City Girls, save to say that the remainder of this page could be filled with the types of music they tussled with in 25 years of ear-mangling? The trio came to an end last February, when brothers Rick and Alan Bishop lost drummer Charles Gocher Jr. to cancer. Now is not the place to dissect the Girls’ legendary all-out Pharoah Sanders–style assaults on hardcore audiences, nor their sets rendered while dressed as Star Wars Jawas—but underground music sorely misses Gocher’s earthly powers. In his tribute for the website Perfect Sound Forever, Alan conjures visions of his friend and bandmate (a/k/a the Duke of Alcohol, Weird Jill, Lionel Seven, or the Pint-Sized Spartacus) as a pied piper in an Indonesian village, leading the children around via his wood flute. And when the Sun City Girls “played” John Coltrane’s lung-buster Live in Seattle (the venue is now an Indian restaurant), it was Gocher who meandered up to the stage and cued the double album up on a hidden turntable.
Just don’t think that the Bishops’ current live show, dubbed “Brothers Unconnected: A Tribute to the Sun City Girls and Charles Gocher,” will be a solemn affair, much less a reunion tour. This is a celebration, commencing with a 40-minute film (Alan warns of 200 hours’ worth of Gocher-made material still to be experienced) and ending with two sets of Sun City Girls music. Even as separate entities, the Bishop brothers continue to loose holy musical hellfire: Rick has taken up Robbie Basho’s falconer’s glove, holding up the steel-six-string mantle with a slew of solo guitar albums, while Alan’s Sublime Frequencies imprint confounds scrutiny and scholars alike by presenting a mad, mad, mad, mad world’s music. So it’s understandable that after this tour, the joyful noise (and annoy-ful joys) made by the Girls will hereafter fall silent.
After following the Girls on a Northeast tour (and covering them for the Voice) in the early ’90s, critic Mike McGonigal recalled his impression of seeing them night after night: “What really struck me then is how able the group was to conform to the situation called for at each venue—to play spazzy jazz at the Knitting Factory and something approximating indie rock at the indie-rock club—but more importantly, how they pushed those expectations into radically different places each time. The Sun City Girls were as much about satisfying the audience as they were about confronting the audience.”
Quick-witted, silly, epic, attention- deficient, holy, unbearable, cantankerous, playful, ritualistic, and spontaneous as players, the remaining Girls now pay tribute on acoustic guitars. Just don’t call them “unplugged,” for the Bishops know all about electricity and energy fields. As Alan once told Seattle Weekly: “We have the ability to channel, and we create fields of energy at certain times.” So between the two, the Pint-Sized Spartacus lives on.
The Bishops play at the Knitting Factory (knittingfactory.com) June 22