Live: Alan and Richard Bishop at the Knitting Factory


photo by Mark Sullo

Alan and Richard Bishop present:
“The Brothers Unconnected, A Tribute to Charles Gocher and Sun City Girls”
Knitting Factory
Sunday, June 22nd

The Bishop brothers talked about a lot during their two-hour performance at the Knitting Factory on Sunday. “What are we doin’? We made fun of the Jews yet?” Sir Richard asked before the encore. “We have, haven’t we?” He paused. “This traveling free speech zone is great.” (“Jews aren’t even Semitic, they’re mostly Caucasian aren’t they…?” brother Alan interrupted.) “Here we go,” Richard sighed.

Billed as the Brothers Unconnected, the Bishops—two-thirds of the recently defunct DIY legends Sun City Girls—acted out a husband-and-wife hotel-room fantasy in Marilyn Monroe and Jack/Bobby Kennedy masks (in the 1996 spoken word piece that lent its name to the billing). They discussed the Burroughs-like Identity Crisis Correspondence School, where students study “the effects of time without duration,” an invention from another spoken-word piece called “Flesh Balloons of Tibet.” They spoke candidly. “No falsettos tonight,” Richard hacked, lighting a cigarette.

But they did not talk about, or even mention, the small box that Alan picked up a few songs into the show. He poured a handful of powder, blew it out over the crowd—a little to each side, a bit up front—and licked off his hands. The ashes, which briefly clouded in the stage lights, were (if logic and earlier reports are to be trusted) some sub-fraction of the band’s missing third member: drummer Charles Gocher Jr., who died of cancer in February 2007.

Gocher was a presence the entire night. The evening began with a 40-minute collection of short films by Gocher, entitled The Handsome Stranger. Like viral videos before the concept had been invented, Gocher’s decidedly pre-DV experiments encompassed primitive animation (pausing a video camera frame-by-frame), a small doll on fire, recursive televisions (a Gocher head in each one), free jazz interludes, and the occasional drum solo. Just as his bandmates’ personalities were relentlessly on display during their part of the evening, Gocher’s home video tinkerings were perhaps even more intimate.

Playing a greatest-hits-set from a 25-year career that has (so far) yielded 50-plus full-lengths but nothing even remotely resembling a hit, the Arizona natives only hinted at the scope of their achievements. Playing cutaway acoustic guitars and dressed in blazers, caps, and sunglasses, they collapsed Indian and pan-Asian scales into the confines of the same six strings that so many assholes with cutaways have abused. Even so, the format served the Bishops in exactly the same way, revealing the music’s essentials. Adding droning harmonies, the two danced between novelty and art. Throat singing or gurgling? Shamanistic channelings or Ween-like funny voices and obscenity? “Fuck ’em down the one-way throat!” they sang on “Yellow Fever,” from 1997’s Box of Chameleons. And that’s not to mention the spoken word.

Even at their silliest, the Bishops’ shared musical vocabulary was on full display. While it might be appropriate to compare their work to the secret languages twins are sometimes said to invent, it’s probably more apt to simply describe the Bishops’ concoction as a genre of its own, doling out knowledge microscopically through a turn here, a voicing there. It is a language that allows them to declare, in harmony (as they did on 1987’s “Dreamland”), that they’re “gonna pop off your testicles in my fisted hand,” follow it with a solo breathing tenderly in quiet melodies born of pre-War American pop, and conclude with more throat-singing.

“That’s what you get left with: a fucking Tuvan singer and a Peruvian little folk band sitting at the Starbucks with a Putumayo up your fucking ass,” Alan growled. “Thank you very much, good night.” An encore, one more toast of Gocher’s cup to the crowd, and they were gone, maybe for good—girls, brothers, shaman, pranksters, Bishops, all.

“Rick and Alan Bishop Hail the Duke of Alcohol” by Andy Beta