Watching legendary industrial crew Throbbing Gristle finally play their first American show in 28 years (and their first New York performance since ever) was like seeing a museum piece. Sure, once upon a time they set out to destroy the pomp and circumstance of rock, disposing of things like “pulse” and “melody” and “engaging with your audience instead of showing them concentration camp footage.” But after three decades, their offspring have long since figured out ways to piss people off even more. Hell, opener Bruce McClure did a better job of channeling the energy of a real Throbbing Gristle show–three ghostly seizure lights flickering nauseatingly out-of-sync to nauseatingly out-of-sync grinding while a security guard mean-mugged the audience–garnering a chorus of cheers, boos, “asshole” and “shut the up fuck, asshole.” All Throbbing Gristle had to rely on was their legacy (immense) and their unique abilities at making penetrating, abyss-staring, bleak, howling, depressive music (ditto).
And they brought it, even if it seemed installation-ready. Three laptops sat on stage (three more than would have 30 years ago), and for a while the spectacle was downright placid. Then about 30 minutes in, shit got Haunted Mansion in the Masonic Hall–the volume peaked, the entire room went completely black, the chairs started rumbling, drinks started flying off the balcony, camera phones went back into pockets. Of course this was all followed by riotous applause.
So how can a band provoke an audience when they’re getting a hero’s welcome? Well for starters, they can put a half-assed two-and-a-half-hour “signing session” and opening act in the middle of their two set show. Part of deconstructing the concert experience? Who cares? And holy shit, if you don’t want to hear bitter complaining all night, don’t ever play to a room of ex-goths with the house lights on! People practically rioted! Genesis P-Orridge, amused at the situation, commented after the fifteenth “Turn the fucking house lights off”: “Does that mean you think we’re so ugly that you don’t want to look at us? ‘Cause we think we’re quite cute.”
But for the music, it was almost too perfect: Impeccably layered, full of all the right sounds, loud as fuck. They played the hits, or what passes for hits–“Zyklon B Zombie” and “Hamburger Lady”–and barely got a response different that the rapturous adoration that held steady throughout the night. With the buzz-and-drone of classic TG intact, the group added a heavier emphasis on pulse–likely residual from the post-TG work of P-Orridge’s Psychic TV and Peter Christopherson’s Coil. A cabal of kids on stage left bounced–happily! Eee!–like a pack of Animal Collective fans high on life and high-speed internet. Yeah, these dudes are gonna have no problem at Coachella.