Music

Live: The Butthole Surfers Ring In The New Year With Balloons, Strobes, Violence, And Possible Digital-Genital Contact At MHOW

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Butthole Surfers
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Friday, December 31, 2010

Better Than: Sharing a flask of warm champagne and a handful of stale gorp at the Phish show.

Upon getting jostled and stage-squished for about the seventh time, my friend turns to me and says, “After midnight, everyone’s IQ dropped about 40 points.” It was New Year’s Eve in the year of Four Loko. It was the Butthole Surfers, a band whose idea of “improv” is extending the farrrrrrrt in “Lady Sniff.” There were so, so many balloons. No one needed an excuse to get stupid.

It was almost staid before the witching hour. Back in the day (1987, say), the Austin-born surrealist punx put on pre-apocalyptic shows that would’ve give the Mayans a howling fucking aneurysm, what with the dancers and strobes and medical footage and nudity and fire and Wiffle Ball bats turned into mystical piss-wands and whatnot. But until midnight 2011 in Brooklyn, it was just some familiar dudes playing a good art-rock show. Openers Lumerians dropped some accomplished, groovetastic, costumed Kraut-psych Wooden Shjit that was very well-received in Oneida country. Whereupon the Buttholes, champagne in hand, commenced soldiering through their Touch & Go catalog (“Sweat Loaf,” “I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas”) like a sludgy party band. Bassist Jeff Pinkus and guitarist Paul Leary were all smiles and goofy rock kicks and chicken dances, making hilarious faces when they reached the upper regions of their guitar necks, because playing on the upper region of your guitar is inherently ridiculous (they’ll admit it, Santana won’t). It was trashy, mushy, and inexact, like the Dead C fueled on Miller High Lifes. I couldn’t even recognize “Creep in the Cellar” until the last 10 seconds. Frontgoon Gibby Haynes was concentrating a little harder than his bandmates, sweating his face off and tweaking his vocal rig to splurt out hypnogogic growls, manic warbles, and cartoonish pixie blurts.

And then it went off. At 11:58, without even looking at a watch, Haynes announced, “Let’s just go ahead and do this.” His countdown, naturally, was as sloppy and haphazard and instinctual as any Butthole Surfers song. Enter 1993’s mighty Dust Devil to ring in the New Year: the band’s first admission that they turned into a major-label crypto-metal band during the heart of Nirvanamania. It was time to get dumb. Balloons came down. Then the net that held them came down. More than anything, the balloons changed the tone of the show from “fun” to “unhinged.” Haynes started spiking balloons like volleyballs into peoples’ faces. I caught one in the eyeglasses (it stung, it was worth it). Someone else had the iPhone knocked right from his hand — a very 2011 problem. Haynes put two balloons in his shirt like big boobs. Some dude went around angrily popping them for some reason.

The rest of the night played out like the celebration you’d expect. The Surfers played like 90 seconds (at best) of their only hit song (“Pepper”), and made sure that it was well hidden behind a disgusting shitwall of horrific guitar torture. The mosh pit turned from drunken stumbling into an open chasm for King of the Mountain warfare. There was a lengthy noise outro wherein the room was bleached with strobe lights and we all entered the void. I think I saw a couple engaged in some digital/genital contact. Pro tip to bands: Bring balloons.

Critical Bias: My girlfriend once seriously bonded with Teresa Nervosa over some Skee-Ball tickets at All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Overheard: “I’m getting a beer. No more Rohypnol for New Year’s.”

Random Notebook Dump: At one point, Haynes looked out and marveled, “From what I can tell from here, a lot of you are physically attractive. And that’s a rare thing at a Butthole Surfers show.” He wasn’t wrong.

Set List
Sweat Loaf
Cowboy Bob
One Hundred Million People Dead
Suicide
Rocky
Negro Observer
Bar-B-Q Pope
Bong Song
Creep in the Cellar
I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas
Too Parter/Tornadoes
Dust Devil
Pittsburg To Lebanon
O-Men
U.S.S.A
Weber
Lady Sniff/Pepper
22 Going on 23
Gary Floyd
Blindman
Fast

(encore)

Cherub
Edgar
Goofy’s Concern
The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave