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The Best Offensive
By J. Eric Smith

Mindless Self Indulgence
Valentine’s, March 9

Joe Putrock

I feel like I’ve been listening to the future of rock & roll for quite some time now, having scored Mindless Self Indulgence’s dazzlingly unique first two records, Tight and Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy, upon their respective releases. But I hadn’t had a chance to actually see the future of rock & roll until last Saturday night, when Mindless Self Indulgence held court before a sardine-tin-tight crowd at Valentine’s. It was the most exciting concert experience I’ve had in a lot of years . . . and based on the rabid, fervent, adoring response that the rest of crowd directed towards the stage, I’d expect that I’m not alone in that my assessment.

So what made the show so spectacular? First and foremost, of course, was the music, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen delivered in a live performance. Mindless Self Indulgence songs tend to be short, lyrically offensive, and incredibly dense, with more happening rhythmically in 30 seconds than many bands manage over the course of a full-length album. Try to imagine a bizzy drum-and-bass rap number like Outkast’s “B.O.B.” crossed with the herky-jerky rhythms of Devo’s “Satisfaction,” leavened with the big-pop Burundi beats of Kings of the Wild Frontier-era Adam and the Ants, all recorded at 33 1/3 and played back at 78 rpm. That would be something like the Mindless Self Indulgence sound, only it wouldn’t be as good as what MSI do themselves.

MSI have also got stage presence to spare, and they use it in attention-getting and often disturbing ways, pushing the envelope of crowd provocation (tossing potentially dangerous stage equipment into the pit), audience participation (inviting punters onstage to urinate on instruments) and performer self-abuse (sexual and otherwise) well beyond their normal breaking points. Thing is, though, that MSI are one of those rare bands who can work that hard to offend people while making compelling music, all at the same time, much like the Butthole Surfers during their 1984-86 glory days on the road.

Sure, folks like the late G.G. Allin or the Dwarves may have been more offensive in concert than MSI ever will be, but they’ve never scored amazing singles like MSI’s “Bitches” or “Tornado,” nor have they ever crafted such stellar album tracks as “Tight” or “Pussy All Night” or “Faggot” or “I Hate Jimmy Page,” all of which MSI shared with their feverish devotees Saturday night. Nor did they offer a front man of the charismatic character of MSI’s Little Jimmy Urine, who simply vibrated with energy throughout the show, working the crowd like a maestro of mayhem, singing and posing and stripping and posing some more like there was to be no tomorrow, ever again, forever.

His bandmates didn’t lack for onstage talent either. Guitarist Steve, Righ? played the role of the nasty foil to perfection, inviting most of the evening’s more vile fare (he’s got a thing for bodily fluids, methinks) from his corner of the stage, except when he was inviting audience members into the bathroom with him instead. Drummer Kitty beat the hell out of her kit, amazingly keeping up with Urine’s demented preprogrammed beat deconstructions, never misfiring while going into or coming out of any of the evening’s countless stop-start moments. New bassist Lyn-Z played like she’d been in the band forever, holding down the low end in between fits of stage diving and fire-spitting.

As good as those elements were, the sum of their parts was bigger, greater and more dangerous than it had any right to be. How dangerous? MSI absolutely owned the crowd Saturday, and the glee and zeal that audience members exhibited when Urine worked his way through the crowd at show’s end—backslapping, kissing, hugging, hand-shaking, groping and being groped—was almost frightening in its intensity. Odds are, he’s gonna lead all of our children straight to hell before he’s done with them, but I’m gonna be tagging along, just to make sure I don’t miss anything good on the way.

Something Wild

John Hiatt
The Egg, March 10

Well, it’s about damn time. John Hiatt’s been known as a songwriter’s songwriter since well before his groundbreaking Bring the Family album in 1987, and as far as I can tell, Sunday was his first time headlining around here. And the nice folks at the Egg were rewarded for sticking their neck out with a sold-out, rapturous crowd.

I was a little disappointed when I’d heard Hiatt would be solo, given that his new disc The Tiki Bar Is Open rocks like crazy, courtesy of guitarist Sonny Landreth and the Goners. Sunday night, about 30 seconds into Hiatt’s warm reading of “Drive South,” it became clear that a band would have just cluttered up the proceedings. With that voice and those songs, a little guitar accompaniment is more than enough.

And what a glorious thing it was. Hiatt’s elastic, reedy voice, multi-toned screams, gruff bluesman howls and occasional deep baritone rumbles were joys to behold, wondrous, and right on the money. There’s a rage in Hiatt that has him baselining at a boil that would cause most people to pass out, and he ratchets the emotions up from there. We watched a serious madman expertly rail about life, love, kids and disappointment, and Hiatt did it without any noticeable modulation or restraint. The between-song banter was all regular-guy, funny, often-poignant stories of how the various songs came to be, and how Hiatt came to be here on a chilly Sunday night. It was very real and very honest from-the-heart-and-gut stuff.

Hiatt featured songs from his two latest releases, last year’s Tiki Bar and 2000’s Crossing Muddy Waters, a one-two comeback combo that rivals the one-two comeback combo punch of Bring the Family and 1989’s Slow Turning, both of which also got some mileage on Sunday. He played for nearly two hours, performing more than 20 songs, and still failed to satisfy the folks who shouted cacophonies of favorite song titles at him throughout the evening. Dude’s got a songbook, and he barely scratched the surface. I want more.

Opener Tim Easton made some new friends as an arch, itinerant, scruffy folksinger. Easton’s got some great songs, is a fabulous guitarist, is a bit self-conscious, and sounds a lot like Steve Earle or John Prine when they try to sound like Dylan, who, of course, was trying his darndest to sound like Woody Guthrie. Easton pulled the old “I don’t need this microphone” bit for his last song, and sang at the lip of the stage without amplification. As calculated and trite as it was, he pulled it off charmingly, armed with the drop-dead gorgeous waltz “Don’t Walk Alone.” He had the full house eating out of his hands.

—Paul Rapp


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