Friday, 21 September 2012

Review: Dead Skeletons

Oh wow, just wow! I had high hopes for this gig and this Icelandic group did not disappoint. There, really, that's all you need to know about last night.

A while ago, on a warm spring evening in Austin, TX with some pizza, we talked about what makes an artist successful and an NPR feature was quoted, which was all about the story behind the artist and the aura and illusion created. It argued that if people had a story to associate with the artist or, even better, to identify with, they would connect with the music in a different way and would more likely become loyal followers. I have often thought about that conversation since and have looked at musicians that I admire in a new light. I also think, this holds true for arts other than music, most famously Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys, who constantly reinvented their lives to create an image and tale that people would want to connect with and find out more about. A prominent musical example is definitely Jack White, who receives such admiration in part due to the story and aura he has fabricated over the years.

I am telling you all this because the one thing I took away from yesterday's show is how effortlessly music and art can be combined and how creating an aura and mystique around you can truly aid the perception of the music you produce. Now there may be purists who feel that music should be enjoyed for what it is. But with today's abundance of bands and the internet to confuse listeners, you need something to stand out, to set you apart from the flock. Dead Skeletons skillfully appeal to all your senses and thus magically create an experience that puts you into a trance and, at the same time, has you rock like you are in a garage in 1967. 

Before the band came onstage, the DJ team mixed several Indian dance songs into their set, while kaleidoscopic projections were screened at the back of the darkened stage. I do not actually know whether this was cleverly crafted by the band to prepare the audience for the performance or whether this was just naturally done by Kater Holzig and the 8mm DJ team. Either way, it worked - the tension was mounting, the packed room was getting hot, and any pre-check of the equipment was receiving the closest attention in case this was the gig finally starting. 

Finally, deep, choral music was played while the first member of the group entered the stage, dressed like some ancient warlord with a scarf wrapped around his head, feathers sticking out, a lot of beads and ethnic fabrics. He began to paint with black paint on to a white canvas that was lit from behind with orange lighting. This ritual took some minutes while people watched in awe and, I dare say, a few did not really know what to make of this. While he was painting a skull, which he would then turn into some lion head with horns, the remaining six people came onstage and started playing their instruments: three guitars, bass, drums, percussion/keyboards. Dead Skeletons had hired two additional musicians for this performance, one being the guitarist for Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band was strumming away in psychedilic fashion, while the singer was lighting insence sticks and turning on a monitor at the front of the stage that would play graphics throughout the set, then humming into the microphone, setting members of the audience off to dance wildly and in trance, while a veil of smoke was surrounding us.

I mean, think about that for a second. They played not only with our hearing sense but with scent, with visuals, connected with us through the performance art of the painting. We had all completely bought into this before even a single regular song had been played. The whole experience in the more than appropriate circus setting of Kater Holzig was so otherworldly, like attending the ceremony of a sect or an ancient tribal ritual, you could do nothing but to go along. The imagery that Dead Skeletons use leads to believe that they indeed are fascinated with religion and cult. The afore-mentioned singer sports a tattooed image of Jesus on one arm and one of Shiva on the other, while using Native American, Southern American, African and Asian art in his appearance. It's not exactly streamlined and all of it is borrowed off a variety of cultures, but he puts it together in a way that effortlessly says "I am weird and I am your master". Of course you could argue that this could distract from the music, but no sir, given the nature of Dead Skeletons' music, this fitted perfectly. 

Most of the other band members look like garage rock hip persons, albeit ones that like feathers on their instruments. And this is where Dead Skeletons truly excel. Not only do they appeal to your senses, confront you with weirdness, create an aura. They also, at the same time, reconnect with you through being a regular band, playing regular music and ensuring there is a dance element to each of their songs. Musically spanning the bridge nicely from psychedelica to krautrock, throwing in interesting elements of garage and surf rock, you cannot stand still. And last night, nobody did. It's a work of musical genius. Again, it is all somehow borrowed, but again, it is put together with so much attention to detail, to so much perfection. And when they go into a garage riff, and when the second vocalist uses his unusually deep voice, you think of Neu!, you think of The Doors, you think of Joy Division all at once. And you dance. And you look around you and the audience is swinging, is dancing, is jumping up and down, is hugging each other, is smiling, is looking ahead in trance.

Dead Skeletons played for well over an hour. I doubt anybody in the audience would have guessed because time flew by. People were screaming for encores but this is not a band for an encore. Instead, they went straight into DJing for the audience, satisfying the urge to dance that everybody was still feeling. They may be young but they are clever and they know what they are doing. What a night!

P.S.: The gig was being filmed professionally, so watch out for some footage being distributed at some point in the future.

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