Maybe I’m sheltered by the fact that so many of the entertainments I enjoy are safely ensconced in the vague parameters of the underground (a relative term, as I’m not sure how “underground” a thing can be with so much media currently so easily findable, downloadable and streamable), but it’s rare that there’s much controversy surrounding whatever provocative event it is I’m planning on attending. I realize that fully 90% of what I enjoy is unacceptable for workplace conversations, but that’s as far ahead as I think in terms of potential friction. In fact, I assumed a Cold Cave show would be one of the less eyebrow-raising events I’ve attended, providing minimal need to dodge the elbows, ‘roid ragers and Robitussin hobos that I’ve encountered at more aggressive musical outings. I figured I’d stand around looking aloof, admire some high cheekbones and maybe have a few drinks in an interesting venue.
As they are wont to do, Things Got Weird when the support for this tour was announced: vintage 80s counterculture villain Boyd Rice. For those of you unfamiliar with Rice (all both of you), he’s an American artist, author and experimental musician who is associated with the noise and apocalyptic folk movements under his own banner, NON, or as a collaborator with acts that include Death in June and Current 93. He’s also a rabid pop-culture archivist (back when that meant something more than hitting the little Ouroboros arrow button on Tumblr) who has an abiding fascination with All Things Camp. What he’s notorious for, however, is his association with prominent figures in the White Power and Neo-Nazi movements as well as his statements surrounding rape, violence and aggressive Social Darwinism. I encourage anyone who’s interested in unpacking the Boyd Rice Phenomenon to read interviews with the man, starting with this pretty fantastic one on WFMU’s Beware of the
TL;DR: Boyd Rice is hella-divisive and not a particularly easy figure to discuss with any degree of civility, and I’m pretty sure he wants it that way.
So, my comfortable little spooky countercultural boat got a bit rocked by this announcement when shows on the tour started getting cancelled due to threats of not-entirely-peaceful protest. Public controversy alarms me, and I had visions of smoke-bombings running through my mind: my eyes tearing up with a clawed hand held to the sky as I gasp out: “I… didn’t even… get to hear… ‘Underworld USA‘…” as I expire from lack of breath.
I have a melodramatic streak.
The show did wind up going on in Brooklyn (in spite of cancellations in Philadelphia and Boston), but the promoters compromised by making anti-fascist pamphlets available at the show. Allow me to share images of the anti-fascism pamphlets:
They’re printouts of the Wikipedia entries for “Fascism” and “Racism.” Notably, “Misogyny” was not represented, as apparently Rice’s deliberately inflammatory pro-rape ranting didn’t warrant a mention. My brain was cynically smug, but my vagina was sad. Fortunately, none of my body was physically threatened at any point, as there were precisely zero protestors at the show. They were all at home hammering on the reblog Ouroboros to express their outrage.
One of the terrific things about the venue for this show, 285 Kent, is that it has a strong DIY vibe. It’s a warehouse with a stage at one end and some coolers at the other that serve as the bar, happily announcing on signs that the hard liquor is “all shit.” I can vouch that the whiskey was, in fact, shit, but not shit enough to prevent me from having two. There’s a certain flavor to the combination of distilled liquor and long-chain-polymers that makes a person feel alive. I am perversely obsessed with public bathrooms in dicey venues (you should see all the photos of graffiti and broken mirrors that I have on my phone that I choose not to inflict on the internet), and the bathrooms at 285 Kent are next-fucking-level. Like, to the point that one of them is actively dangerous: the toilet was rocking on its foundations, threatening to send those unfortunate enough to have to use it seated into an abyss somewhere below the foundations of the warehouse. I recommend the experience unreservedly.
The opening act (whose name I don’t recall but who someone can surely Google if they so wish) was of the variety I have lovingly dubbed Keyboards And Juice. As in, it’s a dude, in front of a keyboard, with some type of beverage that he sips between shouting, for half an hour. It’s less fun than karaoke because 1) he is a stranger and 2) you are not drunk enough yet.
Boyd Rice deftly avoided the dreaded Keyboards And Juice curse by virtue of being Boyd Rice, professional bogeyman. There’s a certain charisma that comes with infamy, that exudes from a person who knows that he’s KNOWN for reasons that are other-than-admirable. What I’m trying to say is, I’m pretty sure Boyd Rice is a noise music lich. A gaunt and bizarre stage presence, Rice’s lack of affect was unchanged by whatever material he happened to be stuffing up his nose throughout the evening. I can’t drink coffee without getting nervous and wanting to punch someone, so I found this especially impressive. Perhaps cocaine is his phylactery.
I’m not the ideal person to give an even-handed review a Cold Cave performance for a couple of reasons. First being that 2010’s “Cherish the Light Years” is an album I enjoy to an almost silly degree, second being Wesley Eisold looks just like Baron XIII, my partner of over thirteen years, except covered in tattoos. I’m extremely positively disposed towards this band, probably to the point of being an apologist. All that having been said, I had a wonderful time. The joy of going to a non-aggro show is that I can get right up on the stage without fear of being touched, bumped or otherwise man-handled (I was scarred by spending the duration of a Life of Agony show on top of a soda machine at Studio One in Newark as a teenager). Being in that warehouse, hearing loud music that I loved reverberating off every surface, feeling that rail whiskey unknitting my neurons–it was a rewarding physical experience.
And lo–in spite of my initial reservations, I got to hear “Underworld USA,” right the hell up front without risk to Tenebrous life and limb. Small blessings, guys–we have to relish those.