Freedom From Showcase: Hair Police, Sightings, Neon Hunk, Nautical Almanac, Mammal, Aaron Dilloway, the Aaron Rosenbloom Project, @ Empty Bottle, July 4th, 2002
by Brad Sonder
July 4th! Hooray for freedom,
right? Freedom From! What does that mean anyway? Is that like "Freedom
From Expensive Checking"? Anyway, can't remember what I did to celebrate
my freedom during the day...I think I slept 'til noon and then just helped Dolman
lay out this overworked damn magazine until the show.
Apologies to the Aaron Rosenbloom Project, who I missed, making it in time for the 2nd act (and 2nd Aaron), Aaron Dilloway. He did what could be called a 'drone' performance, as he sat down, hidden by his table of gear, and basically performed a really fucking huge stormcloud passing in and out of the club, a sonic fog of lost ghost screams and scary sounds. Total time for it to pass through: oh, 15 minutes or so. New Ominous? Yes, but HN_AM take ominous back to the funky ghetto.
During Dilloway's mood-piece, Mammal started setting up on the floor, which you just knew was gonna be good times, and it did indeed get wild when his freaky grooves started up, and the rather small but very enthusiastic crowd pressed up around him, knocking around the stools he had his equipment balanced on. His setup barely stayed aloft for the first song, and before the second the audience helped him lower the setup to the floor, and he started the next jam crouched over it with people pressed around. The music sounded just as good, but the performance aesthetic wasn't quite right, so the same people who helped him lower it to the floor lifted it back up and actually held it up for him for the next jam or two. And so it went on, with people dancing and hollering and carrying on.
Nautical Almanac played too, who I had never seen play, even though Carly Ptak was on the cover of Blastitude #11. Her arm was in a sling but she wore a sunny dress and disposition as she set up her genius array of homemade electronic instruments. Her paramour Twig Harper wore an impressively nappy head o' hair under a Pittsburgh Pirates hat and had his own more subtle electronic set-up off to the side of the stage. Before the Almanac set, we were wondering who this big guy with the white beard and flip-flops was, walking around like he was Father Yod or something. He turned out to be Nautical Almanac's special guest Shadow Drifter, who I later learned is also known as Little Howlin' Wolf, who I'd already been hearing about around town. He's a Freak, in the capitalized Frank Zappa kinda sense, a street musician (from "the south side," of course) who plays folky sax and little peyote rattles, while doing chants and raps that use a lot of Dr. John-like imagery (during his set-closing rap he even used the word "django" a couple times). It was actually a great move by Almanac, thanks to Twig matchin' the Shadow Driftin' schtick with some real soul of his own, digging deep for perfect dada screams and subtle voice manipulations while Ms. Ptak kept everything moving with her table of riffage.
Next were already semi-legendary Reader critic's choice Sightings. Hair Police were somewhat concerned with having to play after Sightings, but the boys from NYC didn't set the bar quite as high as their records might promise they would. (i.e. the "fucking destruction" wasn't "total.") They were pretty damn good, but surprisingly, rather low-key for this crowd, starting with a long, tranced, quasi-dubby piece. After that, they got into some more raging material, that still differed from the total abandon of the Hair Police, I think by the rather sick alienating tones the guitarist and bassist used; like amplifying tin-foil and cotton, respectively, as loud as the sound system could handle. The crowd got into it, but compared to the average Freedom From act there was a rare wall of biliousness coming from the stage which kept people at a distance. In fact, they reminded me of the days ten years ago in Lincoln, NE when NYC band Unsane would come to Duffy's Tavern in Lincoln once a year. They too were serious and no-nonsense regular-enough guys who didn't chit-chat too much and then calmly got on stage and emitted a thunderous and bilious wall of sound for 35 minutes.
Kick ass Sightings did, but it wasn't anything the Hair Police had to worry about, or vice versa. Each band does their own thing, and the Hair Police played what is possibly their best show of all time. (I've only been to a handful myself, but I wouldn't be surprised.) If Sightings reminded me of Unsane, the Hair Police reminded me of Black fribbin' Flag. Of course, the musical formula isn't exactly the same. That would be a retro strategy, and making retro music your whole strategy is so lame that even just doing knob-twiddling noise music is smarter (although fast approaching retro status itself). Somehow Hair Police are able to take the Flag's sonic intensity and aura of chaos and destruction, and translate it into the language of a newer generation. Instead of just another Black Flag 1982, this is an actual 2002 model.
Which is all just a prelude for me to tell you that as soon as Hair Police's second song this night started, about 14 or 15 people -- hell, practically half of the people who were watching up front -- all got on stage and knocked shit over, including the band members. An audience member -- I believe it was James "Twig" Harper (you can't miss the hair) -- took over the bass, and someone else took over on vocals. Somehow the Hair Police played about 6 more songs -- their whole set, really, maybe just a few minutes shorter than usual. This is where the Black Flag thing really got serious. These rowdy fans were fuckin' with Mike C hard, probably the biggest taste of his own medicine he'd had in the Hair Police's short career, and he responded like Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk. (Dude, we've got pictures.) Hey, we're all sick of Henry Rollins nowadays, but Mike C's performance couldn't help but make me think about the young Rollins, goin' out on tour for months at a time in every backwater town in America. The tough punks in every town were seriously out to reciprocate his mean vibes, and he was getting spit on, grabbed, scratched, hit, and cigarettes were put out on him. On the tours where he grew his hair long it got really bad.
But it's different with the Hair Police -- the chaos is still there, but this time the full-on damage isn't about hate, it's somehow about love. No one was getting hurt at the Hair Police show. People may have been getting foolish, but no one was getting mean. Hair Police, like Andrew W.K., give audiences a right to act silly. Who better to celebrate Independence Day with?