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A Close Shave

To Live and Shave in L.A., Tarantula Hill, Sept. 11

Uli Loskot
Living and Shaving in No Discernable Time: (from left) Andrew W.K. and Tom Smith

For more pictures, click HERE.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/15/2004

Experimental noise music smells like young skin working itself into a tizzy. At least it did when the turbocharged lineup of 1990s noise-rock veteran To Live and Shave in L.A. landed at Nautical Almanac’s home performance space this past weekend.

“This is the kind of noise music we like,” growled To Live and Shave frontman Tom Smith, sounding like he was yelling underwater with a mouth full of marbles. “Where you hear people laughing and singing and dancing and fucking and having a good time.”

He wasn’t lying. With an ample enough audience to crowd tightly around the four-piece band and raise the temperature inside Tarantula Hill’s third floor to just this side of flesh-melting, yet not so much that the audience members couldn’t flail around like alternayouth possessed by tribal go-go dancers, TLASILA roared through its roughly 50-minute set like four post-apocalyptic techno DJs playing at the same time. Beats gurgled out mad-scientist style, guitar textures and rhythms occasionally synced with the booming pound, electronic noises laser-fired out of speakers and smacked kids in the forehead, and Smith danced around in a floppy hat like the orangutan love child of Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison, as if the aural mess made any sense. Thing was, the band—Smith, guitarist Mark Morgan, electronics poker Rat Bastard, guitarist Don Fleming, and drummer Andrew W.K. (yes, your friend Andrew W.K.)—so enthusiastically acted as if it was doing everything exactly the way it wanted to that the audience duly followed, limbs throbbing in the air like a convention of octopuses after a few cocktails have loosened their morals.

And it ran over you like a greased bull. Where ’90s TLASILA was an almost performance-art experience of opaquely weird noises, absurd hitting of things (the stage, an instrument, the self), and inexplicable stripping, 2004 TLASILA felt like a primitive rock ’n’ roll fish who just decided to start walking on its fins, despite all indicators that such was impossible. Fleming, the former Velvet Monkey and Dim Star and consummate underground presence, exorcised a vomit-launch of growls, chugs, farts, feedback, and wail from his six strings, some of which coincided with Morgan’s similar demon speak and Bastard’s Radio Shack belches. Andrew W.K. maintained a constantly morphing pattern of toms, snare, and bass that was probably telling any neighboring indigenous nations to attack—and quick. That everybody made it out alive suggests nobody was paying much attention, or that they got all war-painted up, got there, smelled the bloodthirsty teen spirit in the air, and fled.

Of course, such blathering inhibition is what Smith is all about. A disciple of the Brion Gysin school of stream of naughty consciousness, Smith actually had people singing along to the pelvis-twitching “Pictures at an Exhibition”—or if not singing, mimicking his bowel growls to the best of their ability. Now that noisy conniption fits are above-ground enough to be “cool”—see also: Wolf Eyes, Load Records, Freedom From, et al.—it’s more difficult to tell if people are responding to the pulsating sounds or if it’s merely the instant soundtrack to a spontaneous au courant free for all (or, in this case, if the Andrew W.K. love spreads to whatever he is doing). Whatever the case, that noise provocateurs such as Smith, Bastard, and Fleming can receive the sort of moist-panty hosannas typically reserved for the famous and beautiful is enough to give any aging crank with a dusty copy of Brainbombs’ “Jack the Ripper Lover” at home hope for the future.

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