Monday, November 15, 2004

Sin City, Texas...

Just above Austin, there's a place called Sun City. I've never been there, but hope to get there one day, or at least get a picture of myself beaming cross-eyed and jovial like an American monument in front of that big green exit sign. Of course the Sun City Girls, the band, originated in Sun City, Arizona over 20 years ago, and currently reside in that gray mecca of coffee and tears, Seattle, WA. These Sun City Girls (who are actually three GUYS--two brothers named Bishop and an older one name of Charles Gocher, shares a birthday with, what's his name? Manson--Charles Manson, and that day just happens to coincide with the same day of a rock show in Austin, TX, November 12th. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!). Lot had happened since the Girls' last Texas visit. A certain shrub had taken to flight. Two big towers were destroyed. A lot of people everywhere died. Some of it was broadcast. And the Girls had taken on such varied endeavors as clearing out their massive archives with the Carnival Folklore Resurrection series (now at something like 13 releases); the masters of noise and psych over at Eclipse Records had taken it upon themselves to reissue the first 20 (or so) Sun City Girls albums in thick black double vinyl editions. And then comes word of this mysterious Sublime Frequencies entity, a label devoted to compilations of world music that the Bishop brothers had obtained through field recordings and other questionable means over the last 20 years. A label that has already taken off im some circles with chronicles of street and radio music from Bali, Syria, Libya, India and much more delivered as alien radio transmissions and brain scrambled aural collages. I strongly suggest further investigation if ya wanna know the what-fer in terms of world dance parties and spiritual possessions. I guess this all suggests that the Girls' presence in the underground is vast and constantly evolving to the point that it's a self consuming ouroborus of aural enlightenment the likes of which the world has never really known before. Just how does one describe the full frontal assault that is the Sun City Girls, anyway? Carefully, and possibly while not in a cogent state of mind. The Sun City Girls are a trio that derives its sound from bombed out, stumbling garage rock; the free jazz rumble and clatter of Sun Ra; the twisted jazz punk of Captain Beefheart, along with tons of ethnic music embellishments from Europe, the Middle and Far East, but as with any great mysterious cult group (Residents, early Eno, Velvet Underground, Negativland and the Bonzo Dog Band among them), a healthy sense of irreverence dominates the proceedings. The Frogs, who SCG's shared a split single with, are another touchstone. It should also be noted the brothers Bishop were in a band that featured Mo Tucker in the early 80s called Paris 1942. In other words they're firmly ensconced in the American underground substrate, and have never really come up for air. No buzz bin videos in their past. No fluke hits. Respectable, but the resultant brain damage due to this continuous lack of oxygen has left its debilitating mark. Given the relative subversiveness of their live shows and album covers (such as a photo of the trio in full terror regalia holding instruments as their trusted weapons), that's probably a good thing. To fully appreciate what the Sun City Girls have to offer requires stepping back a bit from the lunacy of it all and viewing their procession of strange sounds (and images) through a panethnic filter where Monty Python's brand of sardonicism has the firmest grasp of our world understanding. In other words, don't take shit so seriously and you'll be fine.

With all this and more in mind, my friend and I hit Emos early that cold Friday night with high hopes, but the place was empty. A worried guitarist in the noise/psych unit Rubbles is fearful of a weak turnout. My friend and I decide to head over to a place called Lovejoys and drink coffee and baileys and other alcohollically tinged concoctions to keep our itchy throats warm. He notices the fluctuating timbers of the constant drone of the crowd noise, a kind of mass verbal improv that everyone's noticed at one point or another, and suggests I record it next time I'm in town. Smart guy. We then spend 15 mins discussing the best place to put the mic, settling on a high book shelf not too far from the front door. We hit Emos just in time to catch the beginning of Rubbles, sadly and surprisingly missed Weird Weeds. Rubbles are pretty incendiary though, with members of Tex psych punk luminaries the Butthole Surfers, Ash Castles and the proprietor of Emperor Jones Records among its ranks. They make a throbbing clamor that's a pure aural bombardment for a good 40 mins or so. Mid 80s Sonic Youth, Primordial Undermind, even the Swans come to mind. Painful to behold at extreme volumes, yet Rubbles are capable of instantly transforming the entire club into a canted framed, strobed out, acid zombie freakout. The disorienting light show compliments the messiness of it all. They play their set behind a white sheet as various images are projected onto it.

During the Rubbles set I say hola to Alan Bishop, who suggests we're in for a good show. And we are. The SCG's have covered an absurd amount of ground in their 23 years. Their albums range from trashed out cover records to extended acid streaked journeys through Dante's Inferno (centered around the the husky demonic croon of Gocher), Malaysian sound collages, art-farty punk, free jazz, ethnic surf rock and more. Things start with Rick Bishop molesting his guitar at obtuse angles, fingers climbing up and down the neck like a double jointed spider as various skewed notes trail from amps in spherical ribbons of fully malformed jazz. Then enter Alan and Charles on bass and drums, their timing down to the millisecond as the trio jumps, whoops and jerks with a cohesion reserved for single body masses. It's not really possible to list album titles, but a lot of stuff from the Carnival Folklore series (some of which was reworked/rereleased versions of older material) was in there. Throughout Alan Bishop would assume any number of characters and cast all sorts of demonic incantations in the form of "angry Arabic street vendor" or a "possessed Balinese witchdoctor" that proved feverish, spontaneous and perfectly choreographed. In between the more typical ethno punk clatter, the trio would fall back in on themselves in warped lounge jazz cuts, during which Gocher would come out from behind his kit and don his twisted lounge singer persona. Later on, during a particularly evil sounding collision of downtuned Sabbathian sludge and Arabic chanting, Bishop reveals that he's wearing a tee with everyone's favorite world terrorist threat on the cover, but my favorite part might just be later in the show, when all three began cursing and yelling, each in his own nonlinear babble-verse where at various points familiar SCG characters and demons would materialize, but I was mostly lost in the layered effect the three mad men held together... Hilarious and fucked up, they all may as well have been shouting "Yes, we are weird" in multiple languages, some of which were probably invented on the spot. If anything really surprised me it was the fierceness of their attack. There was pretty much no let up during their almost two hour set, but I was never less than enthralled at any time. My Sun City cherry hath officially been decimated. I do not mean to suggest that the SCG's lampoon other ethnic cultures, more that they have a deep fascination with and empathy for these so called primitive religions and use this in their performance as a kind of theater of the absurd and a serious spiritual comment on the world today, which they might liken to the Kali Yuga of Hindu lore in spiritual terms.

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