by Jack Diablo
The best part about writing these reviews is discovering bands you might not have considered otherwise. As you peruse the upcoming shows, you tend to overlook the bands whose names you’ve never heard before. And who has the time to research every single one? Such was the case with experimental rock ensemble, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.
At first it was the name that got my attention. A quick Google search took me down a rabbit hole from which there was no escape. The band’s website is a labyrinth of misinformation and insane flash animation. Read their history and you will learn of the group’s formation almost a hundred years ago by futurists and dadists. The musical part of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum exists only as an afterthought at the hands of the fictional museum’s closing. Playing their first show in front of a lone banana slug, they have performed for species of the human variety ever since. After reading all this, my interest was piqued and I knew I had to see this band live.
The opening act was a group called Gargamel out of Orlando. Yes, as in the black-robed, hunch-backed Smurfs’ villain and not the Norwegian prog band of the same. Watching this particular band play had me second-guessing my decision to show up at all. They played crappy nu-metal songs about necrophilia and dead babies and the like. The lead singer wore a polyester kimono with dragons on it and sported that fake metal spiked goatee thing despite his shaved head. The rest of the band seemed oddly out of place alongside this guy. His vocals sounded like the half-wit offspring of Incubus’ Brandon Boyd and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian mixed with weird glottal screaming. The only thing worse was his speaking voice. When he talked he did so in the voice of one of those all-rock radio station morning DJs. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they closed their set with the most ridiculous medley of songs ranging from John Mellencamp to Fall Out Boy to Ozzy.
Luckily Jack Rabbits was selling two dollar pints of Natty Light to keep me subdued.
So when I saw Sleepytime Gorilla Museum take the stage dressed as pirates and street urchins from a parallel Ziggy Stardust universe, I regretted ever getting in my car. Until they started playing that is.
What first strikes you when you see SGM on stage, besides the costumes and the fact that one member is currently incredibly pregnant, is the lack of traditional instruments. In addition to guitar and drums, the band boasts an array of homemade instruments of their own creative invention. There is the electric pancreas, the percussion guitar and Grandma’s attic, just to name a few. The auxiliary percussion section consisted of an amplified bike wheel, suspended circular saw blade, bent cymbals and the kitchen sink, literally.
When the lights go down and the music starts, it seems as though you are watching a back alley Cirque du Soleil or some kind of modern theatre of the absurd. The lighting technician they brought did an amazing job providing a dynamic routine that coincided perfectly with the music and set the ambiance just right. The atmospherics were creepy, surreal and mesmerizing. And then there is the music.
If I had to make a comparison, I would say mix up the proggy storytelling and weird rhythmics of Coheed and Cambria with the junkyard sound of Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and sprinkle in some generic goth group and you’re pretty close. While it isn’t something I would normally listen to, it worked extremely well live. I anticipated the performance to be somewhat more theatrical and rehearsed but in actuality there was plenty of improvisational interaction with the crowd that was both engaging and humorous at times. When the singer spoke he sounded like Wild Bill from Silence of the Lambs, but his singing voice was like a prog-metal Tom Waits at his most bizarre.
The pregnant member I mentioned sang a few tunes with a truly angelic, almost operatic voice and was a virtuoso on the violin. I can only imagine the kind of insane prenatal dreams that baby is having when these shows occur.
What is amazing is how organic and analog everything is even though it sounds as though it must be synthesized. Most of the noise they make seems almost unreproducible by human effort. And they are able to do it in a way that is calculated and rhythmic as opposed to obnoxious or assaulting. Their brand of experimentation puts acts like Animal Collective to shame, running back to the laboratory with tails tucked.
Whether the music strikes your fancy or not, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s live performance is one of those must-sees. If for no other reason than to open your doors of perception or expand your idea of what is possible on the small stage, you must check out one of their shows!
Jack Rabbits http://jackrabbitsonline.com
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum http://sleepytimegorillamuseum.com
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum w/ Gargamel
by Jack Diablo