SKINNY PUPPY at OGDEN THEATRE | 2/24/14 The outrageous outfit Ogre is seen wearing above is just one of many he donned during his band's show last night at the Ogden Theatre. Over the course of the show, the Skinny Puppy vocalist changed costumes at fairly regular intervals, the most dramatic of which came during "The Choke." As the song was winding down, Ogre stepped behind the projection screen for a few moments as cEvin Key and Ken Marshall kept the atmospheres running and Justin Bennett went from a more direct drumming style to minimalist textures. When Ogre reappeared, he had transformed from an alien/mythological reaper creature into what at first looked like a werewolf but turned out to be some kind of berserker shaman that proved especially effective.
When the set began, the members of Skinny Puppy came on one by one, with Ogre making a quietly dramatic entrance in a reaper/wizardly robe and holding a large umbrella in front of him painted in the yellow-and-black pattern of a radioactive-hazard symbol. The hand not holding the umbrella held what appeared to be a rusty machete. The band started the show with "Illisit," a song from Weapon, and it felt like getting to see an older show sans all the fake blood. Bennett brought a layer of organic physicality to augment Ogre's own highly theatrical poses and gestures. But it was Walk and Key who colored the mood and provided the truly powerful low end that flowed through each song and guided it into the appropriate paths of melody and sculpted musical impact.
The first three songs the band played were from Weapon and the more sound-design-oriented HanDover. The band also threw in "The Choke," from Bites, and, really, it didn't seem as though the sonic character of the music was so very different across the time span and styles represented by the three songs. In that way, it felt like Skinny Puppy reconciled the sounds from across its career in a way that emphasized the dynamics without losing the ability of the songs to be immediately evocative. The new material never felt like inferior product but rather like the work of a reinvigorated band connected to what has made its music so compelling to its fans in the first place.
Until the end of the set, Ogre's costume changes were not as drastic after he switched out of berserker mode into that of a post-apocalyptic, masked torturer with long dreads hanging out past the mask. At one point, he held a device that cast a purple-and-blue light on his face mask, outlining its features vividly while the rest of him remained dark except for the ambient light.
"First Aid" came as a pleasant surprise as the other Cleanse Fold and Manipulate song. But what followed was probably the most unexpected, as the outfit closed the main set with the rework of its Remission song "Solvent." As the song came to a close, Ogre was put into a box on stage and pushed to the back as the stage went dark.
The group didn't make us wait long before returning, with Ogre strolling onto the stage without visibly having gotten out of the box. He looked more like a roguish circus barker and had an introductory soliloquy to match, as the band went into a trio of other Remission songs, with the almost jovial "Far Too Frail," the deep and dark yet defiant "Glass Houses" and one of its most beloved songs, the urgent yet melancholy "Smothered Hope." The encore ended with a newer song, "Overdose," that felt right in line with the Remission material.
Clearly the audience wanted more of what was already an outstanding showing, and the bandmembers indulged that craving by coming back on. When they returned, Ogre made a humorous yet articulately playful, poetic remark about marijuana being legal in Colorado before treating us to a rendition of "Assimilate." Sure, some people wanted to hear some songs from Too Dark Park and Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse or even Last Rites, but you could hardly fault the band for such a great selection of songs with a sequencing that made for a show that never felt like it ebbed in momentum and power.
Earlier in the evening, Army of the Universe, from Milan, Italy, which opened the show, had a similarly interesting and well thought-out song selection. The band came out of the gates with its more industrial rock songs in what felt like the first third of a three-part set. The songs representing the 2013 album The Hipster Sacrifice sounded like the group had learned a thing or two from what Trent Reznor has been doing for the last decade, being dynamically bouncy, but also sounding as though the beats are a physical force bumping into each other in some strange balance of chaos and intentionality. Chris Vrenna formerly of KMFDM sat in on drums for this tour, and he brought his own organic element to what is essentially electronic music, though he appeared in control of some electronic percussion himself.
The middle part of the band's set seemed less focused on rock and more on well-sculpted beats and even smoothed out but bass heavy rhythms. It was almost like house music, but with a far greater degree of physical presence, aimed at inspiring a more intense reaction than the average dance band. The final section of Army of the Universe's show ramped up in energy to a more straight ahead modern industrial sound and ended strong. Being the opening band for an iconic act in one's chosen musical style can be tough, but Army of the Universe acquitted itself well.
Skinny Puppy Ogden Theatre 2/24/14 Denver, CO
01. IllisiT 02. Village 03. The Choke 04. Wornin' 05. PlastiCage 06. Deep Down Trauma Hounds 07. Worlock 08. ParagUn 09. Hexonxonx 10. Tsudanama 11. Pasturna 12. Salvo 13. First Aid 14. Solvent
15. Far Too Frail 16. Glass Houses 17. Smothered Hope 18. Overdose
Personal Bias: I remember reading about Skinny Puppy before ever hearing the band, and when I first heard the group, it was when Last Rites came out, and I played it as a DJ in college as regularly as I could. I've been a bit of a fan of Skinny Puppy and its side projects ever since. Random Detail: Ran into: Lipgloss co-founder Michael Trundle; electronic musician and Ableton consultant to the stars Chase Dobson; former Caustic Soul bassist and synth programmer David Spethman; the members of ambient-electro project Mingo; photographer Minerva Spencer; David Colberg of Little Fyodor/Robot Mandala; Matt Jones and Eric Isbell of Black Cell; and DJ Lelly. By the Way: Skinny Puppy must be taking its vitamins or something, because it has become an even better live band in the ten years since I saw it on the Greater Wrong of the Right tour.