Review: Spatula at Climax Lounge, 2/10/12

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Almost without warning, King Lexie looked like she was either wheeled or aided on to stage, her bulging belly indicating a ripe pregnancy. Joining her were Summer Snover and Jesse Roadkill as well as Evan Brown and Paul Cousineau. All were dressed in various costumes, Brown wearing a mask of a multi-faced, bald mutant. Cousineau had a "tee-qualizer" that was like a lit-up equalizer face that shifted when various sectors lit up like it was gauging sound. With a hearty swagger, Roadkill, a mustache drawn on her face and wearing molester glasses, announced into the mic, "Well dip me in shit and roll me in nuts! This chick is preggers!" You could begin a show like a normal band but Spatula was no normal band. Following this announcement Lexie was induced into giving birth and Snover pulled various items out of her the King's womb, throwing items pre-birth into the audience, until Spamuel emerged. It was only then that the music began and Spatula played a song about a monster. While Spatula is really more a performance art thing and a spectacle supreme, the people in the band could actually play and the vocal harmonies between Snover, Lexie and Roadkill were excellent. Had to be otherwise you can't pull off a good prank of a show. Brown's drumming was diverse and accented the music perfectly like he'd played plenty of jazz and experimental music. Cousineau's keyboards created the atmosphere without dominating the sound-scape.

All the songs were ridiculous vehicles for bad jokes throughout but each was also a testament to how these people never confined themselves to a strict musical style or aesthetic. From punk, to warped country to avant-garde pop to straight-ahead rock and show tune compositions, it never seemed like Spatula was trying too hard. And the sheer enthusiasm of the performance carried the show along with an emotional momentum that swept you along as well. At one point Roadkill yelled into the mic "Who wants a mustache ride?" And got immediate counter offers.

Halfway through the show, the band got someone named Valerie on to the stage to get spanked by a spatula. After cycling through various sizes, it was settled that a giant spatula, as tall as King Lexie herself, would do the trick and she and Valerie got off stage. Either Snover or Roadkill riled up the crowd by asking us to chant "Spank that ass" before Lexie wound up and swatted Valerie on the posterior. But it didn't end there and other people were brought forward for this "honor" including yours truly.

The show ended with a profane bit of absurdist poetry celebrating "ginies" (as in vaginies). Overall it was not unlike seeing The Tubes at their height as a touring band in that it was more artistically daring than most punk with the same spirit and energy and more imaginative and playfully humorous. Did the band play "Shut Up and Touch It"? If so, we were not invited to do so. Perhaps that card will be played should Spatula grace us with its inspired lunacy again.

Opening the show was an outfit called Ugly Bumpers. The trio even had a banner bearing its name and an image of brass knuckles to let us know. It was bass, guitar and drums in the traditional style. Very street punk with the fast, trebly bass lines and distorted vocals. It was reminiscent of the punk rock time warp a lot of that world has been in for twenty-five years or more. And yet, these guys played well and had some spirit to the music. When the singer said, "This song is about unity," I wasn't sure if he was serious or poking fun at another subculture of punk and its obsession with vague political notions. There was a G.G. Allin cover and I think it was "Bite It You Scum" but I didn't ask. At the end someone asked if we wanted to hear one more song and that seemed a bit much for an opening band but at least these guys had humor to use a bass line to duplicate the music to The People's Court and then said words to that effect before kicking into a song running down white collar criminals. Usual tropes and all of that but these days, it's good to have a reminder that some punks still remember to stick it to the man. After Spatula, one of the real punk rock bands from Denver or anywhere took stage: Little Fyodor & Babushka Band. That is if "punk" ever meant tossing aside dumb rules and freaking out the squares with music that isn't that weird. It's just that Fyodor puts off such an intense vibe and he looks like a psychotic accountant with a thousand unique, sometimes disturbing, often hilarious, facial expressions that course across his countenance during any of the band's sets.

Starting out with "You Give Me Hard-On" the band ran through its set almost like The Ramones with little pause between songs excepting interconnecting stage banter. "All My Clothes Are Uncomfortable," "I Want an Ugly Girl, " "Everybody's Fucking," and "Get Outta My Head" were played with a frantic yet oddly practiced pace. This band is so tight it's easy to forget how well-written the songs happen to be because the talent of the players allows the freak show side of the performance seem like the focus. Naturally, Babushka was given a chance to shine on a couple of songs with her own brilliantly wrong vocals, especially on the Nancy Sinatra cover, "These Boots Were Made For Walking." It all ended with "Dance of the Salted Slug" when Amadeus Tonguefingers took over on guitar and Fyodor twitched, writhed and sputtered off into the audience and around the room gracing everyone with a myriad of demented expressions. That is the mark of a generous performer.

The night ended with The Hacks. Three guys, guitar, bass, drums again. Kind of that anthemic, melodic hardcore thing that took me back to going to the 15th St. Tavern in the late '90s. Some might call it pop punk the but the vocals were too appealingly brutish for that sort of thing. Too much snarl, too much grounding in NYHC and stuff like Negative Approach, to really bear much comparison to pop punk, and yet all the songs were catchy enough. What was most impressive, though, was the band's ability to laugh at itself when a song didn't come off as intended. You almost have to like a band where the singer, realizing the time and the kinds of crowds the band might actually have most of the time, says into the mic, "What the fuck are you people still doing here?"

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Bias: I had high hopes for Spatula and it was better than expected.

Random Detail: Ran into Theremin maven Victoria Lundy of The Inactivists as well as that band's singer and songwriter Scot Livingston at the show.

By the Way: It's true. Larry Daniels is doing sound at The Climax. This is a bit of a mindblower but I didn't stick around long enough to hear him give his customary "Hotel motel time" spiel when the place closes up for the night.

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