Review: The Skivies at The Meadowlark, 6/25/11

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This show almost didn't happen. A little after 9:15 or so, the power went out in the neighborhoods north of Broadway. About that time, you could hear Danimal from Osyluth playing his drum kit from outside the Meadowlark. Inside, plenty of people had shown up in good spirits and decided to wait and see what happened. Their patience was rewarded about a half-hour later, when all the lights came back on and "Toshi Fest," a triple-CD release from bands who recorded with Toshi Kasai, commenced.

Osyluth, a four-piece whose sound falls somewhere between death metal and classic thrash, got things going. The outfit opened with a track called "West Memphis 3," which came with a rhetorical declaration from the band's frontman -- as if the group's name, blast beats and guttural vocals offered no indication -- that Osyluth is a metal band. Because of that, he pointed out, the band isn't the typical act that engineer Toshi Kasai normally records.

The singer went on to tell us that the next song was called "BTK," about his uncle who killed a lot of people. That was followed by a tune called "Scorned" and "Involuntary Organ Donor," both clearly indicative of the sense of humor this band possesses. For the end of its set, Osyluth performed the two songs it recorded with Kasai beginning with "220/221," a Mr. Mom reference, and ending with "Moans Through a Ball Gag." In the end, it was refreshing to see a metal band with a sense of the ridiculousness.

Action Friend was up next, and for this show, the band played as a two-piece; Aaron Holtzer was not able to be on hand, evidently. In his absence, Jeremy McLean, wearing an old Dead Milkmen T-shirt, and Paul Alexander, with the Foreskin 500 sticker on the face of his bass drum, went into an almost uninterrupted set of largely instrumental music that shifted seamlessly between styles and tones without missing a beat.

In moments that were alternately jazzy, dreamy, aggressive, contemplative, menacing, funky and haunting, Action Friend recalled the Minutemen's eclectic mixture of sounds, only with a bit more metallic guitar work. In fact, McLean probably ran through most Western, electric guitar styles during the course of the show. And Alexander's versatile playing drove the character of the sound in every moment; without his ability to immediately shift styles, what McLean played wouldn't have had nearly the same impact.

The interplay between McLean and Alexander was interesting to watch as Alexander indicated with facial expressions, gestures and shifts in rhythm where the changes took place. It almost made it seem like some sort of telepathy existed between the two, even though in reality, it was probably just so much practice and playing together that made certain shifts -- no matter how seemingly off the cuff -- look effortless.

This was especially apparent when the band engaged in an atmospheric piece that bordered on a noise composition, with McLean using a guitar treated with a stick under the strings, objects clipped to the fretboard, and textural elements created by dragging objects across those same strings. For the last part of the set, DJ Von Feldt from -he Skivies joined in on vocals, and the guys played a song that could have been some kind of bizarro dream-pop number recalling "Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction gone psychedelic.

Before the Skivies set, DJ Von Feldt told us they needed to initiate new drummer Ryan Pureber by making him drink "the blue sacrament." This, in times past, was the bottle of "Windex" (it's labeled that anyway) that the guys passed around to get themselves ready to play the weird music ahead. "Because we've got to get clean, no streaks," Von Feldt explained as the band went into "Albuquerque," a track from the new album, Lorem Ipsum.

With everyone dressed in white and Sean Boyd wearing a bowler hat, the Skivies could have been the Droogs all grown up. Zahari Tsigularov's ghostly yet edgy guitar work on "Albuquerque" was perfectly matched by the splintery low end provided by Boyd. Pureber proved himself an immediate and perfect fit with the band with his gift for not just hitting hard, but being able to smoothly transition from driving dynamics into delicate percussive flourishes.

On "Lithium Grin," the Skivies showed how comfortable they are with spooky minimalism. During "Status Epilepticus," the guys displayed their talent for letting the song hang in mid-air before crashing back in, as though they were holding their collective breath, caught up in an all-consuming contemplation. For "Wingnut," Jeremy McLean joined in on guitar, and right away, the sound thickened up and became densely heavy. The low end and the low notes on the guitar were visceral in a way you don't often experience in a room that doesn't have an incredibly robust sound system. At the end, McLean's blistering yet artful guitar solo over the top of the Skivies' fluidly driving sounds proved to be one of the high points of the entire evening.

Von Feldt was especially active at this show, gesturing theatrically and geting swept up in the emotion of each song. For "The Ox," Boyd's gnarly yet sinuous bass lines seemed to prominently carry the song along on a wave of irresistible sonic force. At the end, the Skivies played virtually all of the new album but left off the epic "Toshi's Lament." You have to leave people wanting more, and it was late, so kudos to these guys for showing the care and restraint where it counts, yet not skimping with the energy on stage.


Personal Bias: I've been waiting for months for the Skivies and Action Friend albums to come out. Neither disappoint. Random Detail: Ran into Jeremy "Babblin'" Brooks, Nate Huisgen and Kasey Elkington at the show. By the Way: Toshi Kasai was there through Skype and a smartphone for part of the performance.

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