Saturday, November 07, 2009

Size Doesn't Matter

Alternative Tentacles 30th Anniversary Incest-A-Thon
Featuring Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine / Ludicra / Munly & the Lupercalians
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
November 6, 2009

This was Night #2 of Alternative Tentacles' 3-Night 30th Anniversary celebration with each night featuring Jello as headliner with his most recent band (The Guantanamo School Of Medicine) supported by different AT bands. I would love to have seen Alice Donut and Victim's Family on the final night, but since Umlaut had to choose I of course got a ticket to the night when the mighty Ludicra were on the bill.

However, for the 3rd gig in a row the attendance at this show was shockingly small; as with Rob Zombie and Puscifer *something* kept the crowds away... and in the case of tonight I would bet that *something* was there was simply too much going on in San Francisco, with a packed Dinosaur Jr. show across town at The Fillmore and a sold out Devo show only a couple of blocks away at The Regency. However, whereas the small crowds at the Zombie and Puscifer shows had been a negative distraction to me, it was the complete opposite for Jello's party. The small crowd actually added to the positive, special quality of the night... and this was quite simply THE MOST FUN show of the year!! No shit.

We arrived in time to see the awkwardly named Munly & the Lupercalians and I felt a bit dubious about them as they walked onstage because they looked bizarre: 5 members... 4 of them wearing hoods... 2 of the members (the percussionists) wore execution style hoods with nooses around their necks... The main percussionist played a MEAT SMOKER as a drum... Another 2 members, who were stationed on either side of the stage behind impressive vintage wooden organ shells that had new electronic keyboards installed in them, wore black robes and impressive peaked hoods. Only the vocalist appeared without a costume as he sang and alternately played guitar and banjo. To be honest, after my reaction to the self-indulgent Puscifer production the other night, I was bracing myself to be underwhelmed by Munly & the Lupercalians.

To my complete surprise, they were GREAT!! Their set was the most purely musical performance I've seen all year; a hypnotic combination of Folk, Country, and even some Goth with the costumes actually adding to the dense atmosphere of the songs. It was like taking a ride down a dark road at night with only one headlight working and the AM radio stuck on the same station.. I was completely caught up in their tales and vibe... as was Jello, who stood front and center their entire set. Afterwards I went straight to the merch table to buy their CD... only to be told they haven't released one yet! However the band's leader, Munly, has released 4 albums on AT over the past decade... so I guess I better play catch up with his work now... and, much to my surprise, Munly and his band were the perfect lead-in to the all out dark volume assault of Ludicra.

It had been just over 2 months since I last saw Ludicra and in that time they've completed work on their highly anticipated new album. The stage lights were dimmed for the entire set and the local Metal heroes played an amazingly brutal 5 song / 45 minute slot that included 3 of the new tracks.. This was a performance that I can't fully describe using mere words... Ludicra are such a well-oiled force of nature onstage that it's beyond comprehension why they're not more well known outside of the Bay Area... At least 3x after a song I said "AMAZING!" out loud to no one in particular; it was easily one of the best sets I've seen all year. As she handed me the setlist afterwards, Laurie explained that the new songs were referred to in "numbered code". Hmm... METAL.

Within the limitations of the English language, the only thing that comes close to expressing how I felt about Ludicra's set is "FUCKING LUDICRA!!!"... The Bay Area has one of the most vibrant underground Metal scenes in the world and Ludicra are the headliners, but it was funny that aside from the band there were only 5-6 other card carrying Metalheads in the crowd.

As I said earlier, this show was not crowded at all... However, it didn't make the event "sad". It simply didn't matter how many people were in the room, because everyone was there for the right reason: FOR THE MUSIC... you could sense it.. well at least I could.

When Jello took the stage to host his party you could tell he had the same attitude... and the set that followed was every bit as great as his 50th Birthday Celebration had been in this same room last year. I can't remember the last time I was right up front for a show, but there I was and it was damn FUN.. Jello weaved, bobbed, and mugged his way around the stage as he and the band (led by Victim's Family guitar ace Ralph Spight on ripping lead axe..) ran through some great and inspired new songs and also some Dead Kennedys nuggets like 'Bleed For Me' (which featured Jello in the crowd), 'California Über Alles', and 'Holiday In Cambodia'.

Jello in the crowd during 'Bleed For Me'
(Pic by Photo Ray)

This show transported Umlaut back to my formative years when it didn't matter how many people were in whatever club or dive bar I found myself in seeing a band ... All that mattered is that we were all there for the same reason and we (both the crowd AND the bands) let ourselves get caught up in the vibe and the volume. If it had been a different show I might have regretted not going to one of the other gigs in town... but I regretted NOTHING on this night and I know the members of the Umlaut Nation who were with me felt the same way (a shout out to Timo, Johnny, Photo Ray, and Tscam)! It was cool to look around at friends and strangers and we were all grinning from ear to ear and having a blast.

On one hand it was a shame that this quintessential "only in San Francisco" event was overshadowed attendance-wise by out of town touring bands. However, in this case size simply didn't matter. The spirit of the S.F. Music Scene, past and present, was alive and well in the Great American and it was a joyous and raucous thing.. It also reminded me how much I love my hometown and how fortunate I was to have grown up and become a Music Geek in The Bay Area.

I didn't do a merch audit, but AT was selling vinyl albums for only $10 a pop! Old Skool! On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. I'm still a little buzzed from the FUN of this show.. and instead of going out tonight I think I'm going to stay in and finally watch Milk... San Francisco Über Alles!