August 4, 2011
Great American Music Hall
Better than: Your last teddy-bear-murdering party.
So there is a guy, a medium-height, long-haired guy, and he is wearing only pink-and-black-striped spandex pants (so tight you can't not see the silhouette of his junk) and a green elf hat. In real life -- which seems very far removed from what's happening onstage at Great American Music Hall at this moment -- this guy is named Rushad Eggleston. Right now, though, this crazy guy, leader of a crazy band called Tornado Rider, is running, prancing, jumping, rolling, bouncing, and generally careening around the stage while a cello hangs precariously from his bare shoulder.
This is not your ordinary cello; at least it doesn't look or sound like one. Plastered with garish white, black, and pink stickers and a guitar strap, this cello is plugged into a Marshall stack, and the howl issuing from it is what Randy Rhoads would have sounded like had be been able to achieve inifinite sustain: thick, crackling, chugging, soaring, and loud. Backing the elfin Eggleston (aka the Sneth Goblin) is a bass-and-drums rhythm section. Collectively, they are decimating a moderate but hugely enthusiastic audience with what can only be described as metal: silly, absurd, gymnastic metal, which at times thrashes, at times plods, and which contains a helluva lot of
guitar cello solos.
The solos are the focus of many of these songs, and that seems just fine with the audience. During each one, Eggleston plants his kinetic mayhem onto a wooden platform he brought onstage, elevating his slight figure to godlike heights above the slam-dancing throng. Once paused there, he sticks out his tongue, conjures demonic looks, and flashes his fingers across the instrument's four strings in a blur of harmonics and scales. After reaching some screaming climax, he leaps off the platform in a blur of pink and black and bare chest, summons another scary look in midair, and lands, only to begin riffing on the cello again.
Tornado Rider's set last night went on like this for way more than an hour. And after the initial mosh-inspiring burst of WTF wore off, the band supplied antics to keep things interesting, often based on its kid-fantasy lyrics. A man in a green dinosaur outfit arrived to chase Eggleston around during, yes, "Dinosaur." ("Oh my god, it's a dinosaur," goes the opening refrain). A bearded, curly-haired dude who appeared to be seven feet tall came out during "Giant Tree Man," and Eggleston ended up riding on his shoulders for that song's climactic shredfest. Later, he shot dozens of stuffed animals into the audience with a tennis racket and eventually disembodied several onstage with a saw.
For the finale -- on Tornado Rider standard "I'm a Falcon," whose main lyric you can probably guess -- Eggleston put his back to the crowd and stage-dove backward to crowdsurf while playing his cello solo. Like much of the band's set last night, it combined a feat of virtuosity with a child's sense of fantasy -- and it seemed like something that just could not happen in the real world. Which is exactly how the performance of a band called Tornado Rider should seem.
By the way: This is the only show I've ever seen where people walked out carrying severed teddy bear heads.
Personal bias: I'm nominally opposed to gimmicks, and Tornado Rider is intensely gimmicky. But when the gimmick traders are also unendingly energetic and painfully talented musicians, that's another story.
Best string change ever: About halfway through the set last night, after a particularly fevered solo, Eggleston broke two strings. What did he do? He remained onstage, got the band to play a beat, and started rapping -- yes, rapping -- while he changed the strings. The five minutes he took to fix his instrument were some of the funniest of the set.
Openers: I missed Judgement Day, which sucks. But I was pleasantly surprised by the Phenomenauts, whose space-punk gimmicks I expected to find annoying. Nope: the space-punk gimmicks -- matching uniforms, laser stage lighting, futuristic helmets, and synchronized head-turning -- were funny. And the songs, which wandered among melodic pop-punk, fevered sci-fi hardcore, and ukelele love ballads, were performed with robotic precision and at-the-limit intensity. I probably wouldn't put on a Phenomenauts record, but their set demonstrated how energy, showmanship (and costumes) can endear you to an audience.
Quote of the night: After the show, I approached Eggleston, who was shirtless and in spandex on the sidewalk, and asked him for a quote about how it felt to play that set. He said: "It felt like all the love that we have in San Francisco fueled a wild visionary explosion of the chaotic
jart* Jark** machine." So there.
*Spelling and definition unclear.
**Update: This was a reference to Tornado Rider's new album, Jark Matter; last night's show was the release party.