Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013
Noise Pop 2013 // Great American Music Hall
Better than: A hangover.
As one of San Francisco's most exciting new rock bands, it's only natural that post-punk/psych-rock outfit the Mallard would perform at Noise Pop, a festival with a long history of booking rising local talent. But last night, instead of performing their usual songs, the members of the Mallard switched things up: They spent their entire set at Great American Music Hall covering a screeching, pounding, 25-minute performance art piece by British industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle.
With no explanation or warning given, the confrontational performance caught nearly everyone by surprise. The Mallard performed second on a bill with dance-rock headliners !!!, indie-poppers White Arrows, and Iran-via-Brookln rockers the Yellow Dogs. It was set to be a night of standard-issue indie rock -- until the Mallard came up and freaked everyone out.
With only one white light shining onstage, and two others strobing on and off, frontwoman Greer McGettrick muttered and shouted into a microphone, her vocals coming out nearly incomprehensible through the house P.A. The drums kept up an unsettling pulse, and an electric bass, trumpet, and a battery of synths and other machines produced a din that variously screeched, burbled, boomed, howled, and made just about any kind of alienating sound you can imagine.
Steeped in darkness onstage, the members of the Mallard never stopped, never addressed the crowd, never explained anything. Fifteen minutes into the assault, McGettrick stepped off the stage and into the crowd, where she wandered around possessed, trying to tie up groups of the audience with her microphone cord. She attempted this several times, as her potential victims grew more irritated and alarmed. Finally, McGettrick set the mic down and disappeared. The noisemaking onstage continued for a good five minutes, growing more mechanical and ominous, while many looked up and down the room for McGettrick.
She finally reappeared -- but only after the sonic onslaught had ended and the house lights had faded on. The end of the set was greeted with surprisingly cheerful applause and shouts from the crowd, although by then many others had retreated to the back of the room.
After the set, McGettrick explained to us that with South By Southwest only a couple weeks away -- where the band would play its standard set several times per day for most of a week -- the members of the Mallard wanted to do something different for Noise Pop.
"[We] just wanted to kind of mix it up a bit, wanted to do something special," she said. "I thought why not do it at my favorite big venue in S.F."
Given that the Mallard's own music is darker and more difficult than any of the bands on last night's bill, McGettrick also said she felt like embracing the contrast. "If we're going to be the dark horse, we might as well be the deep, dark, black horse," she said.
It wasn't a last minute decision, either. The Throbbing Gristle piece the Mallard performed is called "Very Friendly," and the original recorded version is about 18 minutes long. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics, which McGettrick told us she spent a month memorizing:
And when he got inside he heard some funny noises coming from the front room over the Evan Andrew's voice. Myra Hindley said, "Why don't you go in there David, you might like what you see." So he opened the door while Myra went in the kitchen to get more German wine... And when he went inside he looked over to the sofa, and there was Ian Brady CHOPPING AT EDWARD EVAN'S HEAD WITH AN AX. And he was chopping, and chopping, and the ax was going into the back of his neck, and there was blood spurting over the Church Of England prayerbook, and a few drops landed on the TV screen and ran down Evan Andrew's cheek, as some bits of bone and white brain landed on the harp right near the brass brush that they used to clean the chimney. And there was vinyl on the floor, which was lucky. And it took quite a few hits before Edward Evans gargled.
McGettrick said she was surprised by the relatively positive reaction that the Mallard's surprise performance got. But obviously not everyone liked it -- or would have even described it as proper music. White Arrows fan John Mills had his own description of the Mallard's performance last night: "It's how my hangover feels," he said.
Here's a fun description of what actual Throbbing Gristle performances were like, from the band's very own Genesis P-Orridge himself, as published in the UK Guardian. (Be warned, this is disburting stuff.):
"I used to do things like stick severed chicken's heads over my penis, and then try to masturbate them, whilst pouring maggots all over it. In Los Angeles, in 1976, at the ICA I did a performance where I was naked, I drank a bottle of whiskey and stood on a lot of tacks. And then I gave myself enemas with blood, milk and urine, and then broke wind so a jet of blood, milk and urine combined shot [out and] then [I] licked it off the not-clean concrete floor.
"Then I got a 10-inch nail and tried to swallow it, which made me vomit. Then Cosey helped me lick the vomit off the floor. And she was naked and trying to sever her vagina to her navel with a razor blade and she injected blood into her vagina which then trickled out, and we sucked the blood from her vagina into a syringe and injected it into eggs painted black, which we then tried to eat. And we vomited again, which we then used for enemas. Then I urinated into a large glass bottle and drank it all while it was still warm. This was all improvised. And then we gradually crawled to each other, licking the floor clean. 'Cause we don't like to leave a mess, y'know; after all, it's not fair to insult an art gallery. Chris Burden, who's known for being outrageous, walked out with his girlfriend, saying, 'This is not art, this is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen, and these people are sick'."