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Fireballs of Freedom 

Pink & Brown reconfigures rock with colorful costumes, propulsive punk tunes, and a few broken bones

Wednesday, Jul 18 2001
Over the decades, there's been a virtual carnival of punks happy to give staid rock 'n' roll a swift, steel-toed kick in the side. The more methodical rock becomes, the more excessive bands try to be, whether it's the foulmouthed, shit-throwing G.G. Allin, the sex 'n' gorers the Plasmatics, or local shock hero Extreme Elvis, who's known for stripping down and pissing on crowds. Now, you can add another act to the list of musical provocateurs: Pink & Brown, a costumed musical grenade that, while not using its crowd as a toilet, still manages to give new meaning to the words "punk performance."

At Pink & Brown's recent CW Saloon show, guitarist Pink ran up to the audience and grabbed two people by the shoulders, encouraging them to get involved in the performance. As the duo began to play -- with Pink bungeeing into the crowd via his umbilical-like guitar cord -- the viewers began to comply with Pink's request. One excited fan jumped behind the group and rolled around on the floor; another enthusiastic onlooker in a long trench coat wrestled Pink to the ground, attempting to plant a sloppy kiss on his masked face. This latter behavior did not come unsolicited -- Pink encouraged it by taunting, "I'll give this melon-ball rum and coke away to the first person who can wrestle me down, make out with me, and spit on me." After Trench Coat Man downed his atomic green prize, he took another fling at Pink, sprawling over him a second time.

The following afternoon, Pink admits that his attacker was a little underdressed for such intimate activities. "That was funny but that's not going to happen again," Pink laughs during breakfast at a Castro eatery. "That guy was naked under that coat! He almost broke all my shit and he was naked. I was screaming the whole time. I think he was actually playing my guitar."

Aggressive men without underwear are just one of the hazards that arise when Pink & Brown plays live. Drummer Brown -- who, like Pink, prefers to use his stage name for interviews -- explains that there is a myriad of meltdowns that can occur during a show, from broken bones to battered instruments to splintered club ceilings. The duo's equipment often suffers the most: The CW show ended with Pink crashing over Brown's back into his partner's drum kit. "I think our biggest problem is gear," says Brown. "We end up cycling through a lot of parts."

"And the crotch of my pants always gets destroyed," adds Pink. "I don't know why I even bother wearing pants at all."

If it's not already obvious, Pink & Brown is not your stoic, strum-through-the-set-list breed of band. Oftentimes, the duo doesn't even have a set list. From its jarring, splintered rock sound to its equally intrusive jaunts into the audience, Pink & Brown purposely fucks with the standard notions of a rock band, as well as what it means to watch one. In the process, the group is netting a cult following that's hungry for bands that break the punk rock mold and jump on the leftover shards.

The idea for Pink & Brown fulminated in 1998, after the musicians -- who met over beers at a rock show in Providence, R.I. -- relocated to San Francisco. (Brown has since moved to Los Angeles.) They had played in other bands together, but when they reached the Bay Area, they decided to create something completely different. "We wanted to have a band called Pink & Brown, where one of us would dress in pink and the other in brown," says Pink. "We had no idea what the music would sound like."

"It wasn't even that the colors would mean anything," adds Brown. "It was left abstract enough that anyone could read their own meaning into it, and lots of people do. A lot of people think we're gross, because pink and brown tend to be flesh or meat colors, and I'm happy with that."

For its costumes Pink & Brown created simple, ski mask-like head gear in its signature colors. During the winter months -- or when the guys imagine they won't end up soaked in sweat -- they add color-coordinated, thrift store bodysuits, making them look like a couple of hand-me-down superheroes.

Pink & Brown's brand of punk rock is as conceptual as its look, although the sound is constantly evolving. "We want to make music that's propulsive, that makes people excited and keeps us excited," says Brown. The result is a sonic assault that's raw, rough, and jagged. Pink splinters patterns into multiple tangled rhythms that sound like a bass and guitar simultaneously, while Brown's epileptic drumming cleaves the sound into smaller pieces. The duo races to the outer edges of experimental noise without dropping into art-wank hell, keeping the humor rampant with song titles like "Soccermoms" and "Christ Balls." Pink weaves screams and rants into the mix, bleating into a tinny little telephone mike wired under his mask, making him sound like a demon trapped in a well. "It's kind of dissonant," says Brown. "And kind of AC/DC at the same time," adds Pink. "It's loud and danceable, with an element of rock 'n' roll."

The third piece of this conceptual triangle is Pink & Brown's live show, which also involves reformulating cultural norms. Inspired by groundbreaking acts like the Stooges as much as newer groups like Japan's King Brothers, Pink & Brown jabs its performances under the skin of its audiences -- and then joins them. "I've had people take my guitar away and just start playing it," Pink says. "I'll see it getting passed to other people. Having physical contact with the audience forces them to enjoy themselves, though. It's all about participation."

Pink & Brown often sets up in the middle of the crowd, as opposed to onstage, forcing people to huddle in from every angle. "It's our idea of being populist," says Brown. "We want to be on the same level as everyone else. They're all in our show too."

While this unconventional live style has its fans now, Pink admits that it wasn't always the case. "At first, no one gave a flying fuck," he says. "Our shows were really poorly attended, and we were getting billed with bands that were ridiculously bad or really different from us."

"[Pink] would basically fall on the floor in the beginning of the first song and unplug all his stuff," says Brown, "and I would play an extended drum solo, while he squirmed around with the mike in his mouth, taking people's drinks. It was a pretty self-destructive band for a while, and we've also realized we need to give people a little time to warm up to us. Because, otherwise, they can be pretty taken aback; we're really confrontational."

Brown adds that Pink was formerly cursed with "Lead Singer Disease," a condition a friend coined to describe a total carelessness for one's own body in the name of art -- furthered sometimes by too many drugs. In the beginning, Pink would roll around in shattered glass or allow wildly excited fans to bite him on the crotch. For one particular show in Philadelphia, Pink downed several Vicodin painkillers and thrashed around in the audience, breaking a couple of ribs and all of the band's instruments. "Iggy Pop teaches people a lot," says Pink with a grin. "Mostly, that if you think you're indestructible, most of the time you will be, except when you puncture a lung. We've mellowed out a lot now."

Mellowing out may mean fewer trips to the emergency ward, but there's still plenty of action at a Pink & Brown performance. The energy of its live show actually aided the group in getting a record deal.

Jack Van Buren is co-owner of ToYo Records, the local label that recently released Pink & Brown's debut, Final Foods. Van Buren describes the label's roster as very diverse, but with one common thread: All the artists have memorable live shows. "We tend to work with a lot of bands that are known as much -- if not more -- for their performances as their recordings," he says, naming off bands like Zeek Sheck, Erase Errata, and Baby Patrol. "When you pay to see a show, you want something to remember, and I think Pink & Brown is definitely on top of that."

Pink & Brown has only just begun its campaign against play-by-numbers rock 'n' roll. The pair is currently on the road, touring the U.S. with Providence's Lightning Bolt. When the act returns to San Francisco, Pink hopes to play in unconventional settings such as on random Financial District street corners and outside the 16th Street BART station, while Brown fantasizes about setting up his kit at upscale department stores like Nordstrom's. There are also plans for short films about Pink & Brown, which Brown says will have nothing to do with music. "It's the big evolution of us turning into our characters more, finding out who we are as Pink & Brown," he says.

Before you think this is just another art school, too-high-concept-for-you kind of band, Pink adds, "We have some great ideas, but I want them to be dada-esque and funny -- where people will say, "What does that mean?,' but laugh at the same time. Hopefully, we'll get to make out with some girls too."

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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