When that National Observer ran a front page picture
of the Screamers - complete with ripped white shirts think black ties
and forked hair - to accompany their hard-hitting, fact-finding, is this
the end of Western Civilization as we know it story on punk rock, it was
generally acknowledged that that here was a splendid media coup pulled
off by the band. As the Screamers, they had not yet performed for the
public. Notorious - and little else - in Seattle as the Tupperwares, they
became very notorious and little else when they moved operations to Los
Angeles last spring. And now, as parallel development would have it, they
are becoming notorious and something else in a number of places.
The Screamers smash West Coast tour found them last
Friday night at Seattle's Carpenter's Hall, Saturday night live on KRAB,
and Sunday live in the display window and doorway of Dreamland during
the Street Fair. At Carpenter's Hall and Dreamland the crowds never exceeded
200 and 50, respectively, but the atmosphere for those rabidly in the
know was tensely prime: put up or shut up. Such is the contemporary white
boy's burden: living up to one's publicity.
I want to let the tension percolate for a moment here,
so let's introduce the band. Tommy Gear, ARP Odyssey synthesizer; Paul,
Fender Rhodes Seventy-Three; K.K., percussion; Tomata_du Plenty, vocals
and visual presence.
Late Friday night, after two interminable sets by the Telepaths,
(their singer quite publicly sliced his leg with a switchblade) and The
Enemy (Roger Husbands' puppet show, calculated to cash in quick), the
Screamers opened with an old Tupperware's favorite "Eva Braun." Adhering
to the minimalist convention that it only takes one good image /phrase
to make a pop lyric, the lyrics to "Eva Braun" consist of multiple repetitions
of that title, with certain additional phonemes distorted beyond meaning
into pure sound through the combined efforts of Tomata and the shitty
It was the music that was incredible. No guitars for one thing.
Just keyboards. Huge waves of pure electronic sound, no strings attached.
Sounds that included music and noise, both generated by machine, both
by John L. Wilson
meet Eva Braun
|Very loud by general rock standards and totally rhythmic. The keyboards
were played like percussion instruments. None of the evening's songs
included anything resembling a melody. This was music of extreme volume
and repeated patterns. K.K.'s mechanical drums were augmented by a
rhythm machine. Their combined efforts were intricate and intoxicating.
It was no coincidence that the band's second song was Sonny and Cher's
"The Beat Goes On," devoid of melody. The beat has gone from Robert
Johnson to the Beatles to the Screamers. Hello, reggae. Hello, African
drums. Hello, Tibetan
||chants and drones. This is the flip side of disco. Hello, LeMonte
Young and that sixty-cycle hum. This is the big beat. Technological
In the middle of "Eva Braun," Tomata, then Paul
and Tommy left the stage. K.K turned from his drum set, adjusted a
knob on a machine behind him, and left the stage. The song continued
to play, loud, pounding, austere, scary. Counterpoint to the immense
rhythm skipped a high-pitched synthesizer pattern repeating every
10 or 12 notes with a slight variation. The sound seemed to undulate,
as if at one moment very near, then at the next very far away. It
|was impossible to keep feet from tapping, and many in the
front jumped up and down to the music. However, during the entire 50-minute
set I saw only one couple actually dance to a song, and that was a song
later in the set that had a particularly bouncy musical phrase. Everyone
else just watched and moved.
For 10 minutes "Eva Braun" played from the stage, empty
except for the black and silver keyboards and the flat gray drums. There
was nothing to look at but the tiny red light that flashed on the ARP when
the high-pitched pattern began again, so people looked at that. Some combination
of the music and the either empty or sufficiently full stage created a feeling
of menacing tension. When the bandmembers returned to the stage, the song
continued for another verse, then ended.
After "The Beat Goes On," came "(You Don't Love Me, You
Love) Magazines," "I Wanna Hurt," "Peer Pressure," "Vertigo," and two or
three others. The show ended about 1:30 a.m.
The Screamers are a terrific pop band. An American Kraftwerk.
At this point it would seem that they are more of a performance band than
a recording band. Their music is so simple, and volume so integral to their
sound, that much of their concert presence could be lost when pressed in
vinyl and played at the conventional volume limitations of most stereos.
Also, there is the stage presence of Tomata du Plenty. His rigid, tense
body, and focal point of the band, seems to assume a dwarf-like proportions
on stage, the body shrinking and twisting, the head inflating. He borrows
his arms from a spastic, his legs from a marionette, his lips from Jagger.
His eyes indicated a severe thyroid condition. The quality of his voice,
in terms of performance requirements, is only that it makes loud noises.
The mixture of potential demented violence and buffoonery that is his persona
is reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show. He stood on stage Friday rigid
and goggle-eyed, staring at the crowd, in his Chinese coat looking like
a formal waiter in the Red Army. On Sunday afternoon, singing the same songs,
but in broad daylight, his antics made everyone, especially the children,
laugh. This kind of charisma can not be pressed into vinyl, at least not