Chemlab Show: Monday Night’s Entertainment

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I went to the Chemlab show Monday night at Studio Seven, out in the industrial zone of Harbor Island. It’s been about seven years since I saw Jared Louche stalk the stage, and of the interviews we did for Earpollution, the rolling day and a half of conversation we had with him when he was in town was (and still is) one of my favorites. While he lived and breathed being an artist (“rock and roll star” has the unfortunate connotation of being a trained monkey, which isn’t what Jared was about), he also really understood the other hat the artist has to wear: being accessible to your audience.

Anyway, the show. Studio Seven is a converted warehouse in a long block of warehouses and, if it hadn’t been for the six guys standing around outside smoking, I would have driven past it. (I had nearly once already, having to detour around a train that had stopped to load, the later cars blocking the Horton street intersection.) Inside, concrete flooring, walls done up in black and red, meat locker temperature, and a single disco ball way up high over the stage. Very Neo Industrial Spartan.

Skeleton Key is one of the opening bands, and their secondary percussionist is in an Einstürzende Neubauten phase. His job is to beat the shit out of an assortment of pots, beer kegs, helium containers, and fractured cymbals. He breaks at least four sticks during their set, and I’m surprised no one has caught a flying bit of drum stick in their eye yet. But, it’s a racket that fits the locale very well, and the band seems to roll with the whole industrial cacophony schtick. (The vocalist’s sound is just muddy enough that I can’t make out much of his lyrics, but the overall sound is engaging enough.)

USSA follows. The main attraction of this band is that it is Paul Barker’s post-Ministry band (well, Duane Denison plays guitar, but as I was never much of a Jesus Lizard fan, he’s not as much a draw for me). Barker’s bass is definitely muscular and more engaging than the relentless bludgeoning that has been the Ministry sound, and it gives the USSA sound a thick and heavy foundation. Gary Call, the vocalist, is a cyclonic howler–somewhere between the manic performance of Anthony Kiedis and Mike Patton–and the energy in the room is up about eighteen notches by the time they get done with their set.

(Last time I saw Barker (albeit from a seat probably about a half mile away) was the Ministry tour for Psalm 69 [was it that long ago?] at Mercer Arena, and it was a show filled with the noise and thunder and thrashing mosh pit that epitomized the height of the Ministry era. I remember a couple sitting a couple of rows in front of me, and the gal was pissed the whole time that this was the show her man had brought her to. They lasted about a half hour, and I’m sure he slept on the couch for a week or so after that. Barker, as part of USSA, was wandering around the venue prior to the show, laughing and talking with fans. How things change.)

Jared and the boys of Chemlab are working the well-dressed rock star vibe, Jared and Jason (the drummer, of SMP fame) are sporting ties (done by Cypberoptix) and jackets (the Chemlab screw logo on the back). Jared is wearing the gold lamé cowboy hat, the New York literati sunglasses, and my my my such pretty nail polish. The 21st Century Chemlab straddles Glam and Industrial Cyber Rock as Jared slithers, struts, preens, (there’s a Roger Daltrey impression in there as well) and hammers through a blistering set of old Chemlab favorites. And it takes the audience all of about twenty seconds to fall into the groove (the opening sample of “Exile on Mainline” actually–“move when I say move, you motherfucker!”). Jared, and this goes back to how much of a consummate entertainer he is, is consumed by the set, by the manic requirement of The Performance. The audience is, in a word, “sparse,” but he doesn’t care. It just means that everyone gets a personalized moment with the Rock Star (and, yes, at this point, this is the persona that he is inhabiting). Midway through the set, he’s off the stage, rolling around with the front row audience, singing to each of us as if yes, this lyric, I wrote this for you. The extended outro of the final song of the encore becomes Audience Participation Primal Scream Therapy.

When the show is over, he leaves the stage by jumping off the front, and walks right back to the merchandise table next to the door. Where he sits and talks with the fans as they leave. Everyone has a chance to shake the man’s hand and get an autograph. See? It really is about the fans, even though when he’s on stage playing to a partially empty house, he’s performing to the best of his ability. That part of the evening is doing what he loves and what’s the point if you don’t throw yourself completely into your art? (Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t enjoy meeting the fans, because I really think he enjoys that part of the experience as well, but that isn’t the whole reason he put the tour together or that Chemlab still exists.)

Yeah, it’s hard work doing what you love. And not just that hour a night when you get to abandon yourself to the work, but all the stuff that goes along with it (and you should check out the Detonation Days tour diary to get an idea of what it takes to get a band across the country on a shoestring). It’s that hour a night and that hour after that make it all worthwhile.

Rock on, my man. I’m glad I got to see you again, and doubly glad that you’re still doing it.