I did not see Deerhoof.
I went to see Deerhoof. That was my assignment; that was my goal; that was my planned “Fun Time” for the week.
29 Jan 2006: First Unitarian Church Philadelphia
Why did I not see Deerhoof? I did not see Deerhoof because of fatigue, shin splints, a developing cold, and because I entered a mood I like to call “Pissed off.”
Why was I “Pissed Off?” Not because of the fatigue, shin splints, and/or cold. It was because I was made to get up from my nice, cushy seat in the First Unitarian Church’s sanctuary (which has stained-glass windows! and other exciting décor) where I took in Le Ton Mite’s adult-child genius and the herky-jerky videos of Martha Colburn, to be herded into a considerably smaller, hotter, much less comfortable auxiliary room downstairs. It was here that we were to watch another opening act—a dance troupe that I couldn’t even see, you stupid tall boys with intrusive haircuts—and the headliner. That headliner would be Deerhoof. I did not see Deerhoof.
I couldn’t take it. I had to leave. I can’t stand watching shows in an overcrowded, church-smelly box when there’s no beer. I’m not an alcoholic; I’m just old, and increasingly high-maintenance. Who’s with me? Aren’t you sick of forking over your hard-earned cash to troll around boxy rooms, looking for some semblance of spatial comfort in the midst of elbowing, poor ventilation, lack of a coat check, and a general inability to see the band? Concertgoers of America, we deserve better.
I’m 24. I’m old. I’ve been concert-hopping since I was a wee young thing, and I’ve done my time. Now, when I go to a show, I want to be able to 1) see the band, 2) have enough room to pull my bag off one shoulder and onto the other one without having to say “sorry, didn’t mean to touch your ass”, 3) feel comfortable—that is, not sweating—while wearing T-shirt and jeans, and 4) drink beer. Coat checks are great, but not necessary. Clean bathrooms terrific, too, but again, unnecessary. I’ll settle for five minutes of rankness if only the two- to three-hour concert experience were a little more cheery.
I miss the Black Cat. I miss the 9:30 Club. I miss IOTA and Warehouse Next Door. I love Philadelphia a thousand times more than I loved DC, but I do not love the First Unitarian Church. I hope to god that r5 Productions, those wonderful people bringing the beat of emerging talent to the City of Brotherly Love, uses its money to find a better venue for their bigger shows. I know the all-ages thing is a setback, and you are right to want to serve the young ones. I’ll be okay without beer, just get a better space.
Now, on to the show. At least the part that I saw. Le Ton Mite is an experimental folksinger/performance artist so low-culture, he’s fricking avant-garde. On stage was a one-dude, five-or-six-puppet outfit with a backdrop of whimsical palm trees. These weren’t fancy-pants puppets, btw; these were cardboard cutouts glued to popsicle sticks. Rad.
With much let’s-pretend-we’re-kindergartners wit, dude proceeded to play such charming singalongs as “Ten Miles to Go and No Gas in the Car” and “Everybody’s Connected”, featuring Mort the Drunk and Val the Sexy Parrot. Piddles the Dog led us in a singalong that went “ha ha ha ha ha,” then “ho ho ho ho ho,” and finally “hee hee hee hee hee,” and we all had a grand old time, except for those of us who thought it was stupid. Le Ton Mite was completely zany and crackhead cool. I was won over; wished I had brought my kids. I don’t have any kids. Gotcha. Was that stupid?
Next thing: fade to black, and we got to see some of multimedia artist Martha Colburn’s film shorts, which were mainly collagistic animations using found art and hand-colored film. Each short was exquisitely constructed and wickedly oppressive in its hypercharged sexuality, jittery feel, and rawkous soundtrack. “Cats Amore” dealt with feminization, felinization, and the fetishization of both. That is, Colburn clomped together sexed-up female bodies and cat heads, then made these half-and-half creatures the object of much dog-head panting and eye-popping. Its point was pretty obvious, but the effect it had on the viewer was more interesting, as the overbearing jerkiness of Colburn’s animation technique felt violent when paired with such leering, grotesque images, most especially when overlaid with a disorienting soundtrack.
“Spiders in Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical” was similarly unsettling. This one moved even faster, and combined spider imagery with glammed-up female faces, exploring the black-widow stereotype and castration anxiety. Throughout the film, femmed-up, lipsticked spiders suck up detached penises while the soundtrack shrieks with horns. Skulls flash on and off, and sexualized pairs of human lips jump in and out of the mix, linking hunger and sex with death. Colburn’s work is darkly comic, grotesque, mesmerizing, exhibitionist. She forces voyeurism upon her viewers, then punishes them for participating. Yeah, yeah, S&M is so trendy now, I probably shouldn’t mention it in reference here, but it fits. I felt like Colburn’s freakfrenzy of images whipped me into submission, got me off, then left me feeling dirty, guilty, and ashamed. But dammit, I liked it. I liked it a lot.
And I was all set for the Leg & Pants Dans Theater when They (meaning the person on the loudspeaker) made us get up and shuffle downstairs into a stuffy, packed room that I just couldn’t stay in for very long. Bye-bye, Leg & Pants, I waved. Bye-bye, Deerhoof. I’m sure you rocked hard, but me and my shin splints had to go home and mull over the politics of the concert venue. A shame, that, but we’ll meet again most assuredly. Until then, au revior.
// Notes from the Road
"Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brought her Freedom Highway tour to New York for a powerful show. The tour resumes next week and hits Newport Folk later this summer.READ the article