[17 November 2005]
I have never seen a live DVD edited the way Skinny Puppy’s The Greater Wrong of the Right Live is edited.
There is about a minute of perfect audiovisual synchronicity that happens over the course of the second song performed on the DVD, “I’mmortal”, from last year’s comeback The Greater Wrong of the Right album. You see, over the course of the DVD, video segments that were used as the backdrop to the live show switch into full-screen mode, giving the viewer a high-quality look at exactly what the audience was seeing in the moments that they were not transfixed by Skinny Puppy’s dynamic frontman, Ogre (real name: Kevin Ogilvie). This is a tactic that proves especially useful during first track “Downsizer”, during which Ogre spends the length of the song off-stage, leaving us to watch what amounts to a mostly fascinating animation/video presentation. During “I’mmortal”, there is a sound visualization that looks vaguely like an EKG reading, beating along with the kick drum of the song. At that one perfect point, the faux-EKG is laid over the live action, allowing the viewer simultaneous appreciation of graphic and performance.
One doesn’t distract from the other because the animation doesn’t look out of place—in fact, combined with the incredible 5.1-channel surround-sound mix, those moments in “I’mmortal” break through the boundaries of the “live DVD” experience, offering the closest approximation I’ve ever seen to the delirious euphoria of actually being at a show.
This near-transcendent experience is largely due to one William Morrison, who also happens to be the guy people are talking about when they ask “Who’s that bald dude playing the guitar?” Pulling double duty as Skinny Puppy’s resident guitarist for the show, he’s also very much responsible for the visual element that the band is putting across as they perform, and how it translates to the DVD format. The Greater Wrong of the Right Live is, really, Morrison’s baby, and his integration of the always-interesting video screen work from the show always seems to appear at just the right time, never seeming indulgent or unnecessary.
The Greater Wrong of the Right Live is cobbled together from two shows in Canada, one in Montreal and one in Toronto. The result is sometimes discombobulating, as instances that saw the same song played at both shows see the band (and particularly Ogre) looking far different at one as compared with the other. This results in a disconnect that takes a bit from the illusion that what we’re watching is an actual concert. Still, what this provides for us is an opportunity to get a more complete idea of the Skinny Puppy live show rather than a one-night snapshot. By only showing us the best parts of the two shows, the experience is heightened as well, as we don’t get to see whatever miscues, mishaps and other mis-words might have happened. What we see is Skinny Puppy in an idealized world, and the DVD only benefits for that.
For its part, the band does a fine job putting on a concert. From start to finish, Ogre is a dynamic frontman, constantly moving, writhing, and convulsing to the beat, always engaging the audience in a fascinating one-sided dialogue of horror and mayhem. He wears a variety of masks as the show progresses, from a ridiculous, animalistic sort of demon mask in the first few tracks to the goggles he wears for much of the show to the gas mask he dons for much of “VX Gas Attack”. He’s also a man of many substances, covering himself in “blood” at the beginning of an incredible rendition of the harsh “God’s Gift (Maggot)” (the image of a dreadlocked Cevin Key bashing his synths with wild abandon is permanently etched in my mind), shooting a gun that spurts more “blood” onto him over the course of “Deep Down Trauma Hounds”, covering himself with a crust of dirt and filth during “Inquisition”, and tops it all off with a white, chalk-like substance over the course of “Harsh Stone White”, giving him the ultimate appearance of one scary-ass hollow-eyed ghost. The whole spectacle brings to mind the famous image of a dirt-encrusted Trent Reznor at Woodstock ‘94, while the age of some of these songs serves as a reminder that Skinny Puppy was spouting nihilism to the black-clad masses while Reznor was still erecting teenage shrines to Scary Monsters.
For a band whose most notable charge toward activism to date has been some (relatively) high-profile, gruesome attacks on animal cruelty and the MPAA rating system, Skinny Puppy sure lets their political views show through during the show as well. Constant references to Iraq, a substitution of Halliburton for Exxon in the anti-big-oil diatribe “Hexonxonx” (which benefits from Morrison’s heavy guitars and Justin Bennett’s live drum work in this live incarnation), and even a mock assassination during “Deep Down Trauma Hounds” that managed to put them on a federal watch list all make appearances. There’s no question as to what the band’s feelings are toward the war in Iraq, that’s for sure.
Those attitudes spill over into the disc’s myriad bonus material, found on a second disc of extras and goodies. Morrison directs a documentary called “Information Warfare” that consists of a half-hour of interview footage with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and some troops from the first Gulf War that explain in often graphic detail the horrors of the war in terms of both civilian casualties and what the troops were exposed to. Some brief, gruesome footage of an Iraqi morgue is included, and much like any video project that Skinny Puppy is involved with, it is not for the faint of heart. There’s no actual music to be found in the film, and its connection to Skinny Puppy is tenuous at best, but it’s excellent viewing for anyone wondering about the attitudes that led to the general philosophy behind The Greater Wrong of the Right. There’s also some neat archival footage of the band on tour back in ‘88 (love the haircuts, guys), and some footage of the Too Dark Park and Last Rights tours, which basically show us that for all the bells and whistles, Skinny Puppy’s most recent incarnation is for all intents and purposes a stripped down version of what they once were.
Oh, and also that Ogre rocked the stilts long before Marilyn Manson ever did.
The Greater Wrong of the Right Live is, in total, an absolute treasure for any fan of the band, a live document with enough bonus goodies to keep the interested coming back again and again. It’s the closest approximation to an actual live experience that I’ve ever seen on a DVD, with video work that captures all of the important parts of the action and sound as crisp as anything I’ve heard. And then there is Skinny Puppy, as energetic, vital, and uncompromising as they’ve ever been, except now without a constant needle stuck in Ogre’s long, spindly arm. For a band whose color of choice is black, the future has never looked brighter.