Reviews

Skinny Puppy: The Greater Wrong of the Right Live [DVD]

Mike Schiller

The Greater Wrong of the Right Live is a truly astounding look at the Skinny Puppy live experience.


Skinny Puppy

The Greater Wrong of the Right Live [DVD]

Label: SPV
US Release Date: 2005-09-27
UK Release Date: 2005-09-12
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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.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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