with The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black at The Rat
by Karl Giesing
photo (from a T.T. the Bear’s show) by Dya Khalsa
Ah, Spore. A friend of mine and I were asking ourselves: “Why does Spore get worse every time we see them?” For those of you who have been living in a shoe box, Spore are a grunge band. No, not the Johnny-come-lately classic rock of Pearl Jam or Nirvana, but the Sonic Youth inspired noisiness of Hole or Babes in Toyland at their best: Sloppy, noisy, out of control – you know, GOOD grunge, before it was poisoned by Top 40 metalheads who would rather listen to the latest Ozzy Osbourne than the Stooges.
And Spore was one of the best, though certainly not the oldest, of the noise-grunge bands. Their debut on Taang! is still, to this day, one of the best albums to come out of Boston – a feedback-laden testament to loud guitar-driven sloppiness. “Eat it/It makes me sick/Taste it/I want it,” bassist/singer Ayal screams loud enough to make you believe he means it. I had seen them live before and their presence bears this out.
So what happened? The Spore that I saw at this show was not Spore at their best. They played with little energy, guitarist Marc Orleans being the only one who moved around even a little bit. The rest of the band seemed to be merely covering their songs rather than playing them. Maybe now that they’ve become kings of the Boston noise-guitar scene, they’ve forgotten that a band is more than just a social tool. Maybe they’ve become disillusioned with playing the same songs. Maybe they’ve tried to have such a fuck-it attitude that they don’t realize that you have to put a little effort into music to make it worthwhile. Maybe it’s the fact that they got signed (to Taang!, if you consider that being signed) within a year of forming the band. Maybe…
Whatever it is, I hope they get back on track. And, even having said all of this, Spore is STILL one of Boston’s finest, even at their worst. But they could be better. For those of you who’ve never checked them out, I still wholeheartedly encourage you to go. Their music is amazing enough to survive even if played badly.
Next was The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Be forewarned: This is a band to see live. Really, the music involved is often merely an excuse for on-stage antics. But what antics they are. Karen Black is a glam band of the sort rarely seen since the New York Dolls; a smorgasbord of outrageousness put to catchy, if not overly memorable, pre-punk rock. From the gigantic, glittery cardboard-cutout glasses on “Gotta Get My Eyes Done” to the fake snow thrown on the singer during “Alaska,” they’re a bundle of unpretentious, tacky greatness. Every member of the entourage dresses in loads of body paint and not much else, looking like early John Waters movie characters gone bad. The lead singer cracks eggs on her privates. There are three people on stage whose only purpose is to hold up props and throw stuff. By the last song (the aforementioned “Alaska,” and their only song I would actually buy), I was laughing out loud and spilling beer on the shoes of everyone around me. (Sorry, folks.)
P.S.: All of the Spore fans left well before they went on, which says much more about Spore than about Karen Black.