Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Early History of The Contortions #3

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)

5.5.1978 – Artists Space, New York, NY

Setlist unknown

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

I do not have access to a recording of the Artists Space gig. So far recordings of the Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Mars sets have surfaced, so I’m pretty sure the tapes exist. The performance was notable for a well-documented  scuffle taking place between James Chance and rock critic Robert Christgau after Chance harassed a female audience member. Brian Eno's anthology of no wave bands "No New York" (released November 1978 on Island subsidiary Antilles Records) came about after he witnessed these shows. Originally the album was to feature two songs from ten bands, but ultimately Contortions, Teenage Jesus, Mars and DNA took four songs each.
James Chance scuffles with self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics" Robert Christgau at Artists Space on May 5, 1978.
photo by Julia Gorton
Brian Eno, far left, eyeballs the camera while James Chance melts himself down and some fucking geek makes a weird face

5.25-26.1978 –  CBGB’s, New York, NY
1. Throw Me Away  2. Twice Removed  3. Jailhouse Rock - other songs unknown

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

Contortions at CBGB's circa mid-1978. left to right:
Adele Bertei, Jody Harris, James Chance, George Scott, Pat Place.
obscured: Don Christensen. Photo by Eugene Merinov
This listing is a wild guess, but three well-recorded tracks of the band live at CBGB’s in 1978 were slated to appear on the aborted ZE Records soundtrack for the Diego Cortez film “Grutzi Elvis” and I believe they may have been recorded at one of these gigs. My logic stems from the fact that “Jailhouse Rock” is short-lived in the group’s set and that these three particular performances seem a bit faster and tighter than the 5.4.1978 Johnny Blitz Benefit versions. These tracks were later issued as bonus cuts on the 1994 Infinite Zero CD edition of “BUY”, the rare 2002 Munster Records double LP version also (including James White and the Blacks’ “Off White”) and all new ZE Records CD pressings. The Senders opened the shows.


6.1978 –  Big Apple Studio, New York, NY
1. Dish It Out   2. Flip Your Face  3. Jaded  4. I Can’t Stand Myself

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

There seems to be no definitive date available for the “No New York” recording sessions, but most sources consider them to have taken place in June 1978. It can be surmised that the recording for the Contortions tracks was done live in the studio on one day. The sound is fairly raw and there’s no real production on the tracks beyond the balance of the mix. There's a lot of resonance from the room on the recording, which may have come from reflective panes of glass balanced against the walls of the studio. Essentially the Contortions' "No New York" tracks are live in the studio with "a lot of mistakes" according to Don Christensen. Members of the band long maintained that these four tracks were a better representation of the early Contortions line-up than the album “BUY”. The James Brown song “I Can’t Stand Myself” was supposed to have been spawned from a spontaneous jam at the session.


6.1978 –  Big Apple Studio, New York, NY
1. That’s When Your Heartaches Begin  2. Schleyer’s Tires   3. McGraw Army Base/Munchen  4. Theme From Grutzi Elvis

James Chance (voc, as), Arto Lindsay (guitar), George Scott (bass), Bradley Field (drums)

There definitely existed a promo cassette of the original, lost “Grutzi Elvis” soundtrack. I know somebody who saw one back in the day, but didn’t hold onto it. That was the closest lead I’ve ever had on it. It is listed, with track titles, in the 1980 publication “Volume: International Discography of the New Wave”.
Although the official “Grutzi Elvis” soundtrack (also featuring Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, Brian Eno, Rosa Yemen, Snatch, Boris Policeband and Tuxedomoon) was never released, this odd EP appeared on ZE Records in 1979 with a cover still featuring Anya Phillips, as well as a different pressing by Celluloid Records featuring minimalist cover art focusing on James Chance. It’s entirely possible that this record was made close to or during the “No New York” sessions, as it sounds to have been recorded extremely quickly and uses the same studio (Big Apple) and engineer (Kurt Munkacsi). The cover of “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” is hilarious.  It features Teenage Jesus drummer Bradly Field on metronomic, closed hi-hat and bassist George Scott backing up Chance’s sour crooning. Halfway through the song, the vocals become painfully loud and DNA’s Arto Lindsay enters with some of his famously disruptive 12-string skronk guitar. The rest of the tracks are extremely minimal: one consists of a single saxophone line repeated over and over, another is a percussion jam and the last one is a repetitive march built on one ugly saxophone blurt. The band is labeled “Pill Factory” on the release. There’s no evidence the group ever performed together again. 

James Chance, Paradise Garage 6.18.1978.
still from video footage by Emily Armstong and Pat Ivers.

6.18.1978 – Paradise Garage, New York, NY
1. Dish It Out   2. My Infatuation  3. Roving Eye  4. Anesthetic  5. Flip Your Face  6.  I Can’t Stand Myself  7. Jaded  8. Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

This recording comes from an ill-fated show featuring Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Senders, Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and the Stimulators at the legendary disco known as Paradise Garage. Multiple sources say the turnout was low in contrast to the massive size of the venue and many people were disgruntled by the lack of alcohol available at the venue. The Contortions open with molten versions of “Dish It Out” and “My Infatuation”. “Roving Eye” is still being played in its Bo Diddley-style arrangement, albeit much faster in tempo than ever. The song “Anesthetic” makes a first appearance here, with driving kick drum quarter notes and a more hectic feel than it would have in its final form on the “BUY” album. “Flip Your Face” and “I Can’t Stand Myself” sound very similar to the “No New York” renditions. Before “Jaded”,  Kristian Hoffman is invited on the stage to “contort himself”.  It’s possible he is playing additional guitar on the song, but there’s so much guitar racket going on that it’s hard to discern. The set ends with a fast, tight version of “Contort Yourself” in an arrangement similar to the “BUY” version.  After the gig, it seemed the bands were having a hard time getting the club to pay. Chance began to argue with the management and wound up cutting himself with broken glass to intimidate the thugs.  This show was shot on black and white video by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong for their New York City cable show “Nightclubbing”.  Excerpts of the Contortions and Teenage Jesus sets have appeared in a program of clips the two have been touring sporadically since 2000.


7.14.78 – Millenium, New York, NY
1. Dish It Out    2. My Infatuation    3. I Can’t Stand Myself   4. Twice Removed   5. Throw Me Away

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

The Contortions most likely appeared at CBGB’s the night before. This Millenium gig also featured DNA, The Dots, possibly Tim Wright (former Pere Ubu guitarist and future DNA bassist), Youth In Asia and the debut gig by Lydia Lunch’s Beirut Slump (billed as “Belfast Ghetto”). This event was a benefit for Les Guerillieres Film Collective, as advertised in the Village Voice ad. “Dish It Out” sounds a bit lethargic compared to other recent performances, but James is definitely screaming his guts out. Immediately after the song ends, Chance berates the audience with malice, setting a tone for the rest of the performance. “My Infatuation” follows in a high-strung mode. Before “I Can’t Stand Myself”, Chance tells some people sitting on the floor that if they don’t stand up “and change their attitude” the band won’t continue.  More insults segue into the jazzish intro to “Twice Removed”. The applause dwindles noticeably after the song ends and somebody from the audience yells, “Why don’t you get a haircut, hippy?” Chance tells the guy to get a “brain cut” and have his frontal lobes removed. James rambles incoherently for a long time before the band finishes off with “Throw Me Away”. During the song, it definitely sounds like James Chance is running out of steam. He pretty much disappears during the second half of the tune (fighting in the crowd?) and the set is cut short. There isn’t much applause afterward. 

8.3.1978 – Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Canada

1. Introduction  2. Design To Kill  3. My Infatuation  4. Roving Eye  5. Anesthetic  6. I Don’t Want To Be Happy  7. Throw Me Away  8. Dish It Out  9. Jaded  10. Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums).
The band opens this show with a very Contortion-oid variation of the classic 12-bar blues form. “Design To Kill” appears in the set for the first time. It is referred to alternately as “Designed To Kill” up through the release of “BUY”. George Scott’s bassline here is more dissonant and abstract than what David Hofstra would play on the album. Otherwise the arrangement is already pretty close to the definitive version, although this performance sounds under-rehearsed. The renditions of “My Infatuation”, “Roving Eye”, “Dish It Out”, “Jaded”, “Contort Yourself”  and “Throw Me Away” are typical. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks also appeared on this bill. “Anesthetic” has been slightly rearranged to sound less driving. Adele Bertei’s whispy, percussion triplets underline the beat and Don Christensen lays back more on the drum kit, giving the song the languid feel it would take on “BUY”. “I Don’t Want to Be Happy” is brought back into the set, played at a very fast tempo led by Christensen’s manic hi-hat 16th notes and Bertei’s loud organ clusters. “Contort Yourself” does contain an unusually long musical freak-out at the end of it.


8.17.1978 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY
“Contortions No Wave Jam”

Soundcheck: 1. “I Can’t Stand It Any More”(?)  2. Please Please Please 

First set: 3. Untitled Blues  4. Dish It Out  5. My Infatuation  6. Design To Kill  7. Twice Removed  8. I Don’t Want To Be Happy  9. Anesthetic 10. Throw Me Away 11. Flip Your Face  12. Contort Yourself 
Second set: 13. Maintaining My Cool  14. Chain of Fools  15.  16. “I Can’t Stand It Any More”(?)  17. unknown  18. Be Bop A Lula  19. Satisfaction  20.  Nobody But Me  21. 96 Tears  22. Please Please Please  23. Roving Eye

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums) with Adele Bertei (organ), Bob Quine (guitar), Gary Glassman (vocals), Kristian Hoffman (vocals, ?), Bradly Field (?), Lydia Lunch (guitar), James Nares (guitar), Eric Mitchell (vocals), Rudolph Grey (guitar), Richard Hell (?).

Contortions' No Wave Jam, 8.17.1978. left to right: James Chance, Kristian Hoffman, Don Christensen,
George Scott, Lydia Lunch and James Nares. photo by Robert Sietsema.

This show featured a set by the Contortions proper, and then a “No Wave Jam” during the second set. Beirut Slump were also on the bill. After a few “soundcheck” numbers, the Contortions launched into their untitled blues opener and then a typical set list.  James Chance is almost immediately pissed at the brightness onstage and demands the lights are brought down. After “My Infatuation” somebody from the club speaks over the p.a. and says the fire department has shown up and that everyone needed to sit down or the show would be over. “Design To Kill” has a lazy false start before the group kicks in with a complete version. For some reason Jody Harris plays different chords on this version than he normally would. “I Don’t Want To Be Happy” is played again in the same uptempo manner as the 8.3.1978 show. “Anesthetic”, minus Adele Bertei’s rhythmic organ playing, is faster and more aggressive than the “BUY” version. During the song, Chance screams at the soundman to remove the echo effect from his saxophone mic. The jam session begins with James singing a cover of The Sonics’ “Maintaining My Cool”, later covered by 8-Eyed Spy (featuring George Scott and Lydia Lunch). It’s a little tough to identify the exact personnel on every song, but Robert Quine plays guitar on “Maintaining”, Adele Bertei sings scorching lead vocals on “Chain of Fools” and Gary Glassman (not sure who he is) sings on a song (which I’m not sure what the title is) with Bob Quine on vicious wah-wah guitar. Quine is still on stage for “I Can’t  Stand Myself” and somebody is on organ, probably Bertei. Next up, Kristian Hoffman (vocals), Bradly Field (?), James Nares (guitar) and Lydia Lunch (guitar) are introduced. Filmmaker Eric Mitchell screeches his way through a cover of the old chestnut “Be Bop A Lula”, which he would also lipsync in a more low-key manner during his 1979 film “Red Italy” with a fake back-up band consisting of Arto Lindsay and Lounge Lizard John Lurie.  A live tape from an early Contortions show can also heard playing in the background during scenes of Mitchell’s first movie “Kidnapped” (1978).  James Chance is back on the mic for a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”. Rudolph Grey is added on guitar for  an improvised/ trainwreck version of “Nobody But Me”. After minutes of dead air, Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” is covered. “Please Please Please” seems to feature Lydia Lunch on guitar, possibly Kristian Hoffman on backup vocals.  James Chance is on lead vocal and Bradly Field and Richard Hell are also introduced,  but it’s hard to tell what they’re doing. The second set closes with “Roving Eye”. It sounds like Eric Mitchell is yelling over the top of it and Lydia Lunch may have played extra guitar. 


Next up, part FOUR: Contortions go disco with their alter ego James White and the Blacks . . .

This text was written by Weasel Walter, all rights reserved 2011.
If you use this for any reason, please credit the source fairly.

Early History of The Contortions #4


Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)

1 comment:

dooflow said...

I never understand it when you say you're not a writer. Thanks for doing all this.