Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ugEXPLODE Gig Update #1

Henry Kaiser, Elliott Sharp and Weasel Walter - live at Freedom Garden, Brooklyn on Sat. December 3rd (see below)
Wednesday November 23, 2011
The Stone
corner of Ave C and 2nd St., New York, NY - 8 PM - $10

Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group feat. Sabir Mateen, Roy Campbell and Marcus Cummins
Saturday, November 26, 2011
319 Scholes
319 Scholes, Brooklyn NY  - 8pm show

Opsvik & Jennings
Thoughtful Arthur
From Bacteria To Boys
Daphne Du Maurier
Den Svata Fanan
(Joe Merolla, Nanoko Yoshida, Weasel Walter)
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Freedom Garden
294 Troutman Street, Brooklyn, NY - 9 PM doors

Henry Kaiser/Elliott Sharp/Weasel Walter (9:30 set time)
+ others TBA
Monday, December 5, 2011
Death By Audio
49 S. 2nd St., Brooklyn, NY -
9 PM

Mick Barr/Marc Edwards
Weasel Walter Trio
Dan Peck Trio
+1 tba
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Death By Audio
49 S. 2nd St., Brooklyn, NY - 9 PM

Jon Irabagon/Mick Barr/Mike Pride
Cellular Chaos
American Liberty League

contact us about booking if you have TASTE (and MONEY)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Live Review #3: Borbetomagus 11/16/11

For the sake of full disclosure: I like the band in this review. I have worked with some of the members in a creative capacity. Does this skew my ability to create an "objective" review? Of course.

However, does this discredit my words? I doubt it. The reason why I happen to know the people in the band which played on this particular night is because their band is good. As often happens, I saw the band first and then I made their acquaintances later. When I see groups I like, I cannot help but to get personally involved with them. I would be a fool not to. Good music is hard to find, and more often than not the quality of one's music directly reflects upon the nature of one's personality.

Just because I am friendly with someone does not mean I like or endorse their band. Quite the opposite: I am not easily impressed and I don't need to suck up to anybody for any reason. There are plenty of friends' bands I neither like or will promote, just as I'm sure I have many friends who would rather eat cat turds than hear mine. I really gain nothing personally by writing a positive review of this event. There is no payola involved and no one here will become an instant star from this piddly review. The event is over and I'm sure this particular mixture of bands may never grace the same stage again. This piece is purely for the sake of documentation and I hope the reader is imparted with a flavor of the entire context surrounding it. Like it, or lump it as you wish, but here it comes.

This show took place at Union Pool, in Brooklyn . . .

Borbetomagus: Jim Sauter, Donald Miller, Don Dietrich
The New York based group Borbetomagus has maintained an unflagging committment to hardcore, high-energy free improvisation since the first self-titled LP release in 1980 on their own Agaric Records imprint. Although various other personnel have passed through the ranks (late bassist Adam Nodelman, electronics operator Brian Doherty and others) and many collaborations have been undertaken (Shaking Ray Levis, Hijo Kaidan and Voice Crack, to name a few), the core of the band steadfastly remains the trio of saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller. Borbetomagus specialize in loud and fast displays of extremely violent momentum and density, their respective instruments melding into a volcanic whole.

I first wrote about the group and their work in a 1993 zine I worked on with some friends called "Nice Slacks". The gist of the long article was that within this seemingly singleminded modus operandi there were actually many possible variations. From album to album the group continued to evolve and progress. The early works are relatively organic in nature, featuring more space and overt timbral variation. Albums such as "Work On What Has Been Spoiled" (Agaric, 1981, with Music Improvisation Company electronics pioneer Hugh Davies) and the epic double live release "Zurich" (Agaric, 1985) deal in knotty tumbles of acidic, harshness
inspired by the wooly, no-holds-barred approach of late '60s/early '70s American Free Jazz but tempered by a brittle sense of architecture reminiscent of the Incus and FMP schools of European improvisation. The saxophonists eventually incorporated increasing amounts of  electronics and amplification, culminating in the monstrously cacophonous salvo "Snuff Jazz" (Agaric, 1990). By utilizing effects such as distortion, delay, pitch shifting, envelope filtering, etc. Dietrich and Sauter were able to match the oceanic roar of Miller's extended guitar approach with new alacrity.  Since then the use of electronic feedback as a foundation for the group sound has remained prevalent, many performances tending to give the overall effect of an unending tidal wave of droning power.

On this night, the group began tentatively for a few moments, each member nonchalantly adding an ominous, sustained feedback moan before Dietrich kicked on his distortion pedal and erupted with an attack of high, piercing squeals. Sauter followed suit and Miller began to rake his battle-worn black Fender Telecaster with a slide, creating a sludgy background color behind the horns. Sauter tended to meld with Miller closely, the two blending into a mass of fuzz while Dietrich tended to make more traditionally soloistic statments. Many times during a Borbetomagus set, variations and release of tension tend to come more from varying degrees of density rather than actual dynamics in volume. The horn players use pitch shifting extensively to augment the weight of their signals, adding additional octaves beneath the fundamental tones of their saxophones. Depending on the ranges they are playing in, the effect varies from a low sub-bass rumble up to a wobbly sounding melodic element drunkenly mirroring their screeching multiphonic manipulations. The band might descend into a bed of bombastic low-end and then suddenly, one of them might switch completely off, leaving only scathing highs. Since Borbetomagus rarely perform with percussionists, the momentum of their set tends to race along in a horizontal shower of various articulations, sometimes manifested in short tattoos of crude rhythmic patterns honked out by the reedists. At times the band works within a tactic of group imitation, while other moments are delineated by separate systems of discrete activity from each player. Fifteen minutes into the set, Dietrich began a series of agitated, gobbling flutter-tongued tones and Sauter responded by gargling beer into his mouthpiece. The gestalt didn't last long before both Dietrich completely dropped out, leaving Miller's languid slide guitar and Sauter's aquatic bubbling in a morbid lurch. Soon after the Dietrich re-entred and blew a bagpipe-like set of low, held pitches whle Sauter wound through a surreal, sickly snatch of melody with his chorused and distorted tenor saxophone.

The electrified roar of Borbetomagus seems to have heavy roots in the sound of rock and roll guitar power chording: at times the group evokes nightmarish visions of an infernal Guitar Center where a large pack of DMT-addled Death Metal thugs simultaneously demand to try out BC Rich guitars through Marshall stacks turned up to 10 and refuse to stop. The peaks in their set had a H.R. Giger-like biomechanical, insectoid darkness like some endless, inhuman death-wail . . . The sustained horror of the opening half-hour long piece ended in a slate-gray sheet of thick noise punctuated by a steady series of harmonic tinnabulations from Miller's guitar. the remaining crowd (many of the more soft-eared and unimaginative wimps in the audience had left) demanded an encore. Borbetomagus obliged with a completely different, but equally harrowing 10 minute piece. The music began with a winding phrase from Dietrich, followed by a low flatulence from Miller, before Sauter began to echo the other saxophonist. Abruptly Dietrich switched on several pedals creating a thick bed of bass and white noise. Sauter began to chirp away and Dietrich split off into shrill cries over the shifting vortex of Miller's fuzz. The density increased gradually as the horns continued their separate approaches. Several mintues later, the momentum flagged and Dietrich slammed it back into overdrive with a ridiculously distorted mass of noise. The band seems to value forward motion above all, constantly checking each other sonically to make sure as much frenzy is maintained as possible at any given moment. And so, the race continued as various layers of noise appeared and receded. During the last minute, Sauter set up a volley of quacks, which were attacked and then imitated by Dietrich. Miller roiled benath them as the horns became more fragmented and finally subsided.

- Weasel Walter 11.18.11

"There really is no way to intimate the experience of Borbetomagus. Try explaining to your morning barista or the person in the cubicle next to you that you paid eight dollars to watch three fifty-year-olds bludgeon your earholes for 45 minutes last night. Think about where to begin to describe three men who have spent thirty years assaulting audiences with extended volleys of mutated saxophone and guitar. Inevitably they will ask what kind of music Borbetomagus makes and you will shrug, stutter, and burp up some combination of the terms “noise,” “free,”“jazz,” and “loud.” No order of words you could string together will make a normal person understand your desire to have complete strangers indulge your masochism with electricity.

Unique in their brand of domination, Borbetomagus break you without words. They aren’t here to entertain, they are here to abuse, to taunt. That’s not a performance up on that stage; it’s an amplified conversation between Miller, Dietrich and Sauter you are eavesdropping on. They know you’re listening so they turn up the volume to fuck with you because you’ll never completely understand. You don’t speak their language. You take the bits and pieces you can make out, stick them together any way you can and make your own story. That’s not music, that’s fucking magic."

- Jeff Conklin

Jeff Conklin is the misanthropic host of East Village Radio's most
despised program, 'Just Music', follow him on Twitter

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ugEXPLODE Artists #1: Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group

The Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group formed in early 2007 and has executed 18 actions of molten aural eruption since. In 2006, Marc Edwards somehow found my Myspace page and wrote me a note saying he liked what he heard. I was familiar with Marc's music - particularly the torrid 1976 Cecil Taylor album "Dark To Themselves" - as well as his reputation as a steadfastly incendiary torchbearer of high-energy free music. I told him I was coming to New York to play and asked him if he would want to make a group. He said, "Most drummers are scared to play with me! Okay, great!" I saw this as an opportunity. If Marc kicked my ass all over the stage, well, it would have been an ass-whipping by one of the best.  I stood to learn something, no matter what.

I have constantly looked to great musicians from past generations for inspiration and comradery.  The originators of form tend to possess valuable information most new generation players have no clue about. The new musicians tend to draw their inspiration from fully codified and formalized sources, whereas the creators of the actual source material had to invent their language from nebulous origins, outside of accepted categories. There is a certain quality of experience in older improvisers which I'm not hearing in most younger players. Since many of the elder players came to free music from other forms - whether it was straight-ahead jazz, classical, etc. - they have a broader foundation on which to build upon, whereas new improvisers tend to be primarily influenced by . . . improvised music. There's often a lack of guts in contemporary improvisation. I don't hear much struggle. I don't hear much pain. I don't hear the desperation of someone who needs to speak as if their life depended on it. That's what I want to hear from music. Marc Edwards plays the drums like his life depends on it. 

Our first meeting took place at the defunct New York City club, Tonic, on February 12, 2007.  The personnel consisted of myself and Marc on drums, Damon Smith and Lisle Ellis on basses, Marco Eneidi on alto saxophone and Elliott Levin on tenor saxophone and flute. Essentially we shook hands and played. Extracts of the concert appear on the 2007 ugEXPLODE release "Firestorm".  The music was extremely dense, well-articulated and completely full-on for the entire duration. There's a certain sort of mass that Marc and I achieve when we play together: Marc is coming from a more rudiment-oriented marching band style of playing, whereas I tend to deal in a lot of fast single strokes as an extension of blast-beat and punk drumming. We are both concerned with clear execution at extremely fast tempos, so I believe there's remains a transparent quality to our cumulative efforts, despite the fact that together we tend to be louder than a nuclear bomb. Luckily we had an extremely strong group of players to kick off the proceedings.

The two following performances took place in New York at Lit Lounge on May 5, 2008 and The Delancey on September 22, 2008. I was still living in Oakland, California, but had begun travelling more frequently to the East Coast in search of new playing situations. Excerpts from both shows appeared on our out-of-print 2009 CD-R release "Mysteries Beneath The Planet".  The Lit Lounge show was originally conceived to be a combo with three drummers and three saxophonists. Unfortunately Charles Gayle couldn't make the gig, so the line-up consisted of myself, Marc and Andrew Barker on drums and Ras Moshe and Mario Rechtern on reeds. We maintained a flesh-melting intensity for the duration of the set.  The Delancey show featured another all-new lineup with myself and Marc on drums, Peter Evans on trumpet, Paul Flaherty on tenor saxophone, Darius Jones on alto saxophone and Tom Blancarte on bass.  The music took on a more orchestral form at this performance with a lot of timbral variation, while still maintaining the volcanic energy we always aim to conjure.

We did another gig at Otto's Shrunken Head in New York on April 28, 2009 with Elliott Levin, Darius Jones, bassist Adam Lane and trumpeter Forbes Graham. Something really seemed to stick with this particular formation, so we recorded this sextet in the studio on November 14, 2009, resulting in the 2010 ugEXPLODE Release "Blood of the Earth".  The CD consists of two half-hour tracks which rage with fury and eloquence, thanks to the great soloists. I tried to keep this line-up together, but it was proving to be very tough, considering the lack of gigs and money as well as the fact that Elliott and Forbes were travelling from out of town to do the shows. After I moved to New York in December 2009, we tried to reconvene the group but couldn't nail down consistent personnel. The January 31, 2010 gig at Knitting Factory featured Adam Lane, Elliott Levin and Forbes Graham, but substituted Aaron Burnett on tenor saxophone for Darius Jones. The February 25, 2010 Paris London West Nile performance had Levin, Burnett and Tom Blancarte on bass.

It was beginning to seem like a logistical and financial nightmare to do the larger, twin-drum groups and I was looking to develop a group language with a consistent group of musicians, so Marc and I decided to scale back the unit for the time being. Most New York venues cannot handle the extreme energy and volume of the big group, so Marc remained on drums, while I switched to bass (my first instrument). We re-emerged on June 18, 2010 at the Bowery Electric as a trio with soprano saxophonist Marcus Cummins. This has remained the core group since. Marcus is a very linear, logical player and he is talented at unravelling endless, winding streams of melody which I tend to complement with shifting, broad harmonic pedal tones. A lot of the time, I am rapidly tremolo-picking to maintain the group momentum, as well as to create a constant tonal density for Marcus to work with. We have never really discussed any specific approach towards the actual music, preferring to let it manifest itself spontaneously without critique or analysis. Since then we have made nine performances with this formation (one gig substituted Matt Nelson on tenor saxophone for Marcus, and another added Mario Rechtern to the group for a quartet).

I have been searching for another permanent lead voice for the band for a while and we may have found it in tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner.  I saw Jeremy performing with drummer Danny Sher a few months ago and was impressed by his phrasing and technique. The first time Jeremy performed with us was last night, November 13, 2011, at Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn. I think he worked really well with the group as I think the recording below will prove.


Weasel: What are you trying to do with this music?

Marc: That's a good question. I was heavily influenced by the sci fi thriller, "Forbidden Planet". I believe playing this music will help raise consciousness on this planet, gradually, as mankind evolves to higher states.


This is what the Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group does: create massive fields of intensity in the hope of jarring listeners into action and feeling. This is the sound of revolt.

-Weasel Walter, 11.14.11

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Early History of The Contortions #5

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)
Early History of The Contortions #3 (May '78 - August '78)

Early History of The Contortions #4 (Oct '78 - Feb '79)

2.1979 – unknown recording studio, New York, NY

1. Design To Kill  2. My Infatuation  3. I Don’t Want To Be Happy  4. Anesthetic  5. Contort Yourself  6. Throw Me Away  7. Roving Eye  8. Twice Removed  9. Bedroom Athlete  - other titles possibly recorded, unknown.

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

A major shakeup took place during the sessions leading to the Contortions full-length debut “BUY”. Circa February 1979, the band entered an unknown studio and laid down four separate sessions in an attempt to record the album. Tension mounted as egos flared, with James and Anya in one corner and the musicians in another, each accusing the other of incompetence. Chance allegedly began to assert his sole leadership of the band in no uncertain terms and Harris, Scott and Christensen walked out in protest. According to George Scott, he refused an offer to complete the session on February 17, 1979 and was soon replaced by David Hofstra on bass. Harris and Christensen returned in a “sideman” capacity and finished the recording with Chance and Pat Place. The band was slated to perform at Max’s Kansas City the next night, 2.18.1979 with Lawrence Talbot and Klaus Nomi opening. I don’t know if the show went on without Scott or not. There are rumors that a version of “BUY” exists with George Scott playing bass – copies of this tape may be in the hands of the musicians and/or in George Scott’s tape archive. The group reconvened and finished the record which was finally released in September 1979, months after the lineup had disintegrated. One of the interesting features on “BUY” is David Hofstra’s use of fretless bass guitar. His tone is more rounded than Scott’s rough attack and is often tonally ambiguous. His versions of Scott’s basslines are generally somewhat different (although throughout his stint, Scott would often change his note choices from gig to gig). “Design To Kill” leads off the album and Jody Harris takes a nice, scratchy overdubbed guitar solo on the track. Mirroring many of the past setlists, “My Infatuation” appears second. Jody Harris’ guitar is completely absent on this track, ostensibly replaced by an overdubbed saxophone ostinato by Chance. Members of the band were very unhappy about this upon hearing the final product. “I Don’t Want to Be Happy” appears here with its final disco backbeat. Overall, James Chance’s vocal performances are less intense and more nuanced than his usual bilious live outpourings. Don Christensen’s drums are a bit boxy sounding in general here. A turgid performance of “Anesthetic” follows, with staccato layer of percussive white-noise organ accents. There is some barely audible organ on the bridge which almost sounds like violin playing. “Contort Yourself” is snappy and tight sounding. The second side opens with “Throw Me Away”, which is played at a very fast tempo with crisp James Brown-type syncopated funk drumming. There are pungent backup saxophone parts overdubbed on the track. “Roving Eye” sounds great in its fully funked-out form. Chance lays down some dissonant organ under the saxophone solo in the middle of the song and Jody Harris takes an overdubbed solo on the final verse of the song. “Twice Removed” follows. There are some organ overdubs in the middle section as well as some whale-song-like guitar playing by Harris towards the end. “Bedroom Athlete” finishes the album with a bang, starting and ending with a newly arranged intro-outro section. The model on the front cover of “BUY” is professional dominatrix Terence Sellers,  garbed in a bikini designed by Anya Phillips. No personnel are listed in the artwork, but it does say “produced composed arranged and mixed by James White”. The back cover sports a live photo of James Chance performing in front of an audience. Pat Place and Jody Harris can barely be seen but are identifiable. Reissues of “BUY” after 1994 sometimes append the three live 5.1978 “Grutzi Elvis” soundtrack cuts with the album as bonus tracks. In 1980 PVC Records released a compilation ofselect tracks from “BUY” and “Off White” under the name James White and the Contortions called “Second Chance”.

Contortions live at Max's Kansas City, Spring 1979
left to right: Jody Harris, James Chance, David Hofstra (obscured), Pat Place.


4.1979 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY
1. Design to Kill  2. I Can’t Stand Myself  3. My Infatuation  4. Anesthetic  5. Almost Black  6. Roving Eye  7. Jaded  8. Bedroom Athlete

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), David Hofstra (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

There doesn’t seem to be any readily advertised activity by the group during March 1979 – Anya Phillips’ managerial tack shifted towards non-rock scene venues, so perhaps there were gigs, but they didn’t appear at Max’s or CBGB’s that month to my knowledge. The Contortions did play a show in Chicago with David Hofstra on bass, but the date and venue are unknown (possibly at La Mere Vipere?) “Design To Kill”, “Almost Black” and “Anesthetic” sound very much like their recorded versions.  A video clip of “I Can’t Stand Myself” exists from this performance, most likely shot by Paul Tschinkel for the cable access “Inner Tube” show. “My Infatuation” is intense here with some very aggressive saxophone work. James Chance trades some insults with the audience before launching into “Roving Eye”. “Jaded” appears here with some interesting tonal extrapolations by David Hofstra on bass. The backbeat kicks in halfway through, but Jody Harris does his normal guitar work on it rather than the chordal stuff from the James White and the Blacks 2. 2.1979 gig. Next, the band segues immediately into “Bedroom Athlete”. I’m not sure if this is the complete set or not. It is very likely this recording is the majority of the first set of the following listing.


4.6.1979 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY
1. Throw Me Away   2. White Savages/Sophisticated Cancer   3. Roving Eye   4. Anesthetic   5. I Don’t Want To Be Happy  6. Jaded   7. Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), David Hofstra (bass), Don Christensen (drums).

Kill The Hippies:
Contortions live at Max's Kansas City, Spring 1979
James Chance, David Hofstra and victim.
photo by Ebet Roberts

The band has a two-night run at Max’s on 4.6 and 4.7.1979 with The Rentals (Boston-based band led by Jeff and Jane Hudson who put out a Lust/Unlust Records EP and later moved on up to Beggar’s Banquet Records) opening the Friday show and Internationals (featuring Felix Cabrera on harmonica) and the Cutthroats opening Saturday.  “Throw Me Away” is played tight and fast. It might be the concluding number of the first set above, judging by the sound quality and the Max’s announcer introducing them after the song ends. “White Savages”/”Sophisticated Cancer” whizzes by at high speed. “Roving Eye”, “Contort Yourself” and “I Don’t Want To Be Happy” are performed in a typical manner. “Jaded” is similar to the one in the early set.


The original Contortions' last stand: Paris Hippodrome 6.1.79
left to right: Jody Harris, unknown stagehand and James Chance
The Contortions were advertised as playing at Max’s on 4.21.1979 with Model Citizens, Jeffrey Lohn, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca as well as a show either under the Contortions or James White and the Blacks guise at Hurrah on 4.27.1979 with support from Information. Another James White and the Blacks show was advertised for 5.29.1979 with opening act Single Bullet Theory. The band flew to Paris to play one gig on 6.1.1979 at the Hippodrome with Teenage Jesus and possibly Robin Crutchfield. Beirut Slump and DNA were advertised on a poster for the show, but it is unlikely they played. David Hofstra flew back the following day. James Chance and Anya Phillips allegedly ditched the other members of the band and they had to find their own way back to New York, effectively ending the original Contortions formation. The disgruntled ex-members would go on record soon after alleging that James Chance ripped them off for money from gigs and recording sessions,  also claiming that Chance had turned into a monster under the influence of drugs and Anya Phillips influence. Chance retorted saying they were incompetent musicians and were easily replaceable. It seems the old issues eventually became bygones as the original group, sans the late George Scott - who died on August 5, 1980 of a drug overdose – and Adele Bertei, reunited for sporadic gigs starting around February 2001. Talk of a 1996 Contortions reunion show in San Francisco is around, but I have no concrete evidence of it. Adele Bertei has played with the group again recently, but David Hofstra was never asked back despite requests by some of the other band members.


8.22.1979 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY

1. Good Times   2. Sophisticated Cancer   3. Almost Black   4. Melt Yourself Down   5. Disposable You   6. Design to Kill    7. Disco Jaded   8. Disco Jaded (cont.)/Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), Steven Kramer (organ), Kristian Hoffman (guitar), Patrick Geoffrois (guitar), Bradley Field (bongos), James Webster (bass), Walter Thompson (drums).

The "New" Contortions, late 1979. left to right: unknown bassist,
James Chance, Kristian Hoffman, Steven Kramer.
After James Chance returned from France, he set about assembling a new Contortions lineup, of which this was the first performance. Patrick Geoffrois, a French guitarist formerly of insane rock/improv band Mahogany Brain seems to be the main constant up through the summer of 1980. Steven Kramer was a musician from Minneapolis who fronted the band The Wallets. Kristian Hoffman fills Pat Place’s role on atonal slide guitar. They open with a cover of Chic’s huge hit “Good Times”, replete with Contortion-iod organ dissonance and some rather straight-ahead disco wah-guitar, bass and drums. The band sounds fairly well-rehearsed. A new musical arrangement of “Sophisticated Cancer” follows and it sounds suitably obnoxious thanks to Kramer’s manic organ noise. The arrangement of “Almost Black” is in the ballpark, but lacks Don Christensen’s inventive drum pattern of the original. Saxophone and drum breakdowns are beginning to become a consistent element in these new arrangements. “Melt Yourself” down reappears with new music.  “Disposable You” has morphed somewhat, but retains a few elements from the old version, namely the clave drumbeat and repetitive bass pattern. “Design to Kill” barely resembles the definitive “BUY” version except for the vocal part. A funky new tune, “Disco Jaded” premieres here before segueing into “Contort Yourself”. 


The group appeared a few days later on 8.25.1979 at Squat Theatre and on a 9.5.79 Hurrah bill with Scientific Americans. The band, with new drummer Mickey Sevilla, formerly of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, headlined the “Marathon ‘80” Fest in Minneapolis on 9.23.1979. Video footage of the entire festival is known to exist. Upon return the band played a 10.5.1979 gig with Polyrock at Max’s Kansas City. It’s unclear how the personnel fluctuates after September 1979. At one point guitarist/drummer Greg Barrett is included in the line-up. Footage of the “new” band performing an unintentionally hilarious, addled version of “Contort Yourself” exists, most likely filmed by Paul Tschinkel for “Inner Tube”. The Max’s Kansas City logo appears in the background, so the date would have been after the logo was painted, possibly at one of the October or December shows. Joseph Bowie and (most likely) Byron Bowie appear on horns and Steven Kramer plays bongos instead of organ in the clip. Bradly Field, Kristian Hoffman and Geoffrois are on stage, but the rhythm section are unidentified. On 11.29.1979, James White appeared as a guest with the newly formed band Defunkt (originally spelled “Defunked”), led by St. Louis bred trombonist and vocalist  Joesph Bowie and featuring a constantly fluctuating cast of backing musicians. At some point, the personnel of Defunkt briefly morph into either James White and the Blacks as well as a new group called The Flaming Demonics, but it’s difficult to nail down the exact line-ups for every gig. On the 12.28.1979 Squat Theatre gig, Patrick Geoffrois Is still in the band and guitarist Vernon Reid (later of Living Colour fame), bassist Melvin Gibbs (later to play in Rollins Band) and saxophonist John Purcell are part of the lineup, as well as Bowie.
In June 1980, the band embarked on a European tour, documented on the Invisible Records 1980 LP “Live Aux Bains Douches” and the excellent ROIR cassette “Soul Exorcism”, first issued in 1991. The great band during this tour included Chance, Geoffois, Fred Wells on guitar, Ornette Coleman bass player Albert MacDowell, trumpeter Lorenzo Wyche and gifted teenaged drummer Richard Harrison. Anya Phillips is with on the trip and contributes occasional backup vocals. Once back in New York, Geoffrois and most of the band exit the line-up, but Harrison stays. A new group eventually coalesces around Chance, Harrison, Ornette Coleman guitarist Bern Nix, guitarist Tomas Doncker (who also plays in downtown art-funk group The Dance), bassist Colin Wade and occasional appearances by Joseph Bowie. This unit lasts into early 1981, and is documented on the raw “Live In New York” ROIR cassette, released that year. Backup singers Bemshi Jones and Cherie Donovan begin appearing with the group as “The Discolitas”. This lineup is filmed at performing the song “Sax Maniac” live at the Peppermint Lounge probably in either December 1980 or January 1981 in the Glenn O’Brien feature film “Downtown ‘81” featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat and many others, released in 2000. By mid-to-late 1981 the group winds up restabilizing again around guitarists Jerry Antonius and Chris Cunningham with various personnel and albums like “Sax Maniac” (Animal, 1982), “Flaming Demonics” (ZE, 1983) and “Melt Yourself Down” (Selfish, 1986) appear.

James Chance, 1980.

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)
Early History of The Contortions #3 (May '78 - August '78)

Early History of The Contortions #4 (Oct '78 - Feb '79)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Early History of The Contortions #4

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)
Early History of The Contortions #3 (May '78 - August '78)

10.12.1978 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY

1. Bedroom Athlete  2. Disposable You  3. Dish It Out  4. Flip Your Face  5. Design To Kill  6. Anesthetic  7. Almost Black  8. Throw Me Away  9. Jaded  10. Contort Yourself

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

The band appears at a New York venue called Club Hollywood on 9.14.1978. At some point Adele Bertei either left the band or was pressured to leave by Anya Phillips. According to various sources, Bertei had been in and out of the band and at one point, Phillips “drove her from the group” as Pat Place reported in the August 1979 New York Rocker. George Scott remarked in same article that Bertei had gained confidence from doing various solo sets and left voluntarily. Regardless, she was not in active duty with the band on the 8.17.1978 Max’s set and only appears on a few songs during the “No Wave Jam” in the second set. It’s unclear when exactly Bertei left Contortions, but it could have been as early as the first half of August 1978. The split must not have been too acrimonious because she would play and sing on a few tracks (including a vocal duo with Phillips) from James White and the Blacks “Off White”, recorded around October 1978.  Anya Phillips assumed official management over the band soon after Adele Bertei’s departure and began trying to place the bands in more “upscale” venues in addition to Max’s. The band opens with a great version of “Bedroom Athlete” which reappears after a long absence. The repetitive “Disposable You” debuts here, based on a bossa nova rhythm with weird guitar that sounds a bit like “The Girl From Ipanema”. “Dish It Out” is extremely fast and excellent here. James Chance’s vocals are particularly aggressive at this performance. “Flip Your Face” is given a typical run-through. As an introduction to “Design To Kill”, James devotes the song to the “hardworking staff of the Chelsea Hotel” – mocking the death of Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungeon earlier that day. “Anesthetic” begins with Chance quoting “I’m In the Mood For Love” on the saxophone. “Almost Black”, one of the tracks by Contortions’ disco alter-ego James White and the Blacks makes an appearance here. “Throw Me Away” has a typical rendition here, still with the noisy, driving middle section which was ultimately rearranged for the “BUY” album. The middle of “Jaded” adopts a nice backbeat here for the first time, making this turgid composition much more interesting than normal. “Contort Yourself” sounds similar to how it finally would on “BUY”. This particular concert was very assured sounding, tight and no-nonsense.

10.1978 – Blank Tapes Studio, New York, NY
1. Contort Yourself  2. Stained Sheets  3. (Tropical) Heat Wave  4. Almost Black  5. White Savages  6. Off Black  7. White Devil  8. Bleached Black

James Chance (voc, as), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums) with Adele Bertei (keyboards, vocals, percussion), Kristian Hoffman (vocals, piano), Paul Colin (tenor sax), Robert Quine (guitar), Ray Mantilla (congas), Lydia Lunch (guitar, vocals),  Anya Phillips (vocals) and Vivienne Dick (violin)

In 1978, the high rollers at ZE Records offered James Chance a substantial budget to record a “disco” album for them.  Essentially, James White and the Blacks is the Contortions playing vaguely disco-oriented compositions. The back cover of the ZE Records 12” featuring “Contort Yourself” b/w “(Tropical) Heat Wave” says the tracks were recorded at Blank Tapes in October 1978 by Bob Blank. The “Off White” album credits simply say “Fall 1978”. It doesn’t sound like a particularly complex production, so it’s probably safe to assume the sessions began in October and were wrapped up soon after. The A side of the album opens with a somewhat discofied version of “Contort Yourself” with Adele Bertei guesting on organ. Some recent editions of “Off White” substitute a six-minute-long August Darnell (Kid Creole and the Coconuts) remix of “Contort Yourself” which is more blatantly metronomic and less cacophonous than the Contortions renditions. There’s a lot of added percussion and some unidentified female backup vocals during the chorus. “Stained Sheets” follows, a slice of S/M audio vérité with James Chance and Lydia Lunch (credited as “Stella Rico”) engaged in a perverted phone-sex call. The vamp behind the vocals is somewhat laid back, but peppered by noisy electric piano stabs by Kristian Hoffman. “(Tropical) Heat Wave” by Irving Berlin is a novel, kitschy track featuring lead vocals and electric piano by Kristian Hoffman (credited as “Tad Among”), some sultry verses by Anya Phillips (a.k.a. “Ginger Lee”) and hyper conga playing by Ray Mantilla. “Almost Black” ends the side, an uptempo instrumental featuring some repartee between Anya Phillips and Adele Bertei (mysteriously credited as “Randy Marlowe” and “Little Willie Feather” and Robert Quine takes a vomitous wah-guitar solo at one point. On some versions of the “Off White” album, the long track “Almost Black” is separated into two parts. Side Two of the album contains four intense instrumentals which sound a lot less like disco and a lot more like harsh Contortions tracks without vocals. “White Savages” may have percolating hi-hat on it, but it also features Lydia Lunch’s patented slide guitar terror as well as nasty saxophone soloing and percussive white noise organ by James Chance. “Off Black” unfolds in mid-tempo, focusing on the warped guitar interplay between Jody Harris, Pat Place and Robert Quine. By the end, the tune double-times and launches into a dense thicket of 6-string skronk and honking saxophones. “White Devil” is a mid-tempo romp with some skronky Lydia Lunch guitar playing. “Bleached Black” slithers by in a sinister manner, aided by the dry violin scrapings of Beirut Slump member and film-maker Vivienne Dick. After the break-up of the original Contortions, the ex-members were all uniformly disappointed with “Off White”, accusing it of being a bad record. It is certainly somewhat incoherent in focus, but has many charms, and the instrumental side is as potent as anything the group ever recorded in a studio. It seem the album was available as a French import during fall 1979 and as a domestic release by October.
The Blacks a.k.a The Contortions, fall 1978. Photos by Anya Phillips


1.28.1979 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY
1. Dish It Out   2. My Infatuation   3. Design to Kill   4. Anesthetic   5. Roving Eye   6. Twice Removed   7. I Can’t Stand Myself    8. Disposable You   9. Throw Me Away   10 . Bedroom Athlete

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

In November and December, the group appears at Max’s Kansas City, on 11.23.1978 with the L.A. punk group X, and on 12.15.1978 with kiddie-punk group The Blessed featuring Howie Pyro and probably Heartbreaker Walter Lure. A Contortions gig at Club 57 is advertised on 1.12.1979 also. This Max’s performance exists in separate audio and video forms, the video being crudely shot and over-exposed black and white. I’m not sure what the origin of the video is, but it could be by either the Armstrong/Ivers team (who were definitely using black and white cameras in 1978), or possibly Paul Tschinkel, responsible for the NYC cable access show “Inner Tube”. The shot seems like it may have been one camera of a multi-camera shoot, as there are long shots of Chance’s dancing feet and extreme close-ups of various musicians for long durations. The room audio recording sounds like it was made near the bar because the ringing of the cash register is extremely loud on it. The band looks fairly miserable or grim during the concert, particularly bassist George Scott. “Dish It Out”, “My Infatuation”, “Design To Kill”, “Anesthetic”, “Bedroom Athlete” and “Twice Removed”  are executed in a typical manner. “Roving Eye” finally appears with its James Brown-style funk overhaul featuring Don Christensen’s catchy syncopated drum pattern. Chance leaps from the stage and terrorizes the audience a bit during “Anesthetic” and “Throw Me Away”. The bassline to “Disposable You” has changed completely from the dark, chromatic one played on 10.12.1978 into a more consonant sounding line. The middle section of “Throw Me Away” is beginning to resemble the slightly more relaxed-sounding vamp used on the “BUY” album. The other bands on the bill are WKGB (a synth-based act who eventually released a single on Fetish Records) and The Cutthroats (most likely, the garage band led by bassist Gina Harlow).

as James White and the Blacks:
2.2.1979  - Club 57 at Irving Plaza, New York, NY

1. Off Black   2. White Savages/Sophisticated Cancer   3. Almost Black   4. I Don’t Want To Be Happy   5. White Devil/Melt Yourself Down   6. Jaded    7. Contort Yourself   8. Contort Yourself (cont.)
James Chance (voc, as, organ), Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), George Scott (bass), Don Christensen (drums)

Most likely the first live show under the “James White and the Blacks” guise. According to reports, someone tried to sabotage the show and convinced the Village Voice to write “cancelled” over the ad listing. “Off Black” is performed in a similar manner to the “Off White” album version. “White Savages” is performed with a new middle section, but adds lyrics which would eventually surface with completely different music as the song “Sophisticated Cancer”.. Anya Phillips would die of cancer by 1981 – I don’t know if these lyrics are a direct allusion to her condition or not. “Almost Black” appears here in a very song like form with Chance focusing on lyrics before taking off on a saxophone solo. “I Don’t Want to Be Happy”is played in a very fast, aggressive manner with generic offbeat disco hi-hat accents and some noisy organ playing from Chance. It is a similar arrangement to what would appear on “BUY”. “White Devil” from “Off White” is performed with the lyrics from “Melt Yourself Down”, which would later be sung to completely different music before being included on the 1986 Japan-only LP of the same name. “Jaded” is playedd here with an uptempo backbeat as well as mellow-sounding, rolling guitar chords. Pat Place’s slide guitar remains loud and acrid though. “Contort Yourself” is played at a faster-than-normal tempo with the generic disco hi-hat pattern, and for some reason Jody Harris’ guitar gets turned up extremely loud. The band sounds really great and inspired here in general. The other acts on the bill include Mumps (featuring Kristian Hoffman), The Reasons and Information (with drummer Rick Brown). The Contortions are also listed in the Village Voice ad, but I don’t know if they played a separate set under that guise or not.
It's possible this picture was taken at Club 57/Irving Plaza on 2.2.1979. left to right: James Chance,
Kristian Hoffman, Pat Place and Anya Phillips. There is no audible participation from either
Hoffman or Phillips on the extant audio.

Next up, part FIVE: The recording of "BUY" Contortions  . . .

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 #5
Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)
Early History of The Contortions #2 (Dec '77 - May '78)
Early History of The Contortions #3 (May '78 - August '78)

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)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Early History of The Contortions #2

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)

The actual genesis of The Contortions is well-covered in the Marc Masters and Thurston Moore/Byron Coley books, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking in depth about it. If you would like to read my own 2002 liner notes discussing some of the finer points of this topic, click here. Beware though . . . spoiler alert!

James Chance and Lydia Lunch: pre-Teenage Jesus
from the 1977 film "Punking Out"

James Chance moved from Brookfield, Wisconsin around 1976 to crack the free jazz "loft" scene happening in New York City. He soon ran into a teen runaway from Rochester, New York named Lydia Lunch and the two became friends. They started a band called The Scabs. The Scabs morphed into Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Lydia thought James was too interactive with the audience and kicked him out of the group. James started his own band, The Contortions, soon after. His earliest lineup consisted included British artist James Nares on guitar, drummer Stephen Moses (who appeared with James and David Hofstra in an early free-jazz combo called Flaming Youth) and Anne DeLeon on synthesizer. It's messy - a lot of people came and went pretty quickly - but soon Chicago-bred artist Pat Place was added to the group on slide guitar because she had good hair. Adele Bertei, hailing from Cleveland, was hanging around and got drafted on organ. Japanese rocker Reck quit Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and defected into the Contortions ranks, bringing with him, his drummer friend Chiko Hige. Thusly, our saga begins . . .

12.4.1977 – Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY

1. I Don’t Want To Be Happy   2. Roving Eye  3. Dish It Out  4. My Infatuation  5 Jaded  6. Bedroom Athlete

James Chance (voc, as), James Nares (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), Reck (bass), Chiko Hige (drums)
 (Ostensibly) the first Contortions gig opens with a brutal version of “I Don’t Want to Be Happy” which is the polar opposite arrangement of the laid-back, discofied version which would finally appear on 1979’s “Buy Contortions” LP (ZE Records). Chiko Hige’s tumbling, powerful tom-tom drumming bolsters the noise from the guitars and organ, supporting James’ frenzied vocal outbursts. “Roving Eye” also appears here in a similar form underpinned by a savage Bo Diddley-type rhythmic figure, far removed from the later late-60s-James-Brown-style funk arrangement which made the album. The middle of the song here turns into a sort of jazz-swing parody with a saxophone solo. James Nares’ guitar tone is particularly brittle on this recording – it has been purported by several sources that he played some sort of “plastic” guitar. I am not sure exactly what this entails. On this early version of the "No New York" track “Dish It Out”, the drumming is a stomping four-on-the-floor beat instead of the more refined backbeat which appears on the record. Otherwise it is similar in form. Pat Place mentioned to me that she thought there was an existing film of this gig and that her hands were completely bloody by the end of the show from playing guitar. “My Infatuation” would remain very similar in arrangement throughout James’ career, however, the brash amateurism of James Nares and Pat Place on guitar and Adele Bertei on Acetone organ add an extra layer of filth here which may never have been equaled. Luckily the Japanese rhythm section is rock solid and they helped steer this virgin voyage towards success. According to many sources, including an issue of New York Rocker magazine, George Scott joined the band in December 1977, so it might be safe to assume this is Reck’s only performance with the band. He was previously a member of the original line up of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks for most of the second half of 1977 (along with James Chance, who left before him in September 1977). The turgid, monotonous song “Jaded” is performed here in a similar arrangement to how it would appear on “No New York”. This song was also played in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks when James was still a member. The set closes with a version of “Bedroom Athlete”, which is performed in this early, crude manner until it is finally revamped before the recording of “BUY”. This performance has similar tribal drumming like much of the rest of the set. The middle 5/4 section is later refined beyond the rough pileup of noise it sounds like here. The other acts on this bill included Rudolph Grey and Von LMO’s notorious, short-lived combo Red Transistor as well as Mimi and the Dreamboats (featuring future Mofungo members and a very young Jim Sclavunos).


2.4.1978 – CBGBs, New York, NY
Set One:

1. I Don’t Want To Be Happy   2. My Infatuation   3. Dish It Out   4. Jaded   5. Throw Me Away  6. Roving Eye   7. Twice Removed   8. Contort Yourself

Set Two:
1. Intro   2. I Don’t Want To Be Happy   3. My Infatuation   4. Dish It Out   5. Twice Removed   6. Bedroom Athlete   7. Jaded   8. Roving Eye  9. Contort Yourself  10. Throw Me Away

James Chance (voc, as), James Nares (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Chiko Hige (drums)

The band more than likely played at least two more shows between this one and the debut (ads for 1.9.1978 at Max’s Kansas City with Teenage Jesus and The Jerks and 1.15.1978 at CBGB’s with The Sorrows appeared in the Village Voice pages). In the Village Voice the listing for a run of shows between Thursday and Saturday April 2-4, 1978 lists Suicide, The Fleshtones and Contortions as the attractions. On all three dates, Suicide definitely appear to have played two sets on each night as well as the Contortions. New bassist George Scott previously did time in the proto-punk group Jack Ruby before joining up with Chance and co. It is obvious that Chiko Hige is still on drums here. Adele’s scathing organ clusters and Pat Place’s rubbery slide guitar are more prevalent on this recording than on the 12.4.1977 tape. The song arrangements are similar to the ones from the first gig, but are performed here slightly faster in tempo and with more confidence. There’s a little sax and drum tag added to the beginning of “Dish It Out” which doesn’t appear elsewhere. The song “Throw Me Away” makes an early appearance here, in a more basic form than the lighter, disco version on “BUY”. The verses feature more of Chiko’s tom patterns in lieu of the James Brown-esqe drumming on the album. The raging middle section featuring a white-hot saxophone is completely different than the middle of the final version. Also prominent is a melodic organ part which didn’t make the album version. There’s a pretty large and enthusiastic crowd at this show. The crawling jazz-swing of “Twice Removed” has been added to the set and sounds largely like it always would. The first set ends with an embryonic version of “Contort Yourself” and James, who hasn’t said much during the set, introduces It in a tone dripping with contempt: “In case you didn’t know it, we’re the Contortions and this is the music we contort ourselves with, so stick it up your ass!” The tempo is much slower than it would eventually stabilize at, and the performance drags on for more than seven minutes. There’s lots of wild guitar noise however. The second set opens with James responding to a heckler: “Stick a firecracker up your ass, jerk!” There’s definitely a growing repartee between the audience and Chance, and he begins to make more snide comments towards them during the set. This late performance starts out similarly to the first, but adds “Bedroom Athlete” and “Jaded”. The microphone breaks during “Jaded”, but is replaced quickly. The end of the closing number, “Throw Me Away” is particularly dissonant and harrowing.
Contortions, backstage at Max's Kansas City, early 1978. left to right:
George Scott, James Chance, Adele Bertei, James Nares, Pat Place, Chiko Hige.
photo by Patty Heffley
One might notice a really loud guy screaming “Yi yi yi yi!” between songs: this is a late local character Jim Brawley, or “Jim Tapes”. He recorded a lot of period gigs in the CBGB’s scene and apparently he made all this noise so his tapes would be useless for bootlegging(!) The whereabouts of his archives are unknown.


3.12.1978 – 66 E. 4th Street, New York, NY – X Magazine Benefit

1. Dish It Out   2. My Infatuation  3. Roving Eye  4. Twice Removed  5. Throw Me Away  6. Bedroom Athlete  7. Jaded  8. Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), James Nares (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Steve Moses (drums) with Robert Quine (guitar) on 8

The Contortions appeared here headlining a benefit show for local publication X Magazine, a print vehicle sponsored by the independent film organization Colab. The other groups on the bill were Boris Policeband, Erasers, DNA, Theoretical Girls and Terminal: a strong cross-section of groups who, except for old-school punks Erasers, would represent different aspects of the embryonic No Wave aesthetic. Chiko Hige is clearly gone at this point and my educated guess is that the drummer here is Steve Moses. Moses played in a free-jazz oriented trio with James Chance and David Hofstra (who replaced George Scott during the “BUY” sessions) called Flaming Youth and then jammed with an early Contortions incarnation predating the group’s live debut. His style doesn’t really jibe well with the aggressive musical agenda of the band and he seems to drag everything down in terms of tempo and feel. The band opened the show with “Dish It Out” immediately following James chewing the audience out for sitting on the floor. Moses’ drumming has a lazy, half-time feel, but otherwise the arrangement is the same as usual. George Scott was not playing terribly strong bass  at this point and his sound is extremely muddy here. The arrangement of “My Infatuation” suffers from more weak drumming. Luckily “Roving Eye” picks up the overall pace and has the thrust of the past performances. “Twice Removed” begins typically, but turns into a bit of a trainwreck during the middle section, due to under-rehearsed drumming. The momentum of the performance really takes a dive on “Throw Me Away”. It is performed too slowly, with inappropriately complicated drumming, and James tries to scat-sing some life into it before launching into his regular verses. After two minutes, the song collapses before picking back up again for a saxophone solo. This show is documented as one of the first where James Chance physically antagonized audience members, so maybe that’s what is happening during the dead air? After another minute, the song grinds to a halt again and there’s a lot of talking in the audience. Soon the band tries to play the song again and Chance tells them on-mic to “speed it up.” “Jaded” follows but it too fizzles out after George Scott’s amplifier breaks down. After an awkward minute the bass amp comes back on and the band finishes the song.  It seems like Robert Quine might be sitting in on this song, as there’s some particularly wiry, interesting guitar playing on the version which sounds very unlike James Nares’ style. Quine is definitely audible jamming away on the closing “Contort Yourself”, begun at the same plodding tempo as the 2.4.1978 CBGB’s sets. The drumming is unsupportive at first but gets more firey and inventive around the 2:00 mark when Moses finally bothers to play a concrete backbeat. Although the pace picks up somewhat, the band is sloppy and sounding long in the tooth before the song finally implodes. The crowd has a very positive response at the end of the set though . . . Although definitely not the finest Contortions performance quality-wise,  this event was a pivotal one for the no-wave scene in general. Another important aspect of this occasion was the meeting of James Chance and the woman who would quickly become his companion and manager: Anya Phillips. Phillips was a Chinese-American scenester connected with X Magazine who also worked as a dominatrix. She would help mould Chance’s image as well as sowing the seeds of discontent which would eventually break the original Contortions line-up apart.


4.14.1978 – CBGBs, New York, NY

1. Dish It Out   2. My Infatuation  3. Roving Eye  4. Twice Removed  5. Throw Me Away  6. Flip Your Face  7. Jaded  8. Contort Yourself

James Chance (voc, as), James Nares (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar), Adele Bertei (organ), George Scott (bass), Steve Moses (drums)

Contortions live 4.14.1978 opening for the Cramps.
left to right: James Chance, Adele Bertei, Stephen Moses,
Lydia Lunch (sitting), Pat Place. photo by Alain Dister
After a possible show at CBGB’s on 4.9.1978 (not confirmed), the Contortions share a bill with The Cramps on 4.14.78. The Cramps debut 7” was released in April 1978 and may have been available at this gig. The band opens with a version of  “Dish It Out” which fares better than the X Mag one. Steve Moses sounds much more comfortable in his role here. The excellent sound at CBGB’s helps bring all the players into better focus on this recording. “My Infatuation” is competent and performed in a manner more typical for the song than it had been the benefit show. The loud rhythm guitar and straight- ahead backbeat on “Roving Eye” makes it sound more like a rockabilly song(!) than it ever would again. “Twice Removed” receives a typical performance, as does “Throw Me Away” and “Jaded”. “Flip Your Face”, immortalized on “No New York” makes a first appearance here, with splashier drums and a darker sounding variation of the main guitar lick. An uptempo take on “Contort Yourself” closes things out.


5.4.1978 – CBGBs, New York, NY
Johnny Blitz Benefit Show 

1. Dish It Out   2. My Infatuation  3. Roving Eye  4. Twice Removed  5. Jailhouse Rock  6.  Jaded  7. Contort Yourself

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

After at least one other gig – 4.24.1978 with Mars at Max’s Kansas City -The Contortions appeared on a bill also featuring the Ramones, Sic Fucks, Stilettos, Erasers, Corpse Grinders and Spicy Bits, in a benefit concert for Dead Boys’ drummer Johnny Blitz who was hospitalized after a stabbing. This was the first of four nights total during the run of benefit shows. It’s clear that the personnel has changed. Jody Harris’ guitar is somewhat smoother sounding than James Nares and Don Christensen’s crisp, no-nonsense drumming drives the band nicely, although he is not quite as brutal as Chiko Hige. Harris and Christensen both played in an R&B flavored bar band called Loose Screws (with David Hofstra) before joining the Contortions. Harris was also in a very early incarnation of Mars and had a brief stint with ur-critic Lester Bangs’ band. It is unclear whether or not Harris and Christensen both joined the band at the exact same time. One of them may have joined after the other. It is unclear and neither musician seems to remember the chronology exactly.

Lean performances of “Dish It Out” and “My Infatuation” open the set. A very fast “Roving Eye” returns again to its tumbling jungle-drum form and Harris adds some twangy vibrato-bar licks to the middle section. “Twice Removed” also receives an uptempo, clean reading featuring the most effective execution of the fragmented middle section so far. This is the sound of what many consider the definitive early Contortions line-up beginning to cook. For some reason, Kristian Hoffman of Mumps and Bradly Field of Teenage Jesus are introduced before a hilarious cover of “Jailhouse Rock”.  My wild guess is that they were probably dancing on stage or something . . . although the picture below was definitely taken at CBGB's and it has Hoffman on guitar and an obscured (possibly) Field on organ. “Jaded” is lead by the metronomic, but out-of-tempo organ clusters of Adele Bertei, lending an even more macabre edge to the piece than ever before. Jody Harris’ echo-y guitar improvisation also creates more depth than usual on this song. After a false count-off, the band ends this succinct set with “Contort Yourself”, which is starting to resemble the “BUY” version, thanks to Don Christensen’s tight drum patterns. Bertei’s noisy organ glissandos add an extra layer of ambush to the proceedings. The following evening, The Contortions would split a bill with DNA at one of the five Artists Space festival shows which lead directly to their inclusion on the Brian Eno produced anthology “No New York” (1978, Antilles Records).

This photo might be from the Johnny Blitz Benefit show on 5.4.1978
left to right: Bradly Field(?), Jody Harris, Don Christensen, James Chance, Pat Place (sitting), Kristian Hoffman
photo by Eugene Merinov


Next up, part THREE: Contortions play Artists Space Festival and Eno produces "No New York" . . .

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 #3 (May 78-Oct 78)

Early History of The Contortions #1 (Introduction)