(Posted this morning on the TONY Blog)
Up until Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes got arrested — or actually, y’know, didn’t — for assaulting a monitor engineer last night at Webster Hall, I thought the smell permeating the space might be the corpse of late-’80s hardcore finally dissolving into a fetid gelatin. (Or maybe it was the last dregs of my pathetic youth.)
Don’t get me wrong: The spectacle of seeing the acid-damaged Texas psych-punk terrorists reunited in their finest five-piece form for the first time since 1989 — wrapping up a tour that marked the band’s first live appearances, period, since 2002 — was satisfying in a more-than-nostalgic way. Hell, seeing tandem drummers King Coffey and Teresa Taylor (the one who had a small part in Richard Linklater’s Slacker, it’s de rigeur to point out) together again would have been almost enough. But there was Jeff Pinkus, the band’s most sympatico bassist. And there was guitarist Paul Leary, his gaze unfixed on some distant point as he reeled off scuzzy riffs and gorgeously wounded leads.
But this tour, organized by Paul Green of the School of Rock, introduced an older, mellower Surfers, a band that seemed perfectly content to dish up proficient renditions of its demented classics. Most of the set list was drawn from the Surfers’ peerless Touch & Go catalog, augmented with a clutch of earlier tunes ("Suicide," "Cowboy Bob," "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave") and a handful of well-chosen cuts from its major-label heyday. No sign whatsoever of the band’s freak alt-rock radio hit, "Pepper," and happily, no trace of its sad, bloodless swan song, Weird Revolution.
There was a video component, just like in the days of old — though Peanuts footage and a roller-coaster tracking shot were poor substitutes for, say, the graphic gender-reassignment surgery films of old. Later, at least, we got some viciously violent rodeo-accident scenes, Faces of Death III and what appeared to be a primitive circumcision ritual that involved improbable stretching and an ax. Ouch!
Throughout the set, the band was augmented, or even in some cases partially replaced, by players from Green’s School of Rock. There was nothing intrinsically troubling about this under the circumstances — it was even kind of charming to see three young women screaming and two sax-toting lads blurting throughout "Cowboy Bob."
But this is a band that in its most-notorious period offered flames, nudity, sex, chaos and completely genuine danger during its shows in the ’80s and very-early ’90s. What went down at Webster Hall was, by comparison, worthy of no more than a PG-13. MC Trachiotomy and th’ Terribleness, the NOLA act that played between an opening set of covers by the School of Rock kids and the Buttholes, was more genuinely confrontational — and even then, it practically boiled down to something like the J. Geils Band gone lounge-hop. (Excellent hula-hoop dancer, though.)
Haynes spent a lot of the show throwing silent hand gestures — and eventually a not-so-silent middle finger — toward the monitor engineer at the side of the stage, trying to get more sound. Finally, the vocalist lurched over to the board and — depending on which blogger you trust — shoved the guy, threw a punch or a beer bottle. (From my perspective Haynes shoved the guy, who took a swing back at him.)
Haynes went out to sing "Gary Floyd," after which he was escorted from the stage by security. Early reports from the crew and on Brooklyn Vegan said the singer had been arrested. (No, said BV commenters and Prefix mag: Haynes was escorted out -- at the request of his bandmates and manager, according to one caustic account -- then went for a drink at the Continental, and showed up as scheduled to DJ the after-party at Beauty Bar.)
Leary said the band would finish the show without Haynes, and closed with "The Shah Sleeps…," a song for which he had always been the lead vocalist, anyway. After the band left the stage, the crowd erupted in obscenities, hurling cups, water bottles and beer cans at smirking security guards. Recorded music came up but the lights stayed down, prompting sustained shouting for at least ten minutes. Genesis P-Orridge eventually sashayed out to the dead mike and tried to make peace, before being escorted off stage by another security guard.
Looking at the set lists posted on über-fan Jason Ramke’s website this morning, ironically, it seems that "Shah" had ended every show on the current tour. A skeptic might almost wonder whether the scene was just a last-minute bit of drama to close a show that was already done. Still: for just one brief, grotty moment it felt like 1988 all over again.
Setlist: 22 Going on 23 / Fast / Suicide / Moving to Florida / One Hundred Million People Dead / Some Dispute over T-Shirt Sales / Goofy's Concern / To Parter / Tornadoes / 1401 / Graveyard / Dust Devil / Ulcer Breakout / Rocky / Cowboy Bob / Cherub / Sweat Loaf / I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas / Gary Floyd / The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave
[Note: Ramke's setlist has "Jimi" and "Cartoon Song" before "X-Ray," leading directly into "Shah," as on the previous dates in this tour and the hand-written setlist for the June 24 tour opener in Asbury Park, NJ. But according to my notes "Jimi/Cartoon" was omitted and "Gary Floyd" was most certainly added, and I'm sticking to that account. Anal retentive, I know... but isn't that in keeping with my subject?]