#17, NOVEMBER 2004



Another batch of SUBLIME FREQUENCIES releases have arrived and the plot is thickening. Actually, they arrived about six months ago, and apparently another batch of five is already right around the corner. It takes me a long time to review this stuff because there's so much of it, and so much in it, and to be quite frank, when exposed to all this beauty, celebration, mystery, and tragedy, words fail me. Sure, if these releases came with extensive detailed track listings and biographical essays for all the different singers and musicians, I'd have a lot to quote and paraphrase, but Sublime Frequencies gives very little information other than track titles and artist name, and even this information isn't always known. A few critics have been a little miffed by this non-traditional approach to musicology, but I'm loving it. It's been so fresh and exciting, listening to the music of other continents and nations without getting sidetracked by biographical and political detail, and its now-illusory connotations of celebrity and political history. Instead of reading some white guy's liner notes while I listen, I'm getting out the Rand McNally and opening it to the map of the region I'm listening to, and letting my imagination and sense fill in the rest. Instead of studying and learning minutae, I'm just FEELING it. And it feels great, so the last thing I'm going to do is stop so I can write about it. BUT . . . . . . . . . I'll try anyway. Here are some words on the most recent five offerings from Sublime Frequencies, in order of catalog number:

PRINCESS NICOTINE: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 1 CD (SF 006)
A version of this album was released on vinyl LP only back in 1994, by Majora Records. It had no song titles and was credited only as Princess Nicotine. That might suggest that the LP was the work of some mysterious Burmese cult torch singer, but it has long since leaked that the record was a compilation produced by the Sun City Girls, and with this new CD version, now subtitled Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma) and presented with a firm track listing (which includes some songs that weren't on the LP), there's no attempt to deny it. The opener, "Burmese Golden Drum" by Bo Hein, will grab you with a blasting, joyous, and very in-the-red trumpet line, followed by an unforgettable male-female call-and-response hook, and this happy intensity is maintainted throughout the album. Some of the other artists are Mar Mar Aye, Luan Moe, Sein Sah Thin, Yangon Sein Kyi Moe, and Burma Thein Than, but to me it all blends together like the work of one great big band that just happens to have a lot of different singers. As I listen I find myself discerning a unique strain in Burmese (Myanmarese?) music. It has an acrobatic percussive melodic approach like the Gamelan music of Java and Bali, but here it is in the service of long, sweeping and quite beautiful torch songs, with lots of post-Bollywood vocals, that seem to twist and turn through a multitude of sections and parts. It's more prog than I expected, if that makes any sense. An intense release -- at one point late in the album I almost had to turn it off because I was getting dizzy!

From Alan Bishop's liner notes: "Arabic music is HIGH ART. At its best, it transcends western music even as it utilizes it as a display of emotion and celebration. The Moroccans are deep contributors to the high art of Arabic music. May this disc download into your mind as an anti-virus. It worked for me. I don't even remember THRILLER by Michael Jackson."
     I think the entire Sublime
Frequencies mission is actually well summarized with just two of Mr. Bishop's phrases: ANTI-VIRUS and HIGH ART. There's no question that Sublime Frequencies are releasing some high art. As for the anti-virus part, it's appropriate that this high art, much of it recorded and collected 20 years ago, is being released now, just after the United States has declared a violent religious crusade for the world's dwindling oil supply, shamelessly marketing it to the public by portraying the vast and varied Arabic and Middle East population in one of two ways: either as vicious terrorists, or as helpless, endangered people that need to be 'liberated'. It has been shown that this belief virus can have drastic consequences when applied to real-world situations, but it can be combatted by intensive exposure to all of the Sublime Frequencies releases, as they will all remind you that man can find liberation in many, many ways. Radio Morocco is one of the very best of the Sub. Freq. roster, in the fine tradition of the Radio Java release (SF 003), but the sounds picked up in Morocco blend into a more mysterious, foreboding, and richly melancholy hue than the more 'upbeat' Java vibe. (And SCG freaks note: some key source material is buried within the many layers of this disc, and when you find it you will be grinning from ear to ear.)

RADIO PALESTINE: Sounds of the Eastern Mediterranean CD (SF 008)
I wouldn't recommend this one as a starting point -- it strikes me as the most fragmented and disorienting of the radio collage releases. Maybe this is to reflect the 'turmoil' and 'violence' of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but in Alan Bishop's liner notes, all he talks about is easily befriending total strangers and being whisked around town (in this case, Haifa) to nightclubs, dinner parties, and fine merchants. Like I say below: when it comes to representing the Middle East, Sublime Frequencies does it 100% stereotype-free. There are 66 minutes of material on here, broken up into several tracks, but the breaks don't necessarily correspond to anything -- any one track may contain anywhere from 3 to 330,003 different elements from who knows where. I had it on shuffle with other stuff and I thought I was listening to a killer noise track but 10 seconds later I realized it was actually killer Middle Eastern pop music slowly emerging out of shortwave static. And then it was replaced quickly by something else completely. Like the label statement says, "If you don't like gettin' your ears pierced, then Clear the path NOW....the Radio Collage Revolution has been unleashed!"

As the Sublime Frequencies website points out, the country of Syria "has been politically and culturally exiled for decades by the western media." I'm assuming that this is to keep us western people from getting to know Syrians as actual human beings, so that we'll be more supportive of our western governments if they decide to steal Syria's oil with a military invasion anytime in the next 2 to 20 years. For those of us who aren't comfortable with this agenda, here's a more understanding report back from the would-be front. I Remember Syria is the work of a Bay Area musician named Mark Gergis. Gergis is a member of the band Mono-Pause (as well as their great alter ego band Neung Phak), and also does solo work under the name Porest, which is in fact printed on the back cover of this two-CD set, the result of two different trips Gergis took to Syria in 1998 and 2000. In the liners he writes, "Syria's people are Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Africans, Armenians, Druze, Bedouins, Palestinian refugees, Circassians, Alawi, and a handful of Jews who weren't scared into fleeing to Palestine by Zionist-terrorist techniques," and all of this melting pot can be felt on these two discs with their potent blend of radio broadcasts, news, interviews with locals, street sounds, music, and much, much more. One overriding thought I had was, "Why can't they just play THIS on NPR, so we can actually LEARN something, without some drably 'progressive' American reporter interrupting every 5 seconds saying things like, 'And so, life goes on in Syria, although the residents know not what may befall the" blah blah blee etcetera?
      POSTSCRIPT: I Remember Syria also features "The Norias of Hama," one of the most intense noise tracks I've heard in years, even though it's merely the sound of water and wood: a field recording of some very large irrigation device out in the middle of Syrian nowhere. And, as far as songs go, Syria contains my third-favorite song to appear on a Sublime Frequencies release: an intense heavy funk-rock song from the early 1980s (title unknown) by a unit called the Gomidas Band. (Just for the record (geek), my two favorite Sub. Freq. songs are "Indang Pariaman" by Sansimar on Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol. 1 and "Cruel and Thin," artist unknown, on Radio Morocco.)

FOLK MUSIC OF THE SAHARA: Among the Tuareg of Libya DVD (SF 010)
The tenth Sublime Frequencies release is their third DVD, an hour of varied footage from an "oasis town" in the Libyan desert. There's a scene early on where a completely hooded and robed individual gallops inches away from the camera on what seems like the world's tallest and gangliest camel and I'm like, "Right there, better special effects than any desert scene in a Star Wars movie, straight up." Other parts of this DVD seem like the wildest ever Sun Ra and His Arkestra footage. Then there's totally sweet stuff like a bunch of young girls in a room singing and eventually, the songs still going, some girls start smiling at the camera. (No veils over their faces; the Tuareg are a matriarchal society, and besides, when it comes to the Middle East, Sublime Frequencies material is 100% stereotype-free.) Another great DVD from the label -- props to cinematographer (and Sublime Frequencies co-founder) Hisham Mayet, who also did the label's Jemaa El Fna DVD.

To order and find more go to sublimefrequencies.com -- and once again it is my pleasure to point you towards Mr. Jack Cole's Pataphysics Research Lab for informative and inspiring interviews with Mark Gergis and Alan Bishop on these specific releases.
















photo by Brian McDonald

As for ABDUCTION, the OTHER record label run by the Sun City Girls, my but they've been busy too. Regarding the new flood of SCG video -- it's great, but I have to say that my favorite is still the very first Cloaven Theater vid (1994), which has been reissued along with all the new stuff, and should not be missed. This video captures an era of great mystery and aura, a time when it seems no one outside of a few Arizonans really knew what Sun City Girls looked like or if they were even really human. After watching this video you still won't be too sure, as it features plenty of diguise, and subterfuge, and shock, and awe, presenting excerpts from blitzkrieg power trio freakouts, situationist theater on stage, at home, and in the street, various other happenings and asides, and even a couple pseudo 'music videos' starring Mr. Gocher, all without ever really giving a straight picture of who's behind the mask(s) (even when nobody's wearing one).
      Like Cloaven Theater, the other five (!) new VHS releases are each around an hour long, but where CT covered the band's first decade, the new five are mostly material from the band's second decade, much of it very recent stuff. As time has gone on, the band has become more willing to reveal who's behind the curtain, and less likely to take an audience by surprise, even when they're being surprising, because in the intervening years they have cultivated an audience that now expects the unexpected. Hmm, I was reading something about these very issues just a couple hours ago . . . oh yeah, it was in the Aerosmith autobiography, in which guitarist Brad Whitford says -- here, let me find it (crappy paperback I bought this weekend for $2) . . . . . . . . . okay, here on page 130, Brad sez: "Before MTV, there was amazing mystery in rock 'n' roll: You had to go see a band to find out what they actually looked like. A lot of that mystery is gone. If you think about it, it was a terrible thing to have lost." And Brad is right: seeing the SCG outside of this shroud of mystery may take a little getting used to for the longtime fan and speculator. But, in their case it is not a "terrible thing to have lost" at all, because their body of work -- music and theater and ideas -- is still so expansive and gratifying on so many different levels.
      Many examples of these levels are laden throughout these five new videos. I'm pretty sure that my second favorite is The Halcyon Days of Symmetry. For one, it features a long and extremely nutso collage of ancient/old-world/non-Western PORNO IMAGES, edited together rapid-fire by someone named Bonniebon. There's also some street theater called "Texas Porch Monkeys" which riffs on Bizarro-world trailer trash vibes and ends with the actual firing of actual flaming arrows. Very pre-Gummo! Also some choice Uncle Jim material, both at home (solo cable-access-soapbox style) and with the band (at a sparse record store gig). Also versions of Torch classics "Space Prophet Dogon" and, in a great clip, "Esoterica of Abysynnia," the latter from quite a while ago, at what seems like an afternoon all-ages hardcore matinee. Again, this is from a time when they were still often playing for people who had no idea who they were, and seeing the kids exchange big smiles as they find themselves suddenly involved as these weird older dudes onstage start to really crash and bang is way cool.
      Puppetry enthusiasts take note: scattered throughout all five of the new videos are a series of bone-dry skits called "Jazz Classics," with a dry host who happens to be a smoking puppet. There are also some sequences in which puppets wail on actual gamelan and other instruments, and, in Its Not Over 'Till the Skinny Arab Lights the Fuse, you can see the Sun City Girls themselves wailing on actual gamelan and other instruments, live at a club gig. The vid (yep, probably my choice for third best) also features stuff like psyched-out third-gen Bollywood clips, Eyvind Kang guesting on another live version of "Space Prophet Dogon" (carrying the melody with much aplomb and true pale fire, live in Seattle, 1996), more Charles Gocher-does-Cecil Taylor piano spasms, and performances of "Papa Legba," "Esta Susan En Casa?," "Who's That Lady?," and "Uncle Tompa."
      The Burning Nerve Ending Magic
Trick contains a wacked-out solo and practically YELLOWFACE (brownface?) version of "Soi Cowboy" by Alan, a good chunk of live stuff from Dante's Disneyland Inferno like "6 Kids of Mine" and "Sexy Graveyard" and "Jessup's Dairy" (all from the same Seattle show in 1996), and a host of other oddities that I can't specifically recall with titles like "The Incarnation of 'Pittsburgh Phil Weiss' " and "Mailbox Hookers," as well as "Jazz Classics (Frogs)" and "Jazz Classics (Bucky Pyro)."
       Most of If it Blows Up......PARK IT!, other than random stuff like a quick glimpse of Rick Bishop's Rare Books storefront, seems to be culled from two separate Seattle shows in 1993, featuring such hits as "Kickin' the Dragon," "Abydos," "X+Y=Fuck You," "And So The Dead Tongue Sang," and more, including the HILARIOUS "House of the Charging Dog" routine. The footage on this video could mark the very time when it became clear that, one, the members of SCG were in fact merely human beings after all, and two, that their audience was significantly more in the know than they used to be. Thus, there is a certain spark missing from this stuff that can be found all over the Cloaven Theater vid. But maybe that's just me. I'll watch it a few hundred more times over the next few years and we'll see how it goes.
       Myths and Legends of the Blue West
also features a lot from two specific shows, in this case, the two events that made up their entire public performance schedule for 2003. One was a very weird semi-private acoustic gig in Seattle, at which they did time-stretched codeine-coma versions of such favorites as "Soft Fragile Egg-Shell Minds," "I Deal A Stick," and "Hippie Conglomerate," and the other was a kitsch-freak Christmas-season night at Bob's Java Jive in Tacoma, WA, in which Saddam Claus himself made an appearance and can be seen here jamming out on the electric piano Corea / Jarrett / Hancock-style. You also get more Bonniebon collages, more smoking puppets, and really just a lot more. Just so you know. Welcome to "SCGTV".

Finally on the Abduction front, I've been trying to figure out what to say about the new Sun City Girls double CD, Carnival Folklore Resurrection Radio, but it's just too big and filled with ideas and events and weirdnesses for me to try. As you might know, this was prepared and first aired as a one-time two-hour radio-only broadcast on the greatest radio station in the world, WFMU 91.1 FM (Jersey City, NJ) / 90.1 FM (Hudson Valley, NY). When I first listened to it, I thought there was a lot of cool shit but also some duds, and that it didn't have too much pacing or drive or unity to it. But, after several listens, I've decided that it's pretty much all essential, and it's all there and in the order it is for a reason, and as with all great mysterious albums, I'm going to keep listening and teasing out what that reason might be even as it continually lurks in the shadows just out of my reach.
       I think the thing that barely holds it all together is that each of the two discs has its own long "mellow" centerpiece, each over ten minutes long, which act as twin poles or axes, creating an overall spin that pulls all the other material on the two discs together. On disc one, the mellow centerpiece is "Nibiru," a gorgeous tinker-toy Hawaiian lap-steel children's ballad that slowly loses it moorings and ends up drifting of its own unpredictable accord somewhere far away on a cloud as the earth recedes into a brown-blue-green mist. (Having these connotations of queasiness and levitation, it makes sense that "Nibiru" was used as the soundtrack music for the opening shot of David Blaine: Above The Below, Harmony Korine's documentary of young Blaine's recent suspended-above-the-Thames River fasting event.) On disc two the mellow centerpiece / pole / axis is a version of Italian film song "Swept Away," played with a wasted falsetto-buoyed melancholy that actually reminds me of Sly and the Family Stone doing "Just Like A Baby." It also slowly loses its moorings as it goes and goes and the vocals get overwhelmed by echoplex and the tectonics underneath start to shift.
       Now, instead of describing all the rest of the stuff on here, I'll just be lazy and quote suncitygirls.com: "You'll find elements of radio collage (from Thailand and beyond), trio Improv, pseudo-Rock, Folk, French and Italian pop, Noise, ethereal space music, answering machine messages, Uncle Jim rants, lounge, field recordings, fucked-up Hip-Hop and much MORE." This is all true -- for all the different things Sun City Girls have done over the years, there are a LOT of things on here that I've never heard them do before (and may never hear them do again).

photo by Toby Dodds


CHICAGO LIVE REPORT: Sun City Girls, Neung Phak, The Weather @ Empty Bottle, May 7 2004
I'm not sure Sun City Girls won too many new fans at this show. I mean, a couple friends of friends sounded a little put off by the whole event. I know I was a little put off, but I loved it, because it was Sun City Girls and I've been put off by 'em hundreds of times; they're my favorite band. As for the 'newbies' or whatever you wanna call 'em, who knows? Maybe the next day they were thinking about the show, and they remembered, "Hey, music and art isn't always gonna give me just what I expect it to give me, and it isn't always gonna rock my socks off, and it isn't always gonna 'take me higher', and sometimes maybe it really should take me a little lower. And I think last night was one of those nights." Or, as guitarist Rick Bishop says of the general SCG live experience, quoted in the recent Seattle Weekly feature by Mike McGonigal, "dark energies make their appearance from time to time." At this show, the energies weren't just dark, they were also awkward, contrarian, and negating. While they were playing I kept thinking of good ole Bill Hicks saying, to his own particular entertainment-seeking audience back in 1993, "Welcome to No Sympathy Night. Welcome to You're Wrong Night." Or this quote, from The Believer magazine, that I read just today: "This is not your story. This is not the story you came in expecting it to be, and it's not my job to make it that way." (Issue #11, p. 12, in an essay by Paul Collins on the book Black Beauty of all things.)
      Also in the McGonigal article, WFMU program director Brian Turner is quoted saying, "I imagine an SCG gig these days is pretty much preaching to the converted in many cases." This is true, and I say as much in the preceding video reviews, but I'm here to tell ya that at the Bottle, converted or no, there was some genuine uproar coming from the audience, especially when Uncle Jim himself appeared midway through the already abrasive set in order to seriously get the audience's goat. "Yeah, look at you people, you're thinking 'I'm ahead of the curve, being at the Sun City Girls show, not a lot of people are into 'em'," he taunted, "but people! You still need to be reminded!!" He went on to wonder why the assembled weren't flying planes into buildings right across town on Chicago's Magnificent Mall (oops, I mean Mile), then got into your basic celebrity lynching imagery ("Fuck Larry Carlton! Larry Coryell! Al DiMeola! Fuckin' fusion jazz bullshit! Someone shoulda hung Miles Davis from a fuckin' branch for startin' that shit!"), and then, if I heard it correctly, pointed out that 90% of the people of Israel aren't even Jews. By this time, members of the crowd were audibly agitated and yelling back, and believe me, it wasn't your usual "play some Skynyrd" pablum.
      As if that wasn't enough, a few numbers later Gocher came out from behind the drums with an actual bullwhip in hand and he and Alan recreated the disconcerting "It's Not A Real Knife" bit. If you haven't seen the recorded-at-home version on the Cloaven Theater VHS release, this involves a ranting Gocher tormenting a supplicant Bishop, the latter cowering and wearing some sort of rug mask. Could it be some sort of riff on the relationship between Gunnar Hansen's Leatherface and Jim Siedow's Old Man? Or just on the way that anxious western imperialists view the people they're trying to 'liberate' as helpless and confused lepers? I don't know, but at the Empty Bottle, Rick added nervous free-form guitar and Gocher really took it over the top, coughing and wheezing into the microphone while stalking the stage and brandishing the actual bullwhip, threatening to knock over drums and microphones. In the context of post-beatnik musical performance theater, he was making Tom Waits look like Liberace. The whole spectacle led the guy next to me, a friend of mine who (like everyone else) has long since 'seen it all', to say with absolutely sincere concern, "I think they've gone crazy because of U.S.A. politics!" Another guy said, "What is this, their war set?" It WAS a war set, even with the sweet Beach Boys cover they closed with. (I didn't recognize it, I only heard later that it was the Beach Boys -- and waitaminnit, did they also do an instrumental version of "Passenger Seat People" from Horse Cock Phepner at some point?? That can't be, can it?)

photo by Catherine Lewis

The night before all this madness they did a film presentation and Q&A at the Bottle, as an opening act for The Oxes. The vibe was kind of awkward due to the rock club opening-act context, but the footage was naturally amazing (a lot of Sublime Frequencies stuff featuring blind street karaoke and sexually explicit ancient temple carvings and gory food market goings-on and about 330,003 other things, as well as the premiere of an upcoming Abduction video called The Air In A Roomful Of Weirdos). The Q&A was pretty lively and inspiring as well -- the one exchange I'll try to recreate went like "Q: Whose side are you going to be on in the 2nd United States Civil War? A (Alan): Neither! I'm gonna be right in the middle, brokering for both sides, and making a fucking fortune! We can't wait!"
      Then, after this event, there was an actual SCG show, completely unscheduled and unplanned, at an afterparty in one of the finer opium dens you (and I) didn't know existed in this here great Midwestern factory town. It was really supposed to just be an after-party, but jeez, the resident jam band had all their gear set up, complete with P.A., so, even though it took a lot of cigarettes and kickback, the Girls just couldn't help but get on the instruments around 2AM. Rick started with solo guitar, intentionally awkward on borrowed Les Paul copy, and after an intentional eternity Alan and Charles took the stage and the trio got very serious as if they were starting a set at an ATP or a SXSW and not in front of 30 people, at least 16 of which were just neighborhood white gangsters who didn't know or give a shit who the band was. With a count-off they went into some composed spiky instrumental Asian Rock that I didn't even recognize, which after 3-4 minutes hit its last note as an instant cue for Gocher to rise off his chair and snap the trio into their well-known no-note/shrapnel/bitter-pill improv style. This continued for anywhere from 12-24 minutes more, getting into a more chilled-out "Eyes Fly Low" variety that really felt (intentionally) strange and empty at this small secret party.
       From a fan perspective, it was amazing; I was sitting 10 feet in front of the stage, with no one in front of me, part of a semi-circle of 20 or so attentive people (while another 10 milled in the bar-and-pool-table equipped shadows behind). Pinned to the couch and spacing off, 7 or 8 minutes into the set, I noticed their performance was being simultaneously broadcast on the next wall over, on the big drop-down screen that had been showing B and Z films all night. It was a very good shot, framing the trio, as well as the stage backdrop, in a way that made it look, even after serious consideration, like a different location than the one I was in.
       This is where things got heady, and I'll tell you why, if you'll pardon me something of a tangent. You see, earlier that very day I had been reading about filmmaker Werner Herzog, an online review of the book Herzog on Herzog. I was intrigued by a quote from Herzog, regarding films he had been inspired by: "For me there are what I call 'essential' films: kung fu, Fred Astaire, porno. 'Movie' movies, so to speak." Pondering this concept was quite a day in itself, let me tell you. I decided that by 'essential' films, he meant the raw essence, that is, cinema's most natural state as a tool of humanity -- what bubbles up most naturally from a mass of people shooting film, after writing scripts and making costumes and posing actors, in order to get the job done and pay the bills. Just as chaff is essential to the growth of the wheat, these films are essential to the growth of films that actually have deeper meaning and symbolism and actual poetry and emotional content beyond mere industry machination. The production of the entire film industry amounts to at least 70 percent chaff and 30 percent wheat. Hell, it might be 90-10, and it's the same with all the arts; there's also essential music (lite rock, muzak, smooth jazz, club music, all commercial radio), essential poetry (greeting cards, Nash, the aforementioned McKuen, the poetry slam down at your local coffee house), and essential painting (your mother owns several originals), and on and on, and it's all a big glut if you really pay attention to it, but how could you possibly do that? Just look at the web, the (ahem) blogosphere, THIS VERY ARTICLE. The essential part is the 70-90% that you're never gonna see.
      ANYWAY, while I was watching Sun City Girls during the very early morning hours of May 8, 2004, simultaneously in the flesh and on a movie screen, in this secret loft with its own goddamn P.A. and stage and movie screen and live video projector combo, I got to thinking how on that very movie screen less than an hour before I had seen the closing credits to some Tim Blake Nelson-directed film (I swear the credits rolled for over ten endless minutes), followed by the first twenty minutes or so of a sci-fi Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle who's name I never got (or was it Target Earth??). There was no sound for these films, because a DJ was playing music. They were just images endlessly rolling in the background, not watched closely by anyone, and I was thinking, "these are the B and Z films of today, even that Tim Blake Nelson shit is a B film, which means that these are the ESSENTIAL films." Unhampered by depth of characterization, story, and poetry, they move across the screen so effortlessly that it's almost as if they just made themselves.
        So while I'm feeling all this, the SCG are launching into a good 10-minute (??) stretch of said no-note / shrapnel / bitter style, and I realize that the reason I'm daydreaming about essential film is because this improv is Sun City Girls' personal essential music. It's spread all across their discography -- possibly even 70% or more of it -- and all across their live shows. It's like an anchor that they throw down so that the non-improv material can stay afloat, or like the path that they have to cut through the jungle so that their non-improv material can break on through to the light. It's the ESSENTIAL part of what they do -- the gross essence, the raw meat behind the relatively tasteful outer skin. Theoretically, every band has it, it's just that all other bands try to HIDE this stuff, and keep it locked away in the practice space, so that the show can be as professional as possible. SCG obviously have enough songwriting and professionalism in their repertoire that they COULD keep the gross essence locked away (and at the Empty Bottle in 2002, they almost did), but in what is ultimately even more of a gesture to their fans, they choose to reveal the essential raw guts, the inner workings, the inner music, the "inner mood" (another Herzogism).
       The only thing that snapped me out of all this confused epiphany was when Alan, who had been playing with his back to the audience, turned around for a few seconds to briefly reveal that he was wearing the face of Boris Karloff playing Frankenstein's Monster in drag as The Goddess Kali. People always say stuff like that about the Sun City Girls, but they really do have their ways of playing tricks on you, even during intentionally awkward, strange, and empty sets. The only song I can remember them playing after Alan's trick was the last one. It was probably the only other song, a trick itself, a straight-up doo-wop number with lead vocals by Rick and off-mic girl-group vocals by Alan and doo-wop bass vocals by Charlie. A sweet, sweet closer, and I was like, "Okay, did they rehearse that a bunch of times just this last week before leaving on tour, or is it just in their repertoire, to be whipped out at any time and played perfectly?"

photo by Brian McDonald

Oh, and back on the Empty Bottle show, I missed the opening opening act The Weather because I was putting the baby to bed, but it was a real treat to arrive in time to see the middle opening act Neung Phak (pronounced: NOONG PAHK) play all the hits from their self-titled CD (on Abduction) with all the skill intact, complete with visually-cued doses of humor, spirit, and genuinely great performance schtick that showed a real aim and ability to entertain. Their performance of "Morlam Pee Bah," which, as on the album, featured an interruption by the mysterious Hitman Kong Thep, was a real show-stopper, literally and figuratively, complete with power struggles and curses and spells and trance-states and wall-climbing and live backwards-masked vocal technique . . . . . and much much more. And I really love that song "Inside The Program," especially after seeing it live. What is that stuff about "the guy from Israeli come and close the door," anyway??

All images from suncitygirls.com. Go there to order these releases, get show dates, etc.