Monday, January 07, 2013

Huh. It's the Butthole Surfers. The Texan band I "liked" as a teen yet gave a bit of a regal drubbing here on this blog some 8 eight years ago. Frankly, I think that the band's existence post-1989 has been such a royal waste of time for everyone - barring perhaps the members' bank balances - that it makes it almost impossible to appreciate the fact that they might've ever been a good band in the first place. I'm assuming that's what brought on my negativity at the time, or perhaps I just felt like slaying a sacred cow. A band who has stunk up the airwaves as badly as the Buttholes have for the past 2+ decades deserves to be named and shamed: there's not only the terrible, terrible music, but also the needless lawsuit against Touch & Go to get their back catalogue and their transformation from a genuinely psychedelic punk rock freakshow to a band who might rival the Fun Lovin' Criminals or Bloodhound Gang as the worst comedy-rock band on earth. Ya got me?

So why have I been listening to Locust Abortion Technician? Or Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac? Or Cream Corn? Or even the uneven yet still listenable Hairway To Steven and the previously-derided Rembrandt Pussyhorse? I can't answer that. It could be insanity or premature senility, but when I go off on a musical tangent, a desperate musical tangent, sometimes there's no stopping me. I cheaply procured all of the above just recently - secondhand in the compact disc format - after having sold my vinyl copy of Locust Abortion Technician some time in the '90s, and I must say, they have been a really surprising treat at this late stage in the game. When I shitcanned Rembrandt... all those years ago, I noted that the band's zaniness couldn't possibly hold a candle to really good and genuinely "strange" music from such masters as Yoko Ono, Faust, This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire, etc., maybe simply comparing them to a whole bunch of other people doesn't really do anyone any justice, even though I'm about to do exactly that.

The Buttholes were simply the Buttholes: they had a healthy dollop of Texan 'core in their veins (meaning the Dicks/Big Boys/Scratch Acid axis), as well as Texan psych (Roky/Mayo) and a curious mixture of Brit post-punk (PiL/TG/even some harsh On-U Sound-style dub), classic American freak-rock a la Mothers/Beefheart and, increasingly as the '80s bore fruit, a distinctly 'Sabbath bent. Well, there's a stew to chew on! Or maybe a case of useless name-dropping, because in a very real sense, that doesn't give you half the picture. For a couple of years, the Buttholes were the template for wigged-out, party-'til-you-poop shit-rock, and all others - Lubricated Goat, Happy Flowers, Killdozer, Cows, etc. - were merely imitators (more or less - don't message me about this), but for me they lost that mantle very quickly to a band like the Boredoms and their minions as their first decade came to an end. But let's not talk about the band when they stank! Let's actually - and yes, I am speaking to myself here - appreciate the band's goods when they were, err, good.

Locust Abortion Technician came out in 1987 on the Touch & Go label (and, as noted several entries below, was licensed locally to Au-go-go at the time) and was the record which really broke them into a vaguely wider consciousness at the time. That, in some ways, is a strange fact, since it remains possibly their most experimental, inaccessible album. Sure, there's the opener, "Sweat Loaf", the popular homage to Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf", a rip-snortin' replay on the classic riff which was played ad nauseum here on public radio back in the late '80s, and there's also the nominally straighter 4/4 rock & roll track, "Human Cannonball", but the rest of it, it's mostly heavy, farting-around sludge which is of a very high standard indeed. If there's one record which merits the band's rep, it's this one. "Graveyard" and "Pittsburg to Lebanon" are primo stoned crawls (w/ ace guitar heroics from Paul Leary); "USSA" is the kind of muck which could've been lifted from TG's Second Annual Report; "The O-Men" is excellent speed-metal dementia; and "22 Going On 23", more dirge augmented by vocal samples is the kind of schtick Bongwater used for an album or two.

Locust... has the heaviness the previous albums lacked  - great albums though the likes of Psychic... Powerless... and, yep, Rembrandt Pussyhorse were, but the guitar noise wasn't layered on thick, going for a fairly stripped-back Birthday Party/PiL-ish grunt instead - and also unlike much of their earlier material, many of the songs on LAT really do sound like they're about to fall apart in the most glorious way. OK, OK, I'm going back on my words uttered all those years ago. The Buttholes did have something really good going on for a number of years, and then, like so many great bands before them, they started releasing really bad music. For a couple of years, they even sold a shitload of records. I hope they spent their money wisely *cough*.

When I caned them out all those moons ago, someone commented, noting that they were primarily a live band, the studio albums never living up to the in-the-flesh experience. Seeing clips of them from the '80s, their live shows were indeed something special, although in a complete reversal - and it takes a big man to say he was wrong, and I am a very big man - I will say that I wasn't entirely correct: the 1980s recorded output of the band known as the Butthole Surfers has something to give in the year 2013. When I was in Austin in 1999, I couldn't believe how much the people I was staying with and hung out w/ for the week still held the band in such high reverence (the fact that one of them used to be in the band might've had something to do w/ it). By then, I figured the Buttholes had screwed the pooch to such devastating effect that their reputation couldn't be redeemed. Or maybe people just aren't as hard-arsed as myself on these non-issues. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut.

Now for a couple of clips demonstrating their worthiness on several levels. Strangely enough, one of them dates from 1991 at Lollapalooza, fer Chrissakes!! Given my prior spiel, there's obviously a few things strange about that sentence, but their version of "Graveyard" as presented here really is a lot of fun (I couldn't embed these clips... just click on the damn things!). And the live version of "Sweat Loaf" from 1989 here is a hoot & holler, complete w/ synchronised high kicks. Nice.


Javi said...

What about "Kuntz" (the song); that one's hilarious, duude.
I kind of passed on the Buttholes even though I had some CDs of theirs until my interest was re-awaken by the chapter devoted to them on "Our Band Could be your Life"; I was sure such degenerate freaks would have been responsible for at least some intriguing noise. On this record, their pinnacle (and some of the others too), you bet they do.

lex dexter said...

i pretty much have been a long time wading and waiting for this primer, thankee.

Pig State Recon said...

This album is still pretty special, in a freakish, sideshow act sorta way. Saw em live on this '87 tour in LA with Firehose and DC3 opening - their stage show was lots more sedate than I had been led to believe (nobody knocked themselves unconscious with a broken beer bottle). But they did indeed sound great, a massively thunderous, rolling typhoon of weirdness.

Anonymous said...

what's with the self imposed reverence?

eg. 'when i was 13 i loved this shit, then i shat on it coz i found better shit, then years later i realised I am still fucking awesome!'

Dave said...

No one else will tell me I'm awesome. I guess I just gotta do it myself. Of course you could also interpret the post as saying "what a fucking clod I was throughout all those intervening days, only seeing the light once more in my twilight years". Whatever.

bippy zootflute said...

LAT scared the shit out of me in my melb suburban bedroom when i first heard it. my first taste of high weirdness. ended up loving it though. and hairway is cool too. sounded like what i'd imagined the manson album would sound like b4 i heard it and found out it really sounded like bad west coast singer songwriter trash. but ended up loving that too. If u like it first time it's usually crap is the lesson there I think. anyway good blog - I'm from the same town/era/class etc. no doubt we've stood in the same room many times over the years.nice work.