By DJ El Toro
I’ve gushed before about cult band Flying Lizards. What I love about David Cunningham’s ad hoc art combo is how they sound like they hail from a parallel universe. Their ’80s recordings display many of the essentials of Top 40 pop — melody, colorful performers — yet there were distinct differences, too, particularly in terms of timbres and lyrical concerns. Like poor Howard the Duck (“trapped in a world he never made”), the Lizards clearly felt out-of-place in our world, yet also capable of surviving in it, even if it sometimes sounds like their records are about to splinter apart like a cheap balsa wood glider in a rough wind.
New York duo Free Blood remind me a lot of Flying Lizards. They don’t veer into novelty song territory, deconstructing cherish R&B oldies like Cunningham’s crew did, but they sure sound like they have one foot on planet Earth, and the other stretched through some intergalactic wormhole, toes tapping on the foreign soil of a realm beyond our puny mortal comprehension. The six tracks (and five remixes) on their recent CD, The Singles, threw all sorts of mind-twisting sounds into its post-punk mix. And a lot of cello. Can’t go wrong with cello. Clearly, Free Blood enjoy using the recording studio as an instrument unto itself.
So perhaps the oddest thing about their set at Chop Suey was how poppy and accessible their songs sound in a live context. Chief instigators John Pugh (formerly of !!!) and Madeline Davy have great stage presence and palpable chemistry. They are also unafraid to get down on the floor and roll around. That’s good: Rock should be dirty. Performing as a four-piece, their vocal interplay — which at times recalled the more subtle moments of the ladies of the B-52’s — was framed by a lot of guitar FX and sparse, gunshot percussion.
Throughout the course of a succinct set, their energy and cheeky humor, rose steadily. It was almost as if they were trying to punch a hole in our humdrum universe and open a portal back to their own weird world — not as an escape hatch, mind you, but a bridge — for those of us who don’t want to spend all of our time trapped in a realm where Beyoncé is considered the pinnacle of pop music. They could have easily played a well-received encore. To quote one fan unready to head home: “Do you know any more songs?”
Free Blood also had the best souvenir I’ve seen at a merch table in years. But that’s a post for another blog…
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.