Escape-ism With Urgent Care, POW! At The Resident, Wednesday October 25th 2017
I should probably have known about the Make Up, a post punk band of the Washington DC area, which was active in the 90s. The recently reunited band sold out two shows at the Echo last month, and was playing at Desert Daze but I managed to miss every one of their shows. On Wednesday night, I nevertheless caught their frontman Ian Svenonius doing his solo thing, Escape-ism, at the small club Resident downtown LA. It is a shame I was not even able to catch their performance at Desert Daze, but they unfortunately were against Iggy Pop on the main stage, so they were obviously playing against the big shot of the night. It bothered me, especially because they were called an ‘infamous band of indie-rock-blues insurrectionists’ by the Quietus and even came up with their own genre, describing themselves the first ‘Gospel Yeh-Yeh’ band. Last night I sort of witnessed what they were talking about, although the Escape-ism gospel seems to be a story of its own,.
But before Svenonius’ ravaging set, Urgent Care and POW! also played during this out of the ordinary night. Urgent Care, or two women with a keyboard and a guitar, produced a slowed-down set of fuzz, drowning in loud doomness and climatic oddity. They were not really metal but the spirit was there, and as I was not getting any of their sparse lyrics, their sprawling epic sound was much more about atmosphere than anything else. They must have done 4 or 5 songs blending into each other, as their menacing soundscapes were bathing in a very consistent ambiance of funeral marches or dark secret ceremonies. They did the most slowed down version of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, an interesting choice which fitted their lugubrious sound, stretching its darkness to several long minutes. This looked about perfect for a Halloween party, with ghost voices and a stylish love for powerful gloom..
Their keyboardist was actually one member of POW! which had the most intriguing sound ever, as the strident UFO-under-water noise of the incessant synths, and the thunderous outbursts of the guitar were playing side by side as a energetic dichotomy. It was weird as hell, a mix of electronics blending (or fighting) with punk rock, while the nonchalant behavior of the two women behind their synths contrasted with the riotous noise of the guitar. POW!’s set was as explosive and intense as their moniker predicted, the chaos was barely regulated by the drum beats and the almost mechanical loops of the synths, while the songs ended by a crazy battle of sounds and noises and, like a ‘Fuck You’ scream crashing against the inexorable march a steamroller. There was nothing conventional about this band, but no one should be surprised as they are releasing a record on Castle Face Records, home of Thee Oh Sees.
It took me a while, but I suddenly realized that Ian Svenonius was the strange guy who did a weird opening ceremony before Ty Segall’s set at Desert Daze. it was a funny vision, although I was wondering what this was about… and I don’t wonder anymore, since this man is undoubtedly a crazy genius.
Ian Svenonius talks as much as he sings and plays, he addresses the crowd with astonishing monologues mixing vague conspiracy theories, straight-out-consciousness philosophy or thoughts about science, society and beyond. ‘I love progress, on every front we are learning new things every day,’ he said to us out of the blue, mentioning progress made in knowledge about human physiology, buildings and climate control… ‘I am a control freak, a big round of applause to the scientists that brought us the future,’ he continued with another declaration about ‘No more nuanced opinions!’ And the rest of the night walked a fine line between crazy talk and profound thoughts, surrealist poetry and anarchist pamphlets.
‘Did you read a book”? Did he asked us… yes!…. ‘You are an idiot, you could have learned it from an app or a YouTube tutorial, I love that, that’s progress’ he said at the beginning of the show setting the tone, half ironic, half rock ‘n’ roll scaremonger, but always entertaining.
With just a tape, a drum box, his sparse wild guitar and a dramatic voice and presence, Svenonius put the place on fire, getting in the middle of the crowd at the first song, and doing it several times later on. His performance was much more than just about music, it was about a flow of half-spoken, half-screamed lyrics, interpreted with brio and drama.
‘Lonely at the Top’ with its obsessive loopy beats had a few cathartic moments, violent fuzzy strums of electric guitar and hilarious parts. For an outsider like me, it was a strange and impressive spectacle with a frontman running for his freedom, with more freakouts than you can count, and playing with each one of our anxious thoughts during a fear-the-future politico-socio commentary or a mid life existential crisis. To be honest, I am not sure what I have witnessed last night but it was great, a minimalist version of the announcement of the apocalypse, a karaoke version of LCD Soundsystem with distorted guitar and multiple layers of angst, a prophetic philosophical expose with a yearning tone, and a true punk fuck-the-system attitude. It’s was weirdly dramatic and it was hilarious.
There were great exchanges with the crowd, which was with him from the beginning, supporting each one of his antics and laughing at each of his predictions, sounding as alarmist as his guitar riffs. He warned us about the future of groups, ‘They are working on making them illegal,’ he said adding they would become ‘franchised groups’… ‘so let’s enjoy when we have them’, he said looking at us with his persistent and piercing stare and shining suit.
Ian Svenonius, who has played in The Make-Up, Chain & the Gang, The Nation of Ulysses, XYZ, Weird War, will release his first solo album as Escape-ism on November 10th via Merge Records. He is also the author of underground bestsellers such as The Psychic Soviet, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group, and Censorship Now!!— as well as essays like this one discussing rock ‘n’ roll as America’s middle life crisis.
I have the conviction I have barely scratched the surface of this Svenonius character and his numerous incarnations, a unique performer working on his personal crisis, an escape-ism from a system he had talked about all night long, ‘Are you with me?’ he asked ‘This song is for you rock ‘n’ rollers’, he added before his last song, sounding like a man with a renewed faith in music, although I was not sure if he was making fun of us or wanted to start a new revolution.