Legendary Pink Dots
Tremont Music Hall
Sept. 29, 2013
Veteran outer- and inner-space-rock outfit the Legendary Pink Dots have always been a mass of pleasurable contradictions. True to form, their music engulfed the Sunday night Tremont crowd like a gray clammy fog, yet within that swirling cloud were blinding flashes of colored light that triggered giddiness, dread and fascination. LPD can be thought of as Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd strained through a glass of absinthe. Yet that description of these goth-hued avant gardists is only partly accurate, since the Dots are also hard rocking, dancey and funny as hell.
While guitarist Erik Drost and synth-master wingman Phil Knight (AKA Silverman) laid down a hissing electric hive buzz, singer-squadron leader Edward Ka-Spel half trundled, half glided onto stage like Alfred Hitchcock slipping into his silhouette at the start of the Master of Suspense's classic TV show. That's if you can picture Hitchcock with a mop of unruly red-brown hair, an ankle length coat copped from Tom Baker era Doctor Who and a frilly blue kerchief knotted at the neck. To top-off his idiosyncratic style sense, Ka-Spel was also barefoot for the entire evening, and he never, ever took off his shades.
Opening number "Pendulum" presented Ka-Spel in stream-of-consciousness beat-poet mode, rambling on engagingly like a sepulchral Robyn Hitchcock. As the song built on increasingly loud, disjointed guitar and circular snatches of synth, Ka-Spel implored the heavens in a rapture of creepy joy. After the funereal drum-beat driven "Garden of Ealing," a cozy acid-head ode to England, Ka-Spel addressed the audience.
Eccentric, off-center but never aloof, LPD's front man-lyricist came off like a friendlier Riff Raff from Rocky Horror crossed with the serenely spacy Aunt Agatha from Bewitched. He displayed a child-like delight in being south of the Mason-Dixon line, praising southerners for their laid back attitudes and trying out his pronunciation of "y'all" on the crowd.
After the psychotic intensity of "Salem" with Ka-Spel pointing and denouncing members of the audience like a demented minister, North Carolina got a weird shout out. As the music segued into the hypnogogic soundtrack to a nightmare, Ka-Spel lapsed into a theater of the absurd monolog about swatting flies in Chapel Hill. This dark and giddy bit of stand-up ended with an angel visiting Ka-Spel, parting the clouds to reveal God Almighty as a massive, vindictive fly seated on a golden throne.
Lyrically, Ka-Spel excelled at what can only be called "fun with psychotic episodes and dread." Gently lifting the mic in benediction, chanting in child-like sing song, or letting loose with powerful sustained high notes, Ka-Spel was ever the master magician. The merry band of Pink Dots were in perfect off-kilter step with their leader. Whether cranking out the metallic New Wave rock of "Blacklist," the calliope swirl of the Franz Kafka cum Jacques Brel ballad "Poppy Day" or the neon robot disco and spooky Theremin of "Ash and Sand", the trio of Ka-Spel, Knight and Drost created an impressive and carefully orchestrated maelstrom of sound.
After the first encore, the gently strummed Nick Drake meets Marquis DeSade folk of "Isis Veiled" (a cover from one on Ka-Spel's many side projects, Tear Garden), Knight rummaged among his Mac laptop and tangle of wires and produced a touch pad. With this he jump-started the gently pulsing "Ascension." Ka-Spel and Drost joined in as the instrumental rode a bass line echoing The Cure's "A Forest" to the chiming Krautrock glory of Neu.
But these guys wouldn't be the Legendary Pink Dots if they left the crowd on such a soothing note. Trouping back onstage, Ka-Spel and crew launched into the weirdly loping Residents-styled squall of "Cubic Caesar." Amid swirling Hawkwind quoting electronics, Ka-Spell crouched like a hunchback on the lip of the stage howling, and Drost's over-driven guitar reached ear splitting levels. Only then did the Dots depart a final time, leaving the stage to the ghostly circling decay of Silverman's synths, whirling like radiation still seeping through the cosmos from the big bang.