The lounge to the Peppermill Diner in Las Vegas is a very dark affair, its color scheme being black-on-black-on-black, and in this deprivation of all color the eye cannot help but feel whatever it looks on is distorted. Guy Psycho, who is already seated when I arrive, gets up immediately to shake my hand, even though a bevy of fashionable female admirers, models perhaps, are perched around him by the gas fireplace in the center of the room. He is dressed in a black Dolce and Gabbana suit, an olive shirt, and black monk-strap shoes, attire that costs more than a month of my salary as a journalist. A white linen bandage encircles his neck, covering the tracheotomy scar from his lung cancer surgery years ago. The faint metallic echo of his specialized voice-inflector is just barely discernable as he introduces me to Katrina, Martina, Josephine, Loralee, and Xoru. He is nothing anymore, if not a gentleman.
He is here in Vegas, with his band and choir, the Postmodernaires, to perform at the Stardust next week while Wayne Newton is dark. Guy Psycho and company have just finished a grueling tour of thirty-seven far-off locales, including Rio, Berlin, and Bora Bora, without even the promotion of a new album to motivate them. As a unit, they have not as yet recorded an album, and they seem not especially keen on doing so soon. They reside in cultural limbo. Seeing him in this darkened lounge makes me think that he and his band could easily become fixtures here. There is a classic elegance to their style, sartorially and musically, that fits in well with the idea of Las Vegas that America wants to keep in its heart, a land where a Rat Pack can frolic, an oasis in the desert of real American culture.
The man himself, however, dismisses this idea. “This is a key place,” he says, “but it isn’t everyplace.” His real home turf, as you might already know, is Fort Lauderdale, home of “smooth jazz,” which is essentially tacky muzak preciously coveting jazz’s high reputation. He insists, though, that there is a vital Latin scene there as well. He saw Tito Puente perform at Old Hats a few months before the legendary mambo performer died. “The man should be sainted by his holiness, the pope,” Guy Psycho tells me with perfect sangfroid, even though Loralee is slithering her calf against his knee. Always, always, the gentleman.
Las Vegas, of course, isn’t exactly Las Vegas anymore. The proliferation of themed casinos and over-the-top design are impressive, but leave little room for old-fashioned elegance. Maybe it’s just the damaged elegance of this place, however, that makes me think the Man would adapt well here, especially suited to these times. He sort of looks like he could be a misfit member of the rat pack, and the analogy is one I think he wants me to make: Guy Psycho as a latter day Frank Sinatra.
I have a difficult time wanting to beatify the late singer, however. Ol’ Blue Eyes was an abusive, flat-assed punk who harbored a self-righteous sense of injury on the magnitude of any of William Faulkner’s white trash creations. And yet, Frank Sinatra is now being regarded as the most important entertainer of the twentieth century, and with good reason. When he left Tommy Dorsey’s band and collaborated with arranger/conductor Gordon Jenkins, he invented pop music. By assimilating the dignified, orchestral fullness of classical music and the simplified, but idiosyncratic expressiveness of jazz, his music made personal artistic statements in an idiom that almost everyone, no matter their predilections on the aesthetic scale (from highish to lowish brow), would enjoy. Ever since the rock and roll revolution of the fifties, however, this cultural sense of unity was threatened almost as soon as it began. Pop music would lack continuity as, for better or worse, it would be characterized by generational warfare. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock, is a perpetual jest in our imaginations; Michael Jackson, the soi disant King of Pop, had become a symbol of colossal irrelevance, just an easily malignable ego, until his child molestation trial plummeted his fortunes even further into the abyss of fame. Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, is still Chairman of the Board. And it isn’t because he was a decent human being, because he really wasn’t. It isn’t because he was a potent myth for America as it wanted to see itself either, although he was, as my parents have told me, most certainly all of that. It was because of the Voice, and the exquisite artists who he tastefully and understatedly selected to accompany him. We needed the Voice to embody the myth, and the myth could make us share the same music, the same culture, and so feel unified.
And although the Guy Psycho Band and the Postmodernaires are not exactly Sinatra-esque, they are mostly exquisite and mostly elegant, which is an especially rare thing nowadays. In spite of all of the choreographed dancing the PMs do, the act resembles Julee Cruise (if you remember her) or Harry Connick Jr. more than Pink or Britney Spears or any of the other teener idols. Geneviève Antoine Dariaux once wrote, “Discretion, a sort of refined good taste, is very often a synonym for elegance.” Britney Spears, who is returning to Vegas soon, comes to mind as the antithesis of this: a highly aerobic nymphet encouraging twelve year olds to dress like street hookers. It passes for glamour, for what could be more exciting than that and still be (if it is) legal? But it is not elegance. The sort of discretion that the Man and his crew are managing is a new attempt at synthesis, an assimilation of many of rock and pop’s ghosts. Can their music, as Madonna might say, bring the people together? That the epicenter of this attempt to do so should reside in the voice (definitely lowercase v) of Guy Psycho is especially ironic.
The girls, I just notice, are all of them smoking, exhaling a communal toxic grayness that unfurls itself into the monochromatic lounge. The Man isn’t smoking, of course, but under the circumstances one would expect the girls, who know, after all, who he is, what he’s gone through, would be sensitive enough not to tempt the Big C a second time. Before long I want to scream at them, but feel ashamed of how un-cool that would be, so I say nothing.
Once upon a time, Guy Psycho was all about screaming. The only known photo of him from his early career has him strangling a cheap microphone, the tendons of his neck flexed to the max, wearing nothing but a pair of racy boxer shorts, in front of a fierce crowd of teenagers. The year was about 1982. His time on the hardcore scene was, like most hardcore musicians, brief and self-destructive. In the photo, he looks like he had been eating bricks for breakfast, and his eyes are agog with adrenaline. The early hardcore stuff, relentlessly traded on tapes and, remarkably, still not available on compact disk, sounds absolutely tortured, and he hits an almost unlistenable pitch on songs like “The Annihilator of my Heart.” It was a voice more suited to the emergency room than the radio.
In the Peppermill, it’s hard to remember that this postmodern torch-singer and that long-ago hardcore screamer are the same guy, and when he performs “The Annihilator of my Heart” with the Postmodernaires, featuring dreamy strings, trip-hoppy drumbeats, and those oh so ubiquitous Lawrence Welk bubbles, you can almost taste the incongruity. The nearly two decades of chain-smoking residence in a private sanitarium in Palm Beach are a prerequisite to even imagine the Man’s metamorphosis. I am wondering if we are going to be able to talk about the Big Change during our interview, but the conversation seems rather light with these fawning girlies around. I ask him what music he likes now, wondering if he can identify with anyone. Gwen Stefani, he tells me. “She’s a yawl darling,” he says. I’m not sure if we are having at all a musical conversation. Martina is caressing his lapel.
Just when I’m starting to lose interest in the interview, he shoots me this look, this half-wink, this charming, Gatsbyesque smile of confidence, some gesture I can’t quite put my finger on in the Peppermill’s illucid darkness, but the look seems to say, “Be patient, Doobah, you’ll get everything you need, and it’ll be fabulous.” The condescension ought to be infuriating, but even though he is implicitly counting me as part of his goddamn entourage, I feel flattered, even though I’m sure it’s got to be just an act. I’ve been through this dozens of times with egotistical musicians over the years, and it’s never worked before. After a very short while in this business, one starts to feel like a cultural janitor as you learn that there’s nothing special about these people, oftentimes including their music. I can’t bring myself to doubt the Man’s sincerity though, even if it is my job to excoriate the publicity machines of popular music. I actually doubt that he knows that he is acting this way, like a rock star, or else he would chill right out. And so I wait, for a while, still wanting to ask what is driving him, musically, artistically, and why does he want to do all this? G. P. and the Postmodernaires are so very much about style that one has to wonder, is there any substance to their art, or are they just a retinue of fashion horses, a brilliant cog in pop’s machinery?
Their sound is sort of unique enough, an atavistic curator’s paradise of doomed music, something akin to industrial schmaltz lite, but the icy harmonies of the Postmodernaires and the velvety voice of the Man, punctuated by his synthetic glitches, are dubiously over the top. Prominent music acts today are usually either idiosyncratic music without glossy faces (such as The White Stripes, Radiohead, Stereolab) or, vice versa, well regulated, photogenic bubblegum (Britney Spears et al). Guy Psycho and the Postmodernaires, on the other hand, are frenetically trying to realize the strengths of both. They look elegantly natty to the nines, the way no pop act really has in forty or more years, the antithesis of Britney Spears, who literally dresses in rags (no matter how glamorously expensive those rags may be). Sonically, however, GP and the PMs are also unpredictable, capable of strange developments of melodies and fragmented structures of music (the Rat Pack’s sound melding with the Beatles). Yet the whole seems pervaded by a nostalgia that ruins what it hopes to worship, by a dimmed edge of savage sound that’s a holdover from the rage of the early 80s. They are like an impacted wisdom tooth in the mouth of popular music: a naturally bad fit. I respect this fact about them, but I am not sure that pop music can be worthwhile, no matter how transcendent one tries to make it. There’s nothing vital in such a “show.” Contradicting their claim to “pop” music, however, is their love of exclusivity—no albums—which is a slap in the face of being “pop,” although everyone in the unit seems oblivious to this. There is an urgency to their music that belies a misguided and probably hopeless hope in the potential for an under-the-radar pop ensemble. Elegance is supposed to be effortless, and they want elegance too too too too too badly.
As for the Man’s lyrics, is he like Frank Sinatra, idiotically crooning about his perpetually ecstatic or breaking heart even as he gets and discards virtually every beautiful woman in America, or is there some inconsolable pain deep down in him somewhere that would make such emotional see-sawing justified? The old songs in the new idiom are suspicious, to say the least.
“Sorry, ladies, but it’s time to go to work. Perhaps I’ll see you later this evening.”
Outside, he has donned wayfarers, and—I’m astonished at this—he wants to walk to our next destination. As he begins to stroll along the Strip, hands inside his trouser pockets, he speaks before I can even ask a question: “In 1985, I was given electro[shock] therapy. I actually ate through my mouthpiece in one session. It’s the worst feeling, like you’re being translated into the next world if your soul was going to a Gehenna of sulfur—and static—and particles. The [i]dea of hell, if you’ve gone through this treatment, doesn’t really work, you know? Could Hell be more intemperate than Fort Lauderdale? That sensation of voltage, however, is [i]rreconcilable under any circumstances. It’s simply not human. At an outdoor show in Maui, once, the mic gave m[e] a jolt, and I felt the Great Fear. I didn’t touch anything for the rest of the night.” He tilts his perfect head an inch or so in my direction, his expression inscrutable because of the sunglasses. I’m concentrating really hard because I need to remember this, and my tape recorder and notebook would be difficult to fetch out right now. I’m afraid if I distract him, he’ll stop talking. I realize that I am sweating profusely while he is perfectly dry. Tourists are on the verge of recognizing him.
A family of Mexican canvassers try to pry smutty business cards into our hands. The Man crams all they give him in his pockets, saying, “Thank you very large,” not looking at the cards at all. He looks the canvassers in their eyes and smiles at them. A tourist drops one of those cards, and it has a girl with childish pigtails pulling her top off in front of giant sunflowers and beneath her a neon caption stretches: “Let me make all your dreams cum true.” I’m genuinely weirded out a little by now.
We’ve walked four blocks before I realize that we aren’t actually walking in the direction of the Stardust. He tells me he wants to ride the roller coaster at the New York, New York Casino. “You don’t mind, do you?” he asks. We aren’t even near the Paris yet; when I scan down the Strip for even sight of New York, New York, he says, “It’s a beautiful day. This will give us a chance to chat.” I try not to seem exasperated as I take out my notebook, although I’m like positively melting already, and now he is bounding down the sidewalk as I try to write and walk at the same time. In front of the Mirage, a French dancer from La Femme recognizes him and gives him a languid hug. I think it’s going to take us forever to get to the fake Manhattan skyline. He’s telling me about his grandmother, who works for the Boston Water Authority and was once known for being the toughest bartender in Beantown who wasn’t afraid to tell even those soused Neanderthals on the Bruins what’s what.
“Are you two close?”
“What about your parents.”
“Well, they are what they are, you know.”
“And what is that, exactly.”
“So basically you’re saying that parents are parents.”
“Yes, but don’t hold me to that.”
Across the street, the colossal monitor outside the Aladdin is advertising the upcoming Britney Spears show. I ask the Man for a ruling. “She’s all right, I guess,” he says, “But whoever her tailor is should be shot in the face.” I thought he would say that.
The chain-pull of the Manhattan Express Coaster is cranking so thunderously beneath us that I can feel the catching of its mechanism in my chest cavity. The prosaic grayness beneath the façade of skyscrapers grows more distant as our train steadily ascends into the blinding corona of the sun. Guy Psycho is placid, a thick chest-harness clamped down over his fashionable suit, his wayfarers hiding his eyes, smiling, hands on knees. I wonder if he will scream, and, if he screams, what it will sound like.
He doesn’t scream. His smile, closed-mouthed, is very large, big enough to fit the whole world in there, distorting the features of his face as we careen over Las Vegas.
Ensconced in the safety of a wraparound booth in the ESPN Zone—another black-on-black-on-black venue—we are eating some excellent pasta with alfredo sauce and watching featherweight boxing on a flat-screen monitor at our table. I tell him his early stuff is really the only hardcore music I ever really listen to anymore. I explain how I have grown to love his old voice, a combination of Keith’s Morris’s hoarse doggerel, Iggy Pop’s evil growl, and John Lydon’s extended tremolo (in the early P.I.L. era). The Man is smiling benignly, although his expression is limited since he’s still wearing his sunglasses. “I remember it quite like yesterday,” he said, sipping his highball, “although my short term memory is not so good, you know.”
“Why did you stop making music in the 80s?”
The Man sighs. “At a certain point, early in 1984, I sort of came up short with the whole hardc[ore] scene. The rage, you know, the irresistible ire, well that’s authentic enough, but even then I knew, in certain moments of clarity, that it wasn’t the good part of life. To respect destruction and rage—what Anthony Burgess once called the prero[ga]tive of youth—is good, but to celebrate it is to crowd out the possibility of much else. I could [ea]sily have stayed, though, and destroyed myself.
“By ‘destroying yourself,’ you mean—”
“Destroying myself. Period. Hey, do you want dessert?”
“No. Is that why you allowed yourself to be, ummmmmmm—”
“I don’t like to talk about this.”
“Look, there isn’t a causal relationship between ditching hardc[ore] and my psychological rehabilitation. Are you sure you won’t have any dessert? The cake here [is] divinely delish.”
“I can’t finish my entree.”
“What I’m saying is: tell people what you w[ant] about my past, just please don’t make me—my condition—symptomatic of hardcore music.”
“If it is symptomatic, then it would follow that it might also be symptomatic of pop music, too.”
“An if in all-capital letters, Doobah. I mean, I don’t think of myself [as] either sick or cured, you know. I, for one, am going to have dessert. This discord of my heretofore-fragile psyche should make for a wretchedly easy ‘angle.’ Just please don’t fan the flames of this reprehensible nonsense too much, Kitty Kelley.”
Kitty Kelley? There was certainly no cause for that sort of language. If Kitty Kelley wrote about Christ, the most salient facts of his life would be that he was an immaculately illegitimate child, a bad son to his mother, and a traitor to the Roman Empire. I am trying to see from Guy Psycho’s expression if he is actually angry or just stern. He seems to be watching the bloody fight on the flat-screen television. I seem to have gotten under his skin a little, so perhaps I am learning something from this prandial confab after all.
Behind me, someone says, “Why is that man wearing an ascot?”
Guy Psycho's Favorite Albums of All-Time
1. Frank Sinatra's September of my Years
2. Lou Reeds Rock 'n' Roll Animal
3. Throbbing Gristle's Mission of Dead Souls
4. Lily Pon's Favorite Arias
5. The Stooges's Funhouse
6. Dinah Shore's Greatest Hits
7. The Higgenbotham Art Players' The Tiki Torch Tango and other Polynesian Ditties
After Guy Psycho slowly eats two impenetrable-looking slabs of chocolate-chocolate cake, we are waiting outside the casino when a black limousine speeds up to us and screeches on the brakes. Our twenty-foot chariot as it turns out, with, thankfully, no blistering hike back to the Stardust. The Man slides in, and I go in after him, but once I’m inside, I see that this enormous car is filled with all twelve of the Postmodernaires. Two of the girls, Trudy and Daphne, finally make just enough room for me, their legs pressed against mine. Suddenly I’m really worried if I’m sweating again. A cab pulls up next to us. On the roof of the cab is a sign that reads, “The ONLY All-Nude Transsexual Comic Magic Show in Vegas!” The ad features a picture of a monkey in a clown suit, and the look on his face is really disturbing. And then the limousine takes off with a jolt.
“Say hello to Jack, everyone,” the Man says, and the girls, in spine-tingling, crystalline harmony, chime, “Hiiiiiii Ja-aaack.”
“Umm, hello,” I say back.
The limousine gives us a jolt, and Aurora falls sidelong into the Man’s lap. “Daddy,” she coos, pointing to a near-empty vodka cooler, “we’re so almost out of libations.” I suddenly note that all of them have vodka coolers in their hands. They look like an advertisement.
“Reggie,” the Man says, pressing the intercom, “please turn at the Flamingo and take us to that little liquor store.”
“Sure thing, sir.” The car lurches again, and Aurora puts her arm around the Man’s neck. She’s scissoring her long, dancer’s legs slowly. Oddly enough, her behavior with him seems more sisterly than flirtatious.
“Jack made the cutest comment about my old vocal style,” the Man says. All the girls watch on. “He compared me to Johhny Rotten, Keith Morris, and Iggy.”
“Did you sound like whoever they are?” Alexis asks.
“I suppose not, but it sounds nice all the same.”
“What does our boss sound like now?” Matta asks, lashes fluttering, staring right at me. Suddenly my mouth goes dry.
“Francis Albert, David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux, and a touch of Stephen J. Hawking,” I venture. The air curdles for about ten seconds.
“Smashing good company,” the Man then says with positively explosive enthusiasm.
Lulu, across from me, is pinching her vodka cooler between her knees as she returns her attention to On Being and Nothingness. The Man pushes a button, and the bongo thumping of the Chucho Valdez quartet blares out. I am starting to get what I know will be a soul-crippling migraine, although all these girls are generally smiling at me. They are all wearing black party-dresses by Dior, and they look dangerously devastating. I have never before been so close to so many beautiful women in my life. They all look like models, and I hate models, and yet I am in a stupor over the Postmodernaires. They are giving me a total complex. The cave of my mouth turns to gauze. Daphne smacks into me, and we are cruising down the side street by the mildly pink-tinted windows of the Flamingo. We breeze by nondescript streets with sand-colored bungalows, and then the car stops. The Man hands Aurora a glittering credit card, and the girls bustle out of the car. Guy Psycho sits forward, elbows on knees, hands together, and the music is terrific but too too too too loud.
The Postmodernaire's Favorite Albums of All-Time (Polled)
1. Frank Sinatra's Come Fly with Me
2. Blondie's Parallel Lines
3. Cabaret Soundtrack (Film)
4. Harvard Glee Club's Archive, Collection I
5. Secaucus Cockamamies's Live From Coney Island
6. David Bowie's Let's Dance
7. The Best of Bridget Bardot
Several codeine tablets later I’m in the Stardust watching a full-dress rehearsal. A group of technicians in black jumpsuits, armed with flashlights, are busy adjusting the Bubble Forge 8000, trying to get it to ease up on the relatively small digs. On the stage, the performers are running through a Busby Berkeleyesque routine featuring Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear us Apart,” with the Postmodernaires kaleidoscopically tap-dancing in jackboots and silver mini-dresses. The Man is not blocked out in any particular place in this number, like a hepcat yang of chaos to complement this glamorous ying of order. The girls geometrically divide, subdivide, and rejoin in mesmerizing patterns on the white disco panels of the stage floor. The taps on their fascist boots fit tightly within the complexity of the syncopated, boomy drumbeat.
As their voices converge angelically through their slender headset microphones, the Man, as he slouches through them, lugs about a silver body Velotron microphone, an antique job with lots of art deco grillwork, and a very large stand. Frank Sinatra never did so much heavy lifting. Guy Psycho’s voice soars tremendously with and through theirs with the force of a pterodactyl in flight.
Above the kinetic buzz of the stage proper, cylindrical mini-stages dreamily arise and fall fifteen to twenty feet above the stage, each oblong pedestal holding a member of the band in black tuxedo: Aleister Wrong on the guitar, Lorrie Arkitron on the synths, Phillipe Grandeur on the standing bass, and Blee Gorgon on what amounts to percussion. Aleister Wrong thrashes so much up there that he looks like he’ll fall. The more I watch him, the more he seems like he has fallen before. His hair is cropped short like the Man’s, but he is emaciated and scarred, and his nose looks like it has been broken a few times.
Then it becomes very clear to me: embedded in this suggestion of gentleness and softness is a savage sentiment of brutality. It is still in the lines of Wrong’s face, and it is still in some of the lyrics of the Man’s older songs, even when placed in their new idiom. I sip a Bombay and tonic for a while mulling this over, and looking at this stage. This velvet-draped theater is the “old” Vegas, and now I remember that all the allure of Vegas’s halcyon days came into existence through Mafioso muscle. When Hunter S. Thompson went quixotically scavenging for the American Dream here in 1971, he noted that it “fairly reeked of high grade Formica and plastic palm trees.” Las Vegas must not only have looked like a postcard, but have seemed as flat as one, too. It is a tiring, soul-sucking place, and I doubt very much whether that fact represents any change from the first genesis of this trompe l'oeil in the desert. At best, it is a myth of elegance that never existed, like Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island.
The number seems to go perfectly, yet they all run through it another five times before the Man is satisfied. I have no idea what, exactly, is being adjusted. The prismatic bubbles are still floating dizzyingly throughout the space.
The G. P. Band's Favorite Albums of All-Time (Polled)
1. Tom Waits's Swordfishtrombone
2. Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music
3. Miles Davis On the Corner
4. Barbarella Soundtrack
5. The Ripped Sphincter's On a Clear Day You Can See Uranus
6. Atom & his Package's Making Love
7. Anything by Wendy Carlos
Forty-five minutes before showtime, I am in the sanctum sanctorum—the dressing room of the Postmodernaires. The Man is incommunicado, in the other dressing room, where, behind a partition of hospital curtains, his throat is being examined by his doctors. Embedded in his larynx is his specialized voice-inflector, created by the late Dr. Mapsichord, and at times, when it gets tinny, the Man has to feel the electricity emanating off the thing. His voice, ultimately, is an embodiment of his pain, produced from his damaged body. The apparatus requires daily modifications by a technician affiliated with Dr. Mapsichord’s estate. The workings of the voice-inflector is an industrial secret. Until the patent is protected to the satisfaction of his contentious heirs, several of whom feel they own the exclusive rights to the invention, no one but the Man and four other trial patients will have one. There is something vestal about the Postmodernaires’s demeanor while this adjustment takes place—a staid quietude while an exotic assonant droning emanates through the oak solidity of the door. The girls apply their make-up before mirrors framed with light bulbs, stretch their limbs claustrophobically, with an almost nervous detachment. The flippancy of the limousine is absent, and it won’t return until that door opens again. It is a rare moment of sincerity unlaced with irony or wit, and for the first time I feel like I really like them, just as, for the first time in quite awhile, I think that the musicians that I have been assigned to write about aren't at all like normal people.
I get to my reserved seat just a few minutes before the gala starts. The room is jammed with rotten tourists gussied up in what the ticket agent called “dress casual,” which means lots of Dockers, short-sleeve shirts from J. C. Penny’s, and weejuns for the men; most of the women have ostentatiously aimed higher on the fashionable scale than their escorts. The mood in the auditorium is a bit tense as the men and women stare into their five dollar drinks, as couples in Vegas who’ve spent all of a very long day together often do: nothing left to talk about. The house lights languish, darken to a void, and then cool drafts tingle all over my skin. A walking bass line bangs from the multitude of speakers overhead. Then, as a melody forms, twelve voices pierce the darkness in unison with “Night and Day,” and my flesh rashes in goose bumps, the hairs on the back of my neck prickle.
Then a distorted lavender light flashes over the void, and on the other side of a sea of bubbles the platoon of voices renew their siren, with only the hovering presence of Phillipe Grandeur and his thumping glottals added. The Postmodernaires, in white pencil skirts and big French hats, look directly forward, offering a pale violet incantation to the gods of Las Vegas on behalf of this audience. The sonic slices of cool makes bowels writhe, eyes water, and nipples harden into pink diamonds.
Suddenly, a great grinding of gears squeals, and a burundi bass drum pulses out a big fat beat, matched by the manic flickers of a strobe—and the band swings into “Torpedo Fish.” There’s the Man, looking twelve feet tall, and he vamps—side-stepping in Saturday Night Fever-esque cakewalk—to the microphone. A reflective pocket-square brilliantly protrudes from his black boss jacket, sending beams scattering from his chest, and his patent oxfords are shined clear into the next dimension. He sways with the polished chrome, his dark mascara and lipstick eerie. The Postmodernaires stand behind him in a v, slinking their bodies like big beautiful fishies. The Man leans far over the stage lights, his thin mouth outstretching around the mesh of that bulbous microphone, and he croons,
You’ve got the eyes of St. Elmo’s and gloves on your soul
The conflagra[tion] of gaze is your form of control.
The synths manufacture a mellifluous garble of strings and organ, coalescing with the general softness of the voices, yet Blee Gorgon’s thrashing drums coupled with Aleister Wrong’s quieted sawblade riffs shake the music up, casting accents of sheer noise amongst such aural splendor. The bubbles and the lights and the rhythmically illuminated stage-floor are hypnotic, elegant, fragile. The long-ago hardcore anthem of teen angst that was “Torpedo Fish” is transformed with swinging joy into a celebration of cool ire. I can think of no better expression for it than that.
As the show goes on, the Man surprisingly absents himself often, perhaps because his voice might be especially susceptible to strain. (No one will verify this.) The structure of the music changes a lot—the bridge occurring at times without the lead—the bridge sometimes constituting an entirely different song—songs without solos. The band, for such a small ensemble, produces a great big sound, and the Postmodernaires wiggle and step and harmonize like crazy geometry, so the moments when the Man is gone aren’t slow at all. There’s always some big excitement just waiting to happen.
During “Soultwister,” the Man stands center stage as the Postmodernaires commence with some racy swing-dancing with each other. The cacophonous, Busby Berkeleyized “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is mind-shredding. “The Annihilator of my Soul” is tender, with the percussion and the lighting slacking into a buttery bath of sensation. “The Shackles of Desire” is, ironically, a tender, shimmery ballad. And “Green,” a new song, isn’t ironic at all, but the seemingly sincerest expression of love. The Man looks like a China doll as he calmly leans this way and that with his antique microphone, no kicking or stomping or collapsing. The blackened mascara and lipstick make his facial expressions sort of expressionless, and the glitches of his natural voice make him seem sad at that same time that it deadens his potent warbling. The technologically vitiated voice is not, cannot be, elegant, but the intelligence behind the intention is noble enough, and perhaps in a postmodern age that sort of good faith is the most we can hope for. It is not a bad substitute, if it is all we have. If we can make good use of this diminished thing, maybe pop can be saved.
Guy Psycho and the Postmodernaires play thirteen songs in their set. As the seventeen performers take their bow at the end, the Man’s conk is coated with sweat, the bandage around his neck saturated, too. The curtain oozes down and the house lights dim until the room blackens into a momentarily impenetrable obscurity. The applause warps, becomes tinny, distant, as, slowly, pinpricks of wan light erode into the gloom. As my eyes adjust, I realize that I am standing somewhere in the desert, my seat and my gin and tonic and the Stardust having vaporized. Surrounding me are a gaggle of pale, clammy-fleshed pygmies who are absolutely naked and wielding rusted crowbars. I manage one step before my knees give way, and then