Canadian industrial legends Skinny Puppy finish off a brief UK tour with their first ever Scottish show – and absolutely astonish all in attendance. The band has had its fair share of ups and downs – both personally and musically – in its 25 years of off-and-on existence, but really pulled out all the stops to deliver a barnstorming performance for its loyal Scottish pups.
Warming up the Glasgow crowd is i!, alias local lads Gary and Derek Robertson. Amidst the clutter of the headline act’s set-up, the boys deliver a lengthy and varied set, impressing friends and first-timers alike. The intricate beats they pumped forth from their laptops at times recalled Pendulum and at others more industrial acts, bearing favourable comparison to everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Skinny Puppy themselves. These are no mere repetitive loops; the music built and turned to incorporate some unexpected but effective styles. The boys share vocal duties with Derek juggling harmonising and rapping like a young Mike Patton and Gary at times channelling the intensity of Jim Foetus Thirlwell. A couple of slower-paced, mantra-like numbers threaten to stall their momentum, but the boys’ energy and confidence has the crowd lapping them up, and marked them as ones to watch in the future.
Then it is time for the main event; an air of excitement was evident but no-one knows quite what to expect. It turns out expectations are useless – this is an evening of absolute sensory overload. As dreadlocked founding member cEVIN Key and drummer Justin Bennett took their places, a dark din began to emanate from their instruments, the crowd anxious for the appearance of one of music’s most unique frontmen, Nivek Ogre. Slowly he came shuffling onto the stage, recalling Silent Hill’s menacing marionettes, decked out like an undead klan member going to a fetish ball. At various points assisted by zimmers and walking sticks, with a dunce’s hat that reached disturbingly for the ceiling, his presence is as alarming as it was exciting. As soon as the band’s trademark juddering beats began, augmented by extremely powerful, almost jazzily loose drumming, Ogre becomes an unhinged spectacle that no-one could look away from.
Then he starts “singing” and the goosebumps really kick in. Ogre‘s approach to songwriting and performing has always been completely original, but live his unpredictable shrieks and tortured growls really raise the hairs on your neck. That he can flip from a demonic snarl to punky shouts and even an almost poppy croon makes the songs all the more exciting. In fact, any worries about what their setlist might contain go out the window; every song, new and old, come out a startling blast of noise with snatches of synth harmony wafting in and out like both a breath of fresh air and a cruel tease. Classics like ‘Assimilate‘ and ‘Addiction‘ are beefed up and rearranged, mixing seamlessly in with songs from most recent album ‘Mythmaker‘. One of the highlights comes in the shape of ‘Pro-Test‘ from 2004’s ‘The Greater Wrong Of The Right‘, the band’s return from their mid-period burn-out. The two-hour setlist is testament to the enduring power of the band’s material as well as the fact that they have never rested on their not inconsiderable laurels.
Then there are the visuals; the stage (and a significant portion of the rest of the venue) is awash with hypnotic, psychedelic animations. These go beyond a mere light show; there is an abundance of imagery, from layers of projections hanging over cEVIN and bouncing off the floor and walls, to a pole-mounted TV which Ogre occasionally throttles and gyrates around. Much of this is epilepsy-inducing madness, but as the evening progresses, glimpses of war footage and religious imagery creep in, reflecting Ogre‘s lyrical concerns brilliantly.
He remains the focus throughout despite all these distractions, the sort of twisted ringmaster Marilyn Manson has always aspired to be, avoiding the obvious self-loathing that Trent Reznor resorts to. Almost everyone in industrial music has been heavily influenced by, and indeed worked with Skinny Puppy over the years, but none of them come close to the surreal majesty this band possess on stage. After several stages of costume transformation – including one which left front-row punters drenched in stage-blood – Ogre emerges dressed down for the encore, humble and appreciative, the residue of his smeared make-up a reminder of what an otherworldy presence he has been. He seems as spent and elated as his audience by the end, clinging to the cage he previously occupied as if for support through the final stretch. He exits as cEVIN and Justin climax with a brutal jam, their chilling, frenzied noise a fitting end to the evening.
Hopefully the imminent release of much-delayed new album ‘In Solvent See’ will see the band on the road again – Skinny Puppy‘s return to these shores can’t come soon enough!
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