Lydia Lunch came over from Barcelona Friday night to tell us that she still hates us. Fair enough. Given the wistful fawning old New York’s pan-flash No Wave scene has received of late, it’s safe to assume the crowd on hand at the Knitting Factory, about evenly split between youngish blog-babies and what I can assume is the awkwardly-aging old guard, had paid the $30 entrance in hopes of having not-so-Teenage Jesus tell them to fuck off.
The reformed and reconfigured trio, composed of Lydia and two newly-minted Jerks (one of whom happened to be Thurston Moore), played an adequately rehearsed, not all-that-loud set encompassing the entirety of the original group’s approximately 18 minutes of recorded music. To add an extra two minutes to the show, the band played “Crown of Thorns” twice.
It’s hard gripe with the sonics. Teenage Jesus’ catalog of staccato noise dirges retains its nauseating, tidal momentum, piling up somewhere between the unpretentious breu of vintage punk and a burst sewer line. Lester Bangs called Lunch the best guitar player in the world at one point, and I’m liable to agree: picked live, the acid bark of her Mustang, a tangle of overtones and micromanaged feedback, reveals a harmonic density unheard on record and undoubtedly irreproducible by even the most eggheaded of emulators. Twitching her slide against the fretboard like a marathon masturbator, the woman made the squalling outbursts canonized by the off-duty Youth to her left seem virtually effete by comparison. Her voice, gravel-poisoned, emphatically unsexy, fit the nightmare vibe like a well-situated tapeworm. The flanking musicians on bass and “drum” did fine. To be honest, I hardly noticed they were there. The dude with the snare took of his shirt at some point, and Moore affected a comical Sid Vicious sneer for most of the engagement. No one seemed to care. All eyes were stuck to the all-black Lunch.
Just because Lydia can still kick out the classics, however, doesn’t necessarily mean this show should have happened. No Wave, the movement, the people, even the music to some extent, has been retrospectively fetishized to the extent that any resurgence of its key players is bound to get tangled up in the tawdry middle ground between boho nostalgia and historical meretriciousness. The crowd didn’t shell out for a concert, but for the microcosmic reenactment of a long-dead moment. The urban circumstances that birthed the genre, its outrageous avant-garde and titanic personalities are precisely the opposite of those which allowed the Williamsburg set to return to their condos when the lights went up, and the kid from Jersey to find Jesus via Pitchfork. In the information age, there are no more scenes. Galvanizing a three-decade-old era doesn’t make it any less of a corpse.
Weirdly, Lunch’s relentless banter didn’t do much to lighten the overriding atmosphere of experiential deceit. Her bombastic bitchiness was more more vacuous than visceral. When she told a guy from Indiana, blithely, to kill himself, it felt like a Vegas routine, a concession to audience expectations more than the speedball excoriation we seemed to be hoping for. There was frustratingly little danger on hand in the venue besides the nagging concern, ballooning as the night went on, that we had effectively witnessed the an Eagles reunion in disguise. Either Lunch’s spite for NYC’s bourgie apotheosis is authentic, which begs the question of why do the reunion at all, or it was pure appeasement. Both cases seem depressing.
Post-show, the air outside the factory was filled with reminiscence about what had just happened. “We were there, man” gushed a guy behind me. The modern audience, cell-phone cameras in hand, blogs in the back pocket, feels that history can be invented at the beck and call of the cultural consumer. Sadly, Friday’s set, sandwiched between a glossy book-signing for Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s just-released No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York 1976-1980, and an exodus to the L train, proved just the converse. No Wave NYC isn’t coming back, not even on the red-eye flight from Spain.
Photo by Ted Gordon