exit at the axis

Thursday night I was feeling exhausted. I had been through a bunch of meetings all day, tons of work and stuff. Then I went to a work-in-progress showing of some new work. I was really rundown and pretty much just going to go home and get some sleep. But I had gotten an email a few days earlier that one of my fave bands, Sky Cries Mary, was playing a very rare NYC show at 11PM at Rehab in the East Village. I was thisclose to just bailing but I phoned a friend and convinced myself to go. If it sucked or i was just too wiped out, I figured I could just head home. I got there shortly after 11PM and sat through some generic alt-country/punk something band and was getting mighty weary when the band took the stage around 12AM. There were maybe 50 people there and it was weird to see this band known for their psychedelic sound and trippy vibe to be playing in such a dank east village hole. it was also weird (but kind of cool) to see them in a place this size with a crowd this small.

I first saw Sky Cries Mary at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle – and I’m guessing it was 1991, before the Croc had officially opened. My memory is (understandbly) fuzzy (so please forgive or help correct any factual or timeline errors) – but I seem to remember DJ Riz Rollins making an announcement on his afternoon radio show on freeform KCMU that there was going to be a “secret” show at the soon-to-open Crocodile Cafe. I remember that there were maybe 50 people there, the band had not really solidified their sound and the visuals were really old-school: overhead project with transparencies, oil and food coloring blobs of light. I seem to remember having heard that Roderick had LeCoq training – the first version of the band was an industrial art-rock performance project with the guys from the Posies. Then SCM evolved into this mellower, psychedelic thing.

Remember that the early 90’s was not just grunge, it was the Madchester Era in the UK with bands like Stone Roses,  Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets; in the U.S. there was a really big West Coast Rave scene. Burning Man was still pretty new and the proto-internet era was upon us with (print) magazines like R.U. Sirius’ Mondo 2000 starting to flesh out a vision for the new age of cyberculture. Not to mention the crazy tribal industrial ritual-type bands like Crash Worship and Hitting Birth. People were getting into Smart Drugs, trying to ramp up their brains, when they weren’t doing the more fun but illegal drugs like LSD or MDMA. People were passing around taped lectures by Terence McKenna with names like “The State of the Stone“, underground music was still underground/independent, not “alternative”, the “counterculture” (or whatever) had been galvanized by opposition to the first Gulf War and every creative person between the ages of 20-26 had heard about Seattle and started to move there.

But at this point, it was still pretty low-key, the deluge had not quite hit yet. That night at the Crocodile there was a Native American storyteller/healer/singer/wiseman named Beaver Chief who smudged the place and may have even chanted something at some point. It was just one of those strange, isolated, perfect moments of magic and seemingly endless possibility. I was hooked on SCM. I’ve always been partial to psychedelia and I really loved the all-enveloping sound, the way they went from poppy hooks to noisefest freakouts, I loved the crazy projections and the hodgepodge funhouse spirituality. Also the concerts were always fun – people actually danced!

I saw them quite a few more times – at Seattle Center during Bumbershoot, at some crazy rave in a huge warehouse down near SeaTac airport where the UMO ensemble kicked things off with some weird physical theater piece that reminded me of Els Comediants, at a free concert on a beautiful sunny afternoon in Volunteer Park.

And then life got busy, and darker, and weirder – and while I still liked SCM’s music, I kind of drifted away from it, from the buoyancy of psychedelia and into harder, intense, more violent places. I had always listened to a wide variety of music – pretty much anything – but as with all bands, sometimes they just move to the back of the rotation.

SO – fastforward to 2008 and I’m at REHAB seeing Sky Cries Mary; I’m exhausted, I’ve got a headache, the club is dingy and the crowd is less than I had expected. I thought that SCM would play the Fillmore at Irving with a big psychedelic lightshow and crazy costumes and all that. But here they were, stripped down and simple, with a  video projector. They took the stage and started playing and I was happily surprised that the years had treated them well. Roderick and Anisa sounded great, the whole band was tight and made a LOT of noise for just, basically, two guitars/bass/drums. And it was obvious that they had been doing this for almost 20 years – they were professionals. The sound was rich and full, the mix was good, they jumped easily from 1992 (Moon Dream Meadow Allegory) to 2008 (Five Train) and everywhere in between.

By the time they played Cornerman I was back in that magic happy place of chakratastic goodness. I was even dancing a little bit. More like undulating kinda. You know the coordinated head bob/hip swivel thingie, complete with beatific grin like the lysergic vibration is moving through your body and making you move in waves. and stuff.

“No Hate In Your Head. Let Love In Your Heart” Dig. It.

Hey Anisa, Roderick and the rest of the gang – thanks for the good time! I hope we get to do it again soon!

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