Legendary Pink Dots, So What!
Oslo, Norway, April 22, 1998

by Christian Mumford

From Aural Innovations #3 (July 1998)

Well, this was quite an experience. In fact such an excellent one it's a little hard to comprehend where my mind(s) split during this incredible performance. Not having heard this band before, I went on a gut feeling that I had to be there come Hell or high water. And I am glad I did, as this was in fact the best live show I've experienced to date.

To backtrack a bit, I arrived at the half empty venue, progressively drowning in a hellish cacophony the deeper down the stairs I wandered. I feared The Legendary Pink Dots had already started, but I was soon assured "uh.. no, its the... er... other one" at the entrance as I paid, asking if they already had started playing. I bought a beer, and wandered closer, trying to catch a glimpse of this curious opening band - but the stage was empty apart from the instruments. A druggy mideastern techno-groove was wandering off on its own, seemingly on automatic, yet layered with random knob twiddly synths, amidst the hollering distorted voice of something akin to a televangelist on LSD. A spastically dancing young man in a red feather boa suddenly dashed from behind the synths, happily threatening the audience with a curiously shaped chrome flashlight, and went on to explain how it was aquired the previous night in Copenhagen, and how in fact it was designed for maximum relaxation, "with a triple X" we were led to beleive. He then proceeded to play a fairly "experimental" guitar solo with this object, as he assured us we were slowly becoming fully relaxed with the aid of the combined objects' ecstatic efforts. The fellow proceeded to make the rounds with all the instruments with his suspect device, grimacing, dancing, hollering, setting off loops and backing tracks at a frantic pace, distorting the whole place with obscure electronic gadgets (including one of those primitive antennae-like synths which produce mindsplitting squeaks), repeatedly assuring us that we needed his therapeutic records for the princely sum of just one hundred herrings each, availible at the venue. Musically some parts were actually quite good, particularly the less chaotic, more rhythmic parts which got into trancey, oriental Ozric Tentacles territory, and some thundering drum solos. He topped that bit off with an extremely bizarre flutist-parody, miming with a stick of some kind, with a strange googly-eyed grimace, which had everone cracking up, and then he closed off his set miming and dancing to a very happy song, disturbingly assuring us "I am sane because I am happy". And indeed the audience had become quite sane by that time. All that was missing were a group of giggling little pixies, though the side-splitting one-man effort deserves a gold star award in my book. It was time to synchronize with a beer.

About 15 minutes later, The Legendary Pink Dots entered the stage, and the young man had relieved himself of the fluffy feather boa and revealed himself as the bands' drummer/bassist. It kicked off into space immediately, courtesy of a sleazy post-apocalyptic ragtag, pale and barefooted Syd Barrett-meets-Andrew Eldritch frontman with a snotty English voice, an eccentric sax/wind player in the best Nik Turner/Bloomdido Bad DeGrasse school of dress, plus a startlingly normal looking guitarist and an equally anonymous looking synth player. It's from this point on that words become rather limiting as descriptive. I suppose Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come and Radio Gnome-era Gong, even mid-late 70's new wave-era Hawkwind, are good points of musical reference, with cosmic lyrics to match yet sometimes within the framework of the mundane - sinister and psychedelic in every sense of the word and all run through an array of at least a dozen F/X pedals and devices lined up on the stage. Jazz, rock, techno, whatever you want it to be - all at once, yet nothing like any of it. Smoke billowed out at all the right junctions, lights flashing and twisting, creating a multicolored tapestry of swirling stars and planets when required, and sucked into this magical world they spun around the front of the stage, it became clear that these guys were delivering more than plain old music - it was pure experience and pure energy from the creative Source. The shaded frontman (AKA Edward Ka-Spel, as further investigation has led me to believe) went into several great monologues, theatrical without pretensions, going with the music rather than against it, as the band grooved on, weaving aural patterns dissolving in and out of space, and commanding complete utter attention in mesmerizing intimacy with the audience. At some point the extended jams timelessly reached a single climax as Mr. Ka-Spel assaulted the keyboard violently (thankfully without a knife), then he jerkily scrambled to maniacally twiddle every knob on the Korg simultaneously with the already frantic synth guy, as if they in unison had to find that perfect streeeetchy squeak before the universe imploded - or perhaps the reverse was their mission - just tweak the bugger outwards bit by bit 'till it cracks. In a flash of utter chaos everything came crashing in like a mountain of Skinny Puppy CD's being played simultaeneously at ground zero (or perhaps it was like being pounded to orange marmelade by a herd of mammoths being chased into the Wall of China by a 5000 ton runaway freight train brimming with nitroglyserin, memory gets hazy and words fail me). The Legendary Pink Dots left the stage as a few stray blips and feedback echoes desperately tried to find their way into space and our ears by themselves, and my head was rapidly melting Jell-O. But of course the band returned for an encore of more fantastic playing and hypnotic jams, which seemed to last as long as the first set. I've no idea how long they played altogether. Maybe 2-3 hours, time was effectively eliminated in the space they created. When they were through, I left in a hypnotic daze - I only had 2 beers, but I felt like they'd been spiked with 2 hits of acid and then I'd been violently trepanned for the impeding cosmic rapture - my brain had dissolved and reassembled itself with a fresh whistle by this crew of head merchants, and I walked home feeling very electric, only regretting not having enough herrings in my pocket to pick up some of their CD's. But rest assured, by this time I have. I would not want a tape of this show for all the world - why reduce something as sublime and complete as this into mere audio on disposable plastic junk? Might as well be audience to whistling primates catching a free cold on the way to work.

Postscript: having now sampled The Legendary Pink Dots' music, a massive catalogue of releases of varying style and quality, spanning nearly twenty years, I thoroughly recommend "Hallway Of The Gods" (1995) and "From Here You'll Watch The World Go By" (1997), the former with one of the most memorable highlights from the show, the stokingly awesome "The Saucers Are Coming". Be prepared.

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