The excitement was palpable. All the goths in the village were gathered on February 28th at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, pierced of body and black of dress, and thrilling to the fact BC-born industrial legends Skinny Puppy were HOME, for the first time in four years. That last tour, In Solvent See, in 2009 had been good…but this was looking to be ASTOUNDING.
On stage, a creepy skinny puppy – a white plastic greyhound with its neck extended to howl and lips snarling – was placed on a blood-flecked chair next to a blood-flecked lamp. A mic stand was draped in blood-flecked glass, and at stage center-right a sort of security console showing multiple screens flanked what would eventually be a dressing room box where Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre (born Kevin Ogilvie) could transform into one hideous creature after another. Foundling CEvin Key (a man I had such a huge crush on when I was 14 and once called into a TV show to ask him a question – see 1:16) and a drummer flanked the other sides.
Then the beautiful bombast started.”Choralone” from 1989’s Rabies launched like a missile. Want to see a room full of nightcrawlers smile? BAMF! This is how you do it.
Out creeped Puppy’s leader, Ogre, dressed in a black rain poncho with a pointed hood, and a white-faced, bug-eyed Phantom mask, twirling an umbrella and skulking, as images and graphics looped over his body. His mouth gaped, and new evil dreams were made. “OFF! ON! OFF! ON! Breathe and exhale!” he shouted. Nope, we’ve just been kicked in the neck, Ogre.
“IllisiT” from latest disc Weapon followed with its deep synth electric growl – “THIS IS THE CRIMINAL AGE!” spat the Ogre as he stared us all down from the lip of the stage, his mouth hanging open to make the false face even scarier. Then came “Village” – “ASK THE TINFOIL WATCHING TO ANSWER BACK!” Ogre instructed, holding a piece of …tin foil. Then more he shuffled, this time holding a suitcase, which later became a table for the scary hell dog. An evil panto was in play, and it was wonderful. Jaw…drop.
They were being gracious, not just playing stuff from Weapon (of which they did a lot of; the chiptuned “Wornin’” sounded massive, as did “plasiCage”, “Tsudanama”, “saLvo” and “paraGun”) and later albums like 2007’s Mythmaker (“Pasturn”) but rewarded our loyalty over 30 years with “Worlock”, “Deep Down Trauma Hounds”, “The Choke” and “First Aid”. And through it all, Ogre changed from one nightmarish costume to another -a scary furry dog, a hideous melted face and blistered body creature, and others. His assistants, in gas masks, nuclear power plant uniforms or creepy suits, set up bowls of neon “radioactive” waste and helped him in and out of costumes behind the box. Meanwhile in back, Key stabbed at his samplers, boxes and beats, long brown dreadlocks flying, propelling us onward as the US National Debt numbers were displayed and racked up next to him. It was an industrial ballet.
For at the end, it came with Ogre in simple black. The crowd thrilled to see his face. “It’s something in your food, in the air. Something you can’t taste, something that can be of waste, of nuclear waste…. WELCOME TO OUR LITTLE RADIOLOGICAL EVENT!” he yelled, before heading into a mind-boggling pair of encores that looked like this: “Far Too Frail”, “Glass Houses”, then the song I requested at my Grade 10 highschool dance just to fuck with the DJ’s head, “Smothered Hope” (LIFE SHIFTS UP AND DOWN, EVERYBODY KNOWS IT’S WRONG), and “Overdose.” And finally, there it was, thank all the gods…”Assimilate”. Jaw drop again…and I could do nothing but an ecstatic dance.
Words cannot describe how influential Skinny Puppy was to me in my youth. They were how a smart, well-behaved middle-class kid living in Toronto’s affluent Beaches neighbourhood revolted and navigated her need to be different. The noise! The lyrics! The creepy samples! The CHALLENGE of Skinny Puppy is what made them fascinating. They were visceral. Thirty years later, they continue to be. And for that I am deeply thankful. \m/
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