the loud bassoon concert scene

WASP @ House of Blues, Chicago, USA
21 March 2000

DEF and SIC attended WASPıs gloriously befuddling show at House of Blues, and have been trying to get to the bottom of it ever since. Itıs quite possible, as in Rashomon, that everyone in the crowd came away with a different version of what happened. Here are two different views of the show.

DEF:
The first ten minutes of the WASP show at House of Blues were some of the best spectacle Iıve ever seen. Lead singer Blackie Lawless came out bearing a torch, set the metallic WASP sign on fire, and the band tore through a three-song medley with tons of energy, jumping around the stage, twirling their guitars, sticking their tongues out, throwing dozens of picks out into the audience, the whole bit. The rest of the show was probably the worst thing Iıve ever seen in my life, though not in a bad way.

I donıt think Iıd ever heard WASP before SIC coaxed me out to this show, so I had no idea what to expect except that there was the possibility for raw meat to be sprayed at the audience from a woodchipper. That didnıt happen, although there were some nice cheesy pyrotechnics like a flaming codpiece, and flaming motorcycle handlebars attached to Blackieıs microphone stand, on which Blackie would perch and swing around.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning that the band was thoughtful enough to show hardcore porno loops on video monitors during songs like "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" and the genuinely brilliant "Dirty Balls." During the rest of the show, the monitors showed old WASP music videos for whatever song the band happened to be playing (this is a greatest hits tour). Oh, wait, did I say they were playing? Thatıs not entirely accurate.

SIC and I disagreed on the extent of backing tracks being used, but I would estimate that upwards of 75% of the total music that was played was not being performed by the band. Iım fairly certain that the drummer was only playing toms, snare, and cymbals, because his two bass drums were easily two feet away from where he was sitting, and there were a few moments where he was "playing" monstrous double-bass fills while standing up.

The bassist, as far as I could tell, knew the songs about as well as I did, although he more than made up for his lack of chops with a great rubber suit and an uncanny knack for twirling his bass around while simultaneously "playing" it. Guitarist Chris Holmes looked like he was undead, which suits the band well, though in his case itıs just genuine ugliness.

What an ugly band. Blackie looked like he was about 60 and that makes a flaming codpiece less than graceful. Iım pretty sure Blackie was singing, although a lot of the vocals (and all of the background vocals) were clearly on backing tracks. I was standing five feet away from the bassist and I contend that he made no real sounds with his voice the whole night.

SIC claims to have heard him "really" sing, but I donıt think so. The microphone was pointed at the audience more of the time. Iıd be willing to bet the microphone was not even turned on.

My question is, how much of a lack of confidence does it take to insist on using backing tracks to prop up songs that any 15-year-old with a guitar and a six-pack of beer could play? Imagine the pure non-musical brutality of Kiss coupled with the easier (and catchier) moments of the Crue, and youıve got WASP. Oh, donıt forget to add porno videos too. Theyıre so crass, and proud of it. Personally I thought they shouldnıt have been showing videos of themselves from the 80s, 'cause you kept looking at the monitors and then at Blackie and going "Ewww."

Not to mention the monitors had the onscreen running-time display on the entire time, which was quite Spinal Tap. The show might have had some honest punch to it if they had actually been playing the music, but there was something unnatural about the whole vibe. It was a big pathetic con, and I enjoyed pretty much every minute. I think they might have been actually playing a cover of "The Real Me" by The Who, but couldnıt tell for sure what was real and what was prerecorded.

Toward the end of the set Blackie drank "blood" from two plastic skulls and tossed one out in the audience (he sells the remaining skulls online at the end of each tour, sadly enough). After about the third or fourth song, almost every tune had a two minute buildup and a two minute closing (you know, build on one chord while the drummer goes crazy). By the end of the night I had had my fill of WASP , but they did come back for an encore, although the audience was definitely not demanding it.

It was a situation where the house lights remained down but no one was really cheering for the band to come back. After ten minutes, they played "Blind in Texas" to close the evening. Hopefully this will be the last time WASP takes their show on the road. I was happy to see them, but it was very much in that "fiery bus crash on the side of the highway, two dozen senior citizens trapped and screaming in pain" type of enjoyment.

SIC:
I like WASP. I really do. As DEF said, I dragged him to the show with hopes of witnessing the woodchipper. Sadly indeed, it did not appear. The stunts that did make an appearance were quite fun, though. The flaming WASP sign and codpiece DEF mentioned were pleasant. The hardcore porn was gratuitous. Blackie looked old but still scary, while Chris Holmes just looked sick. The sound and setlist were strange.

This tour is, I guess, in support of the recently released Best of the Best Vol. 1 album. The set consisted completely of the 'dumb' WASP songs. Which could have been OK. They ignored most of their more entertaining 'serious music' from the Headless Children, Crimson Idol, and KFD albums.

Too bad, though. I like those sophomoric, misguided attempts at political and social criticism quite a bit. The song choice was disappointing, but it would have been OK were the show were not so confusing.

As DEF said, things started off genuinely entertaining. It was after the opening medley that things got weird. The show literally became an investigation into the depth of the pre-recorded backing tracks. I disagree with DEF's estimate of 75% of the performance consisting of pre-recorded material. I would guess it to be more like 40% or 50%, but it was very difficult to gauge. Mike Duda, the bassist, seemed to have little interest in anything but making goo-goo eyes at an attractive blonde in the balcony.

Was he singing backup? I believe so, at least sometimes. I did hear him once when he sang in the wrong place (really DEF I did!), but normally he was mixed VERY low and was overwhelmed by Blackie's clearly pre-recorded backing vocals.

That's fine, though. I have no issue with the background vocals being pre-recorded, but there was more. What was being played simply didn't match up with what was coming out of the PA. The bass was nice and clear, even when it was being very sloppily played, or sometimes not played at all. The drums and cymbals were strikingly loud SOMETIMES. During the interminable buildups DEF mentioned, the drummer (whose name I forget) was smashing crash cymbals THAT COULD BARELY BE HEARD. These same cymbals were perfectly clear during the song.

Was the drum set miked at all? He was playing double bass though, despite what DEF claims. I saw both bass drum heads moving in time. He just had one of those fancy TAMA cage pedals that allows you to position your bass drums anywhere. Was it miked though? Was it? Chris Holmes' guitar solos were clearly real, as they were fitfully horrible, but the rhythm guitars were questionable. Weird. Mostly because the chosen songs are sickeningly simple. I could get together with three high school heavy metal musicians and get a solid version of this same set of songs together in a week. Why Blackie? Why did you guys choose to do the tour this way?

It seems like everyone can play the songs. Did you just get used to playing with backing tracks during the KFD tour where there needed to be pre-recorded synth parts? It makes no sense. A concert should not turn into a challenge to determine what was real and what was Memorex.

It was odd, uneasy, and quite entertaining in all the wrong ways. I stand confused, yet still somewhat amused.

Review by DEF & SIC