To Live and Shave in L.A.,Holly Hunt, Clang Quartet, Jim Capps and Severed+Said
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tom Smith has long been one of the underground’s most imposing performers. Gasping, twisting, moaning, contorting, chanting and frowning, he’s a large, gnarled coil of energy and muscle. You can’t take your eyes off him.

Not unlike John Lydon during Public Image Limited’s earliest and finest years, he plays both clown and devil, madman and genius. These qualities were on fine display last night, when To Live and Shave in L.A.’s 25th anniversary tour—their first full trek in seven years—rolled through Nightlight, the Triangle’s premier club for experimental fare. It was the final appearance of the 13-date jaunt.

The fact that Smith and cofounder Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra have steered the Shave into its third decade
echoed in the cross-generational audience, a very cool balance of older bohemians and younger freaks. As someone who counts himself among the former, I was stoked to see the latter so captivated. I once stood in their shoes.

Over the course of their 40-minute set, the Shave proved to still possess the rare talent to push music to new expressive limits. As I pointed out in my preview for the INDY, the outfit’s only constants are Smith and Falestra, who enlist different collaborators for each album and tour. The 25th anniversary incarnation found them teaming up with Graham Moore (the dude behind the Blossoming Noise label) and Patrick Spurlock, another musician with extensive roots in harsh noise, power electronics and sound design. Historically, the Shave utilizes some degree of rock instrumentation. (Falestra is a master of freely improvised noise-guitar damage). This quartet, however, deployed tables smothered in electronics, wires and blinking lights. While Smith’s vocals performed their violent gymnastics, the hands moving about all that gear generated finely chiseled loops of distortion, with various oscillations, tones and waves exploding at spaced intervals. Woven throughout the din were splinters of percussion and stuttering vocal samples that seemed informed by Smith’s love for footwork.

Though the music wasn’t rhythmic in any conventional sense, it did possess weight and movement. To better drive home this admittedly abstract point, I have to once again reference PiL. On 1979’s Metal Box, the band invented a revolutionary permutation of art rock featuring tactics imported from cutting-edge dance music and cold squalls of feedback. To Live and Shave in L.A., mind you, didn’t sound anything like PiL. Rather, they nicked their basic aesthetic thrust (i.e. art rock pretense and the hijacking of club music and noisy madness) and transformed it into a 21st-century sound steeped in intense electronic manipulation. It was aggressively modern music.

Toward the end of their set, the Shave somehow dialed up the intensity by inviting tourmates Holly
Hunt (who opened) back on stage for a mega-jam that had nearly every face in the crowd, both ancient and fresh, grinning with delight. Holly Hunt are a two-piece from Florida specializing in a fusion of neo-Amphetamine Reptile “scum” and doom-fueled stomp ’n’ roll. When they began working their megalithic grooves into the Shave’s seething fuzz, the pummeling landed on the far side of early Godflesh. Smith became even more dramatic, swinging and swaying spasmodically while spitting garbled barks and howls like a drill sergeant. The maelstrom finally, deliciously imploded.

Hearty shout outs also go to additional openers Jim Capps (destructo-noise aktion), Severed+Said (Robert Turmanesque synth-jams) and Clang Quartet (North Carolina’s favorite Christian noise artist). It was an awesome night all around.