Rich Buttholes

Once dangerous, Butthole Surfers are radio-friendlier

How does a posse of deranged acidheads famous for (a) the penis-reconstruction films they project onstage; (b) their vile, putrid, eardrum-mutilating music; and (c) their name, one most daily newspapers refuse to print in full—I say, how does such an outfit produce a nearly platinum-selling album and hits on the radio?

Despite such obstacles, the Butthole Surfers—known to many mainstream readers as the B***hole Surfers—have persevered for more than 15 years. While other bands from the golden era of truly independent music have fallen away, the Butthole Surfers have survived through evolution. Once dangerous punks unsuited for polite company, they've become radio-friendly. This is not to criticize; their music is among the little that's listenable on modern rock radio. Still, it is sad that a band once sure to infuriate parents and cause them to send their children for deprogramming in Provo, Utah, is now creating songs that thirty- or fortysomething parents might hum along with. Perhaps we—parents and kids—are all Butthole Surfers now.

Clearly, the Austin, Texas-based band has changed. As germinating loons, the Butthole Surfers were a different sort of outfit. Before settling on the name Butthole Surfers, they changed their name with every show—calling themselves the Ashtray Baby Heads or Nine Foot Worm Makes Home Food or The Inalienable Right to Eat Fred Astaire's Asshole. Large quantities of drugs fueled the GG Allin-like intensity of their early shows, which might include the band's flailing, naked bodies hurtling over the heads of audience members. Among singer Gibby Haynes' favorite life-threatening stunts was this one: smashing a cymbal filled with burning lighter fluid, an act that occasionally set Haynes afire. There were also vomit-inducing strobe lights, two standup drummers pounding out tribal rhythms, and a topless female dancer. The effect was something like a Grateful Dead show, except that this was clearly a bad trip, man, sparking room-full-of-snakes hallucinations.

The Butthole Surfers were expert musicians and could get away with long jams, but their guitar noodling was more about killing hippies than satiating them. Some of their early masterpieces—such as 1984's Psychic . . . Powerless . . . Another Man's Sac and 1987's Locust Abortion Technician—are universally acclaimed by serial killers, methamphetamine addicts and amateur taxidermists.

But unlike many of their indie-label peers, the Butthole Surfers have never feared the corrupting power of money, wallowing as they had for so long in dingy poverty. Having made a name for themselves with their spectacular live shows and frequent touring, they embraced the major-label executives who arrived at their door with bags of money in 1989.

Since going corporate, the Butthole Surfers have released some excellent records and a few forgettable ones—nothing as demented as "USSA" or "The O-Men" off Locust Abortion Technician. But then everyone should be allowed to grow old and flaccid; if GG Allin were still around, he'd probably be touring with Paul Simon.

The Butthole Surfers' latest record—Weird Revolution on the Disney-owned label Hollywood Records—is actually good, but slick and not fucked-up-sounding at all. Along with too many other bands, the Butthole Surfers have taken to electronic beats and hip-hop scratches, but Weird Revolution's beats are generic and unworthy. The album's single "The Shame of Life," which Haynes wrote with Kid Rock, is a hip-hop parody about bitches and money and it's extremely catchy, while the upbeat "Dracula From Houston" was also likely written with modern rock radio in mind.

Like Ween and the Frogs, the Butthole Surfers have grown overly tuneful. They're still a mighty fine band—but now totally unthreatening. Hopefully, somewhere, there are new Butthole Surfers hatching and sprouting in some college town or backwater who will wreak havoc on our senses as these guys once did.

The Butthole Surfers perform at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Tues., 8 p.m. $20. All ages.
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Anaheim Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • August
  • Thu
    21
  • Fri
    22
  • Sat
    23
  • Sun
    24
  • Mon
    25
  • Tue
    26
  • Wed
    27
Loading...