Though Skinny Puppy's Live Shapes for Arms tour (which was in support of their most recent album, Weapon) took place earlier this year, the Eye vs. Spy tour was essentially the Director's Cut of that tour, and on Saturday evening, the tour ended at the Fox Theater in Pomona.
The golden age movie palace was a perfect venue for the show. First, while the remote location may not have been the most convenient for Orange County or Los Angeles fans, it enhanced the sentiment that events like this are not so much rock concerts as they are cult gatherings, and industrial music lovers evidently had no problem making the pilgrimage and packing the house. Secondly, Skinny Puppy puts on an extremely theatrical show, and the lush, Art Deco theater was a perfect complement.
This time around, Puppy was supported by three bands, and while the bands were so awesome that this event could have been an all-day festival, the entire program ran efficiently from 7:30 until midnight. The first up was Youth Code, a newer band from Silver Lake. Although the band has only two members, Ryan William George and Sara Taylor, their driving rhythms, screaming, and frenetic movements easily had them owning the large stage for the duration of their 20 minute set. Next up was Haujobb, a prolific 3-piece industrial band that has been laying down dark and grooving tracks for just over 20 years, and although they are not exactly a common industrial household name (like the two following bands), the majority of the audience was familiar with all the songs in their set.
After them, Front Line Assembly took the stage, and the effects started rolling. Formed in 1986 by former SP member, Bill Leeb, FLA is a classic industrial band with a bit more of a pop orientation than Puppy and a bit less gristle than them (sonically, thematically, and visually). Throughout their set, the band was essentially obscured in fog. Behind the members, rapid-fire images and clips were played on a large screen.
Finally, Skinny Puppy took the stage at around 10:30, and the bedazzlement began. Again, the show had many similarities to the Live Shapes for Arms tour. Many of vocalist Ogre's costumes were familiar — as were the props and set pieces — but while it is very likely that a majority of attendees had seen that show (either in Santa Ana or in Los Angeles), nobody complained; they just settled into their trances.
The show's accouterments included numerous grotesque outfits (all worn by Ogre), various odd props, several screens (onto which different images were projected throughout the show), fog, additional projectors which effectively used Ogre as their screen, and closed-circuit cameras (whose images were among those projected onto various screens). In addition to these aspects of the show, there were two costumed actors who acted out various power plays with Ogre (feeding him like a dog, filming him like a test subject, boxing him up and wheeling him away, etc.). All of these images and sentiments reinforced the thematic content of the set — specifically in regards to how humanity suffers at the hands of government control and corporate greed.
The setlist spanned the 30 year plus career of the band. There were no highlights, because the whole set played like a greatest hits album. Here is the entire setlist:
Convulsion, Illisit, VX Gas Attack, The Choke, Wornin', Deep Down Trauma Hounds, Testure, Village, Hexonexonex, First Aid, Pasturn, Warlock, Paragun, Solvent
During various costume changes or pauses, cEvin Key (the other principal Puppy [synths, samplers]), Justin Bennett (drums), and Ken Marshall (soundboard) would "Brap on" (or improvise); these moments were seamlessly blended with the performances of the songs.
The extensive theatricality of the show completely obscured Ogre's actual appearance until the three encore songs. When Ogre reappeared sans fake blood and costuming, he launched into a speech about the Fukushima disaster, explaining how the mistakes of man and his refusal to change his ways makes maggots out of the rest of the human race. The band then performed the classics: "God's Gift Maggot," "Smothered Hope," and "Assimilate." For "Assimilate," Ogre brought Youth Code's Sara Taylor onstage to sing with him; she and Ogre literally bounced around the stage for the duration of the song.
One 50 something usher, who had never before heard Skinny Puppy, was beaming at the grandiose spectacle of their show, which seemed as invigorating to him as it was to Puppy's followers. It is rewarding that a band with so much vision is still creating compelling material for the uninitiated as well as for their fans. Furthermore, there has always been a philosophical bond between the band and their adherents; both groups admit that they are disenfranchised, and Ogre and Key are just as motivated by the celebration of dystopian imagery as the fans of their profoundly influential music are eager to embrace it in tandem with gothic and horror chic.