Twenty-something, dreadlocked neophytes from San Juan Capistrano and white-haired, long-time fans from San Jose made the pilgrimage to the Observatory in order to experience the final stop on Skinny Puppy's Down the Sociopath tour. As most any Puppy fan will confirm, there's no such thing as a bad Skinny Puppy show; even unsuspecting venue employees, whether they like the music or not, will admit that the band's stage shows are uniquely mystifying, and for Saturday night's performance, the dog was in top form.
Once again, Youth Code opened for Puppy. While last year's Eye Vs. Spy tour included Youth Code as well as Haujobb and Front Line Assembly, this year the LA-based duo had the distinction of being the only opening act, and they handled the job very well. It's easy to see that Youth Code's Ryan William George and Sara Taylor are heavily influenced by Puppy and other post-industrial rock bands like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb; they demonstrate as much devotion to the sounds of their forefathers, through their highly energetic industrial rock show, as they did love and gratitude to Skinny Puppy for allowing them to open.
Skinny Puppy's most recent release was 2013's Weapon, but the fact that their current tour was not in support of a new album hardly mattered. In fact, without new material to promote, Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key (the core Puppies) performed a very nostalgic set featuring a cross-section of classics and a handful of rarely performed songs from their album The Process (1996). The highlights included: "Curcible," "Hardset Head," "Village," "T.F.W.O.," "The Choke," "Warlock," "Assimilate," and "Smothered Hope," which was introduced via a lyrical greeting to OC and LA fans — a greeting that included a reminder of our impending doom from toxins in our environment.
It is always interesting to consider the art of this band. At a glance, you've got scary sounding music with a freaky sounding singer in a dark, twisted, and imaginative stage show. That alone is enough to account for the interest of many of their fans; however, their music / sound design is continually breaking new ground, and their lyrics are typically more cryptic and intriguing than those of most other bands and, structurally, totally unique.[
In his stage show, Ogre usually employs a heavy collection of costumes, many of which include masks that totally obscure his face. This time around, his wardrobe for most of the show consisted of a white suit — a white suit that was appended, throughout the show, with syringes holding various colored liquids. These were gradually attached throughout the show by a stagehand wearing his own creepy costume and a mask with glowing red eyes. Thematically, this worked very well, as during various songs, Ogre would remove one or more of the syringes and empty their contents onto his person; this may have been a symbolic way for him to reload the material from the early and darker years of his career (years that were plagued by hard drug use). Alternatively, this may have symbolized the various drugs and preoccupations (like junk television, two-bit political rhetoric, and sensational news) that people routinely douse themselves with in their daily flight from reality. Regardless, the syringes were a great crowd-pleaser, and Ogre's vocal performance was as strong as it has ever been.
The music and the stage show are obviously not for everybody, but for the cross-section of goths, rivetheads, artists, and intellects who appreciate the dog, it has always been an incredible thing to witness. They were visionaries back in the early '80s, and their lock on the genre has never been undone by the art of a younger generation; their music and their aesthetics have simply proven too ferocious to wane.