You asked for this George…
Back in the late 80s I remember I needed a bit of persuading to get into the Butthole Surfers. I was slowly weaning myself off the ropier end of the goth stuff I’d been listening to for little other reason than that they wore a lot of black so they must have been deep, man, and was beginning to reason that if I wanted to be cool I’d have to turn my attentions to the other side of the Atlantic, hence I’d started to check out the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth among others. But the Butthole Surfers? Would I be able to handle this or would it be a bit too far out and challenging for me? The name put me off more than a bit: it sounded smirking and oafish, which was something of a leap for me to take after all the pretentious austerity or mystical preciousness of names like Bauhaus, the Cult and the Sisters of Mercy (to name some of the less shameful elements). But the serious music press I’d started reading was insistent: the Buttholes were a serious and important band, so I felt almost obliged to like them.
I hadn’t been entirely convinced by what I’d heard on John Peel but I was determined to persevere, so I went out and bought “Locust Abortion Technician”. Again the name was a tad hard to stomach, however it was genuinely weird enough to stimulate my interest and was at least considerably less “Beavis and Butthead” than the band name. The same applied to other titles: Hairway to Steven, Rembrandt Pussyhorse and particular favourites A Brown Reason to Live and Pioughd. The old goth in me still hasn’t died and to this day I detest wackiness in music, but these titles suggested more than that, charged as they were with absurdity, a grotesque, bloated hilarity. When it came to the music I had to give it a good few spins before I could truly say I liked them, but in the end my diligence paid off, I had willed myself into becoming a hip noise freak.
There were still reservations though. Whilst I loved the monstrous, bowel-scourging guitar rock and the warped, nightmarish sound experimentation, there was still way too much sniggering going on for my liking. “Hay” and “Kuntz” are difficult tracks to like, and even in the mighty “Sweat Loaf” I’m sure I’m not the only person who, during the slow section, is simply thinking “get on with it and give us the bloody riff, man”. Sure, you could argue that without the slow part it would lack the dynamics, but there’s no reason why “slow bit” should have to mean “shit bit”, and in this case it’s merely inept and shoddy. Not enough to ruin an otherwise rollicking track, though.
Fast forward to last week in
This was compounded by the band’s attitude, which affronted my protestant work ethic. Whereas in their prime they had successfully presented themselves as dangerously cutting-edge, their twisted, unsettling humour a result of taking way, way too much acid (these things impressed me when I was still in my teens), now they came across as nothing more than a bunch of sad, middle-aged men pissing about. It was hardly as if they’d moved on in any significant way, but still there was no “Sweat Loaf”, no “Jimi”. Few concessions to their audience, in other words. I don’t want to bang on about money, but having paid almost 30 Euro a ticket I demanded better than this, particularly when I remember paying less than half that to see a truly astonishing performance by the Young Gods a couple of years back. Fucking rock stars. Compared to their searing, viscous rectal expulsion of yore, this was a meek trickle of diarrhoea.
Anarchic? In your dreams. This was just sloppy, they were treating us with contempt. Once they toed an engaging line between silly and scary, but there’s no doubt which side of that line they’re on now. At some point they evidently fell off their surfboards and landed… you know where. I guess this kind of rock is no country for old men.