Lydia Lunch is a force of nature. A tempest of sex, noise, booze, and wrath. Lucky for me, San Francisco was directly in the path of the storm called RetroVirus: Lunch’s 6-date tour described as “a harrowing cross section of aural schizophrenia from No Wave skronk to bludgeoning Hard Rock and sleazy Jazz Noir to propulsive Psychedelia.”
I dragged DJ Ashtray to Potrero’s Verdi Club, a fringe venue that seemed like a cross between a ‘40s big band jazz lounge and an awkward ‘60s high school auditorium.
We arrived with just enough time to grab a drink before openers Burmese began their full-fledged assault on the audience. With two drummers, two bassists, and a woman with a voice like 3 men shrieking, the Bay Area noisecore collective unleashed a blaring sound that was perfect to open before Lydia Lunch. It was noisy, arty, abrasive, and experimental, yet I wouldn’t say derivative of No Wave. I’m used to hardcore and grind bands incorporating noise, but Burmese had a totally unique approach. I was struck by how seamlessly they integrated sludge, doom and gloom (through the use of female vocals!) without ever letting up on the speed and energy. The avoided the stage and instead played on the floor. With all the lights on. Powerful shit. I’m def gonna have to check out more from these guys.
Lunch came on stage shortly after their performance. With her sparkly art deco dress framed by the old-timey cut-out-box stage, Lunch appeared to me like an ethereal vision of Julee Cruise. Of course, that was quickly changed the second she opened her mouth. “Thank you, Burmese. You guys fucking rocked my cock.” With a band including (wait for it) Weasel Walter on guitar, Bob Bert on drums, and Algis Kizys on bass, this was obviously going to be good. Walter was spastic as ever, Lunch danced like a deranged ‘60s surfer girl on speed, and sang classics from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8-Eyed Spy, her solo career, collaborations from folks like Rowland S. Howard and Sonic Youth, and even an unreleased song. (Why didn’t I fucking record that?) Personal favorites included “Baby Doll,” “Mechanical Flattery,” “Love Split with Blood” and “Burning Skulls.”
The highlight? In the middle of one of the slower, darker songs, a young woman from the audience, hypnotized by the music (that or tripping on acid) made her way through the crowd and climbed on stage. Spellbound, her hands slithered up Lunch’s legs, and at one point, the woman lifted her shirt up (no bra!) and started, uh, touching herself. Lunch, totally unfazed of course, guided the woman downstage towards the end of the song, and before starting the next number, mused, “Sometimes people get a little LUNCH-DRUNK. It happens to the… worst of us.”
For whatever reason, it was really meaningful to me that Lydia Lunch can STILL engage in surprise and shock and transgression, even though she’s a super-established “mature” artist these days. At another point, she said she needed some “brandy or cognac” (classy lady) and someone from the audience handed her their drink. Cheers-ing, she downed the drink without question. I don’t know, it just makes me happy that she’s not detached and overly careful, even today. Fuck suppression- roll with the punches, right? If ever a performance truly embodied the the meaning of “Noisegasm,” this was fucking it.
Oh, and look, someone uploaded a video.