So I went to the recent Teenage Jesus & the Jerks reunion show at the Knitting Factory. I know, I was fully expecting that I might be paying $25 for 10 minutes (or less?) of disappointment. But heck, I went to the Contortions reunion show and it turned out to be pretty damn good. Turns out this show was pretty damn good too. I’d even say really good.
This show was celebrating the release of some No-Wave Book. I thought I already knew about this book, which came out a few months back, but it turns out this is ANOTHER No-Wave book. I have no idea why 2 different books came out at the same time, or how exactly they differ, but maybe once I get some extra money and buy them both I can do a compare and contrast book review for everyone. I’m going to assume that any readers of this are familiar with the original No-Wave bands, and if you’re not, well there are now TWO books on the subject which you could refer to.
The opening band was a group of original No-Wavers called Information who, I’ll be honest, wasn’t familiar to me. Apparently Information was a short-lived group which played alongside all the No New York bands. Members were in several other bands and Informationeers Chris Nelson and Philip Dray formed The Scene is Now, a band which has been in existence ever since. (This article tells some of the story) They sounded fantastic, absolutely nailing that rough/complex, untrained/brilliant dichotomy that sounds exactly like what you’d hope to hear at a No-Wave reunion show. Drums that thump right along with guitars doing things that shouldn’t go together but sound amazing together anyway, and hey, that exact electric organ (?) sound from the Contortions record.
There were lots of older folks in the audience, fans and friends from the original days it seemed. Then some music nerds and most heartening of all, some younger kids, including some cool dudes rocking flannel and the classic Mudhoney Big Muff T-shirt. The kids are alright! Very few hipster 20-somethings, but you know, I was at the early show (8:00) and maybe the scene was different at the 11:00 show.
Teenage Jesus and The Jerks go on at 9:30 sharp. As it turns out, this performance was pretty much everything you could have wanted. Lydia Lunch was a fireball of spite, the guitar sound was just as shrill and dissonant as it should be, and I’m pretty sure they played every single song. (Except for the early ones with James Chance. I suppose you could have wanted a guest appearance by him too, but no such luck.) The drummer, Jim Sclavunos (who originally played bass with the band), and Thurston Moore who was filling in on bass (of course?) tried very hard to stand perfectly still with permanent scowls on their faces throughout the set.
I say “tried” because while all the No-Wave hate was in place, it was clear that tonight it was all in good fun. The “hecklers” in the audience were in on it and laughed and cheered at Ms. Lunch’s comebacks. Sample: “Fuck you!” LL: “You’d like to fuck me but you STILL couldn’t afford it.” TJ&J were known for their brief sets and military-like discipline. When the band were a slight bit off on the beginning of a song it was immediately halted and Lydia shouted “Again!” When the song was cut short a third time and she simply shot a deathly glare at Thurston, he and Mr. Sclavunos couldn’t quite suppress their grins. When Thurston’s guitar strap broke later on, Lydia said “This is what happens when we let a member of Sonic Youth join the band. Fumble!” But then even she cracked under the good vibes and had to say, although in a sarcastic tone “No… I love Sonic Youth.”
Despite a closing comment of “Less is more, get over it,” I have actually seen many much shorter sets in recent days. I guess the standards have changed since ’78 thanks to groups like Cock ESP and the whole International Noise Conference scene, and of course Teenage Jesus in the first place. No complaints though, TJ&J still wrapped up in 30 minutes max, way before anyone could get bored.
photos by Georgia Kral