I thought it would be easy to review this listening party.  And you know, it’s usually best for reviews to not include the author of the story intimately within them.  I have no evidence that there isn’t a strong causal connection between writing gonzo style and playing shotgun golf.  I’m no doctor though.

I’m really not sure what I expected.  What would you expect?  I’m writing this article because I happened to be going to the party;  I didn’t go there to be some bullshit word peddler.  I think it’s obvious I like throwing the noise shows and crunkathons more than writing articles, or I’d probably write more articles.  That’s not really true.  Wish there was more time in a day.  And teleporters.  All modern options of travel are unacceptable given how little time there is in a day.

I mainly went because I recorded an album for Kayla Clancy’s psychedelic folk project Meet The Sun, who held a listening party at The Trunk Space.  I really liked the concept of that show.  It was executed very well.  Kayla’s party felt like any other party, with a couple of bands that played and we listened to the album and much rejoicing, etc.

I’m always looking for new ideas to make local music more interesting around Phoenix, and when I saw Tear Garden had tickets to a listening party at an undisclosed date and location in LA, I snatched up 2 immediately, even at $100 a pop.  It wasn’t particularly hard to triangulate that it would be held Memorial Day weekend given:

  1. the Skinny Puppy tour started on the 30th in London, and
  2. the “I Can Spin a Rainbow” tour had a date in LA on May 20th before a break

but someone on Facebook had mercy on me and got me the exact date.  Day jobs and stuff and it was a 6 hour drive each way.

I kinda expected the sort of separation you’d get at a show.  I had seen both cEvin Key and Edward Ka-Spel on stage multiple times.  Maybe more than any other musicians come to think of it.  The email sent around had a schedule of events, which included a 30 minute meet and greet session.  I had no idea how many people would be there.  I expected to see the band from afar, with a 3 minute chance tops for a handshake and a picture.  I mean, I think it could be let unsaid that I knew it wasn’t going to be a Weiland-esque “Let’s Suck a Dick” experience, because wow (even for that guy).

And I had shaken Ka-Spel’s hand 20 years ago and he completely lived up to his reputation as the warmest man in the universe in those 4 seconds, so the opportunity to say how deeply I admire both he and cEvin in 30 seconds or less seemed quite appealing.  And then hang out with people that have similar tastes in music as myself all while learning about promoting and hearing a new album from an old favorite.   Win win win all around.  Good enough to make the drive with a friend I’ve been meaning to spend more time with while missing the final night of my band’s first residency.

Photo by Amoreena Stout.

I did not expect the party to be more intimate than The Trunk Space.

This felt a lot like Kayla’s listening party, a social gathering to experience this new work of art for the first time together, providing the common ground to make it easier to meet new people.  There were a couple of differences.  The most obvious one would be the immediate access to libations.  In my field research, that’s also trending as helpful at parties.  Albeit other recreational psychoactive chemicals would have probably been more appropriate, if legally gray.

The venue was The Lash, which is listed on google as a “Trendy, industrial-chic cocktail bar”, which sounds like an accurate enough description to me.  I kinda expected a club with signs and stuff though, rather than a parking lot whose only purpose seems to be is to trick unwitting victims for a fast-food style experience… except instead of garbage they spew stern disapproval at you.   (I’m playing, the lady in the parking lot was surprisingly nice.  A shame really, that could have been a better story.)

We saw the 117 over the door on the first pass and went to park the car in a nearby garage after the second time around, once we confirmed the restaurant menu near the door was in fact a little sign that said “The Lash”.  It’s actually very tastefully done for this sort of occasion, we’re not exactly going to Disneyland here.  We were a few minutes early and the setup was running a little late, so we hung out watching a crew film a skate video.

My first indication that my expectations were way off was when cEvin came up to the gate to say they just needed a few more minutes to setup and then we can come in.  The second one was when our ticket past the bouncer was to know the name of the band.  No lists or anything like that.  That’s actually not a bad way to do it, if it’s small enough that people keep the secret.

So we walked through a metal door on the side of a nondescript building, an experience not unlike the first time walking in from that alley at Valley Bar or next to the green monster of the old 1506 location of the Trunk Space in Phoenix.  At this level of excitement and anticipation, this is about as close as you can get to the experience of walking from one room to another on a strong trip without actually dropping acid.

Inside there’s a few stairs going up into a small room with a bar that wasn’t in service that lead to a hallway not unlike many clubs I’ve been to.  Far fancier than those for sure, the black brick so shiny I could have probably seen my face in them.  I’m more used to dive bars involved in some sort of freak accident with a shrink ray plugged in backwards, but the traffic flow was very familiar.  This is the ancient roman vomitorium to the coliseum.  And when we get to the end of it, I’m completely taken aback.  I didn’t see any capacity signs for that room specifically, but I’d say the fire marshal would probably allow about 50 people.  And this was not at all a packed room.

photo by Daniel Paul.

But the most surprising thing of all:  it felt like most everyone knew each other and we were among some new friends invited to the party.

That’s what made writing this difficult.  The experience was more like a close friend’s birthday party than a show.  i.e. I’m not going to talk about brownies at all, because that’s rude.  I kinda feel guilty that I probably would have if there was a more show-like separation.  It’s far easier to write this bullshit when there’s enough distance between you and the host that the humanity isn’t staring you down in the face so closely you can feel the warmth from its nostrils.  This whole caring about feelings thing gets in the way of proper irreverence!

No doubt about it, if I left a first impression on cEvin Key, its that I am perfectly capable of at least 3 to 4 second bursts of word salad that would look far more classy on a schoolgirl. Fortunately my brain behaved after that, really not sure what happened.  Oh right, he pointed out where Mr. Ka-Spel was.  To which my brain delivered a “does not compute: you’re my favorite musician of all time” sort of non-sense message to my vocal chords in some unholy bastardization of a nerdgasm and a grand mal seizure.  And maybe that chicken legged feeling I got around pretty girls when I was 15.  These tend to be single time events per person, so do plan for that if you decide to inquire about this service.

Self-deprecating hyperbole aside, I was surprised to hear this was his first listening party.  Then again, I hadn’t heard of listening parties of this nature before last year either.  His friend IAMX had the suggestion along with the pledge campaign.  I’d like to give that man a hug — he gives advice and this whole beautiful thing happens.  I’ve found my new role model.

Come on asshole, what about the album itself?  

I was getting to that.  A friend pointed out there’s parallels to the first album in the ways I described it to him.  “Tired Eyes Slowly Burning” sounded a lot like a Skinny Puppy album in production and technique, but when presented with a different story teller provides an entirely different experience.  It wasn’t until their later albums that they really started to have such a starkly divergent sound.  This feels like the same process but applied to Download.  It’s like they asked, what if Download was a pop band?   Don’t get me wrong, it 100% feels like a Tear Garden album, because how could the huge shadows of the personalities of these two not shine through?  But I specifically recall hearing a song well into the album and thinking “this is the first song that also sounds like a Tear Garden song”.

I’m very impressed with this new direction.  I only got to listen to it the once, that was the point of the evening after all, but I was honestly taken aback.  I wish I had a recording to listen to again to say more.  Maybe not everyone will like it, since that goes with the territory of reinvention.  You know, frankly, I’m surprised these guys have anything left to prove.  They’re wildly successful by any measure I care about, and I’d suspect someone was being a troll to argue either of these guys aren’t at least among the best if not the very best at what they each do respectively.

An anonymous source that happens to be married to cEvin Key had some insight:

I have been listening to cEvin working on this album for a long time now. From making electronic noises down in the studio, which is in the basement of the house and when he makes any noise, it rattles the whole 1928 structure of the house. To when Edward started putting vocals on the tracks and Patrick adding his incredible violin.

It was cEvin’s baby! He gets all giddy that he gets to work with Edward. He is a huge fan! It also helped him get back to the studio after the whole skin cancer situation. That was pretty tough, but just knowing he was being able to create such a wonderful and meaningful album kept him going. So did all the pledges and fans!

I hadn’t forgotten about the skin cancer situation, so I don’t know why I didn’t put that together.  When my mother died last year, I performed more and I recorded new material a lot more.  It’s always been these sorts of creative endeavors that’s gotten me through the hard times.  So much of art can be understood better when you look at the history and the people involved in its creation.  I’m sure at least one art major will post somewhere how stupidly obvious this is, but I was a computer science major, so you’re lucky this entire article isn’t written out as a math equation.

I’ll have to listen to the album again when it comes out, but I believe we may be looking at a magnum opus here.  I was so surprised while listening to it that I said something to Edward and the anonymous source above (who was still completely anonymous to me at that moment) about the last couple of puppy albums being “phoned in” in comparison to this.  I probably should have guessed who she was from the look on Ka-Spel’s face.  Even I was shocked to hear those words out of my own mouth.  Coming from me, that’s REALLY saying something.   It’s not that any of the recent Skinny Puppy releases are anything less than top-notch albums.  But learning how much effort cEvin put into this album it makes it clear to me that he really put in a lot of extra effort on this album, all coming from a very deep place.

I felt like a jerk when it was time to do my live feed back to the Rogue Bar in Scottsdale where the rest of my band was playing.  Putting on a costume and acting like a jackass on your phone feels different at your friend’s birthday party than at a concert.  But the show must go on, and Brother John the Revelator did his thing.  And since I’ll do pretty much anything for a close friend, I’m sure Andy Warpigs will be thrilled to see his name in the same sentence as Amanda Palmer.  That was the only reason for that sentence, though I did give Ka-Spel one of his pins at the party.  While not everyone wanted to be on the camera once they realized my claims of a crowd watching the feed live was indeed real, everyone seemed entertained.  Our anonymous source was the last image before the feed cut out, which is unfortunate since she then said something involving the word crunk and Edward and cEvin gave a little smile and wave.

Before the trip, I expected I would have been ushered out of the venue by staff at this point, but I don’t need to explain any further if you read this far.  After the trip, I feel like I’m suffocating being reminded of the time I had to spend time away from my wife, and how hard that was.  Enough so where my gut is telling me I don’t want Skinny Puppy to be on tour right now.  This is cognitive dissonance on a new scale for me, but I’ll get over that.

To be fair, they did offer a brown acid caveat before I got there.  I definitely had a surreal experience that made me question several aspects of reality, though I wouldn’t say it was at all a bad trip.

Album artwork by Peter Clarke. Autographs by cEvin Key and Edward Ka-Spel. Photo by Scott Mitting.

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