Living Things Make Political Point With Guitars, Blow-Up Dolls

St. Louis band wasn't shy about putting world events front and center at SXSW.

AUSTIN, Texas — While most of the music industry was partying hard at South by Southwest, the Living Things were paying mind to something that was happening in the Mid by Mideast.

The St. Louis band wasn't above having a good time in Austin like everyone else, but since it had six shows to play (including one with Perry Farrell as his backing band), the group figured some of that stage time could be spent talking about Iraq, especially since the shows were taking place just as news was breaking of the largest air assault in Iraq since the beginning of the March 2003 invasion.

"It's not even a thing being addressed here this week," bassist Eve Berlin pointed out.

"You would have thought it would be, but where's the forum or panel for this?" frontman Lillian Berlin said. "It's absent from [SXSW] because they've made entertainment escapist. What's happening with the bombings in Iraq is a wake-up call for a lot of people, but this has been going on for months, and it needs to not take such a large, extreme event for people to start talking about it. There's a lot of young people dying and getting critically wounded, getting handicapped, and it's upsetting."

Don't get the Living Things wrong — they rock just as hard as the next band. But like Rage Against the Machine or System of a Down before them, the Living Things mix rock and rage so their sound and fury signifies something (see "Iconoclastic Living Things Take A Page Or Two From George Bush"). Still, it's not always easy to get people to be receptive to the sociopolitical messages in songs like "Bom Bom Bom," "Bombs Below," "I Owe" and "March in Daylight," which run the gamut of attacking the Bush administration to criticizing parents and teachers for pushing drugs like Ritalin and Prozac on schoolchildren (they call it crack cocaine for kids).

"People don't want to face the facts," Lillian said. "It's upsetting, but I'm not going to change for it. I'm going to keep beating down the wall until it sinks into people's heads. But keep it fun, or you become what you're preaching against."

Part of the fun, then, is how the band gets the message across when it's not in the lyrics. Such as burning a picture of George W. Bush onstage and dousing it with the bandmembers' own bodily fluids. Or throwing meat at a Bush blow-up doll. Or flogging dominatrix types wearing Bush and Rumsfeld masks.

"At every show, it's a different atmosphere, and different stuff happens," Lillian said. "The best form of entertainment is the kind of escapism where you walk away learning something, thinking something, when you say, 'There's more to the picture than I'm being told.' So you can relax, kick back, see great music, and at the same time, fight the war in our country. That's why I respect George Clooney. He makes films you can go eat popcorn to and go away and go, 'Man, I did not realize that.' "

Of course, not everyone has the same reaction to seeing a Living Things show. A couple of years ago, Lillian was attacked in Dallas and shot at after an anti-Bush gig that didn't quite please the locals. "My whole take is that it's important for Americans to have weapons, and down in Texas, people carry all the time, and they're usually pretty responsible," Lillian said. "But when someone fired a gun off at me, that's abusing that right."

Still, he'll fight for your right to carry a weapon, not to mention your right to party — especially since this country was founded on the basis that people should have, among other freedoms, the right to bear arms and the right to assemble, so that if they need to overthrow an oppressive government, they can. Of course, he'd rather you'd try voting first.

"That's the basis of the Constitution," Lillian said. "The government is for the people, by the people. And once they stop working for us, you can reinstate a new government. New Orleans, 9/11, the Iraq war — that's three strikes as far as I'm concerned. And I think the patriotic thing to do is speak out about these things and start voting for people who will clean up the mess. It's too late if we wake up at 65 and realize there's no Social Security."

Living Things tour dates, according to their publicist:

  • 3/24 - New Orleans, LA @ The Parrish
  • 3/25 - Tallahassee, FL @ Floyd's Music Store
  • 3/27 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
  • 3/28 - St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre
  • 3/29 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room
  • 4/09 - Tempe, AZ @ Hayden Square
  • 4/11 - Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
  • 4/12 - Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
  • 4/14 - Portland, OR @ Dante's
  • 4/15 - Vancouver, BC @ The Plaza
  • 4/16 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
  • 4/19 - Concord, CA @ Bourbon Street Bar & Grill
  • 4/20 - Orangeville, CA @ The Boardwalk
  • 4/21 - San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
  • 4/23 - Santa Ana, CA @ Galaxy Concert Theatre
  • 4/24 - West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour
  • 4/25 - Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar Vegas
  • 4/28 - San Marcos, CA @ The Boulevard
  • 4/29 - Indio, CA @ Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
  • 5/7 - East Rutherford, NJ @ Meadowlands Sports Complex