Live: Cornershop Show Gusgus How It's Done

Tjinder Singh's melodies needed no artsy slides to communicate with small Milwaukee crowd.

MILWAUKEE -- I was excited about seeing the nine artsy-fartsy over-achievers who comprise Gusgus live.

But I was disappointed by what I found out last Tuesday: That is, when it comes to playing live, the

not-so-artsy-fartsy rockers of Cornershop dance musical circles around these guys. Gusgus need only

have studied their excellent opening act more closely to learn how to overcome their many

short-comings on stage.

I knew there was something wrong the minute I walked into The Rave. Usually, it's a concert hall like

any other. But not on this night. Tables were sprinkled on the periphery of the area that white Detroit

rappers Insane Clown Posse had doused with the soft drink Faygo only days before. Clearly, this was an

art show, and those who didn't want to partake in such boorish activities as dancing could ponder the

event from a nice seat at the sidelines. Coupled with a low attendance audience of artsy-fartsy

late-twentysomethings, it was a depressing recipe for boredom.

To begin with, Gusgus were brought to the stage under a slide that read "GG" in huge white letters. One

young wag near me uttered, "GG Allin?" and, fearing the feces-flinging and violence notorious of the

deceased rocker, added, "I'm moving to the balcony." And for the next hour, we were treated to slides

and projections often accompanied by a terse, suggestive caption: "As for being turned on by

sound, why not?" "I shall come when I'm ready." "The concept is fairly easy to

understand."

Some of these chilly maxims had a small "GG" at the end of the sentence like a trademark. (Perhaps

they were concerned that Barbara Kruger would steal some of their phrases for her photographs.)

In comparison, Cornershop was all aggression -- nothing abstract about them. While the Indian

Punjabi-Velvet Underground hybrid droned on at times for lengthy interludes, band leader Tjinder Singh crafted

some gorgeous melodies to ride atop those drones, and drummer Nick Simms beat his drums with a

vengeance.

On top of Simms' dangerously inventive 4/4 beat, tracks such as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Cornershop/Butter_The_Soul.ram"> "Butter The Soul"

(RealAudio excerpt) that sound self-indulgent and aimless on the band's new disc, When I Was

Born For The 7th Time, were retooled in a more forceful direction. Singh even had his own

kitsch-hippie color slides that lent the proceedings a warmth completely absent with Gusgus.

Still, their songs aside, my favorite Gusgus backscreen caption was "My expectations for him are very

high," pasted on top of an image of a man sliding a balloon back and forth under his ass. Would he pop

it? I thought. Could he maintain control? Or did I like it simply because it was such a perfect metaphor

for the show itself? Your guess is as good as mine.

It's clear, however, that Gusgus don't want to pop. At least they didn't that night. They merely expected

to maintain their steady flow of sound on top of their unfunky rhythms. And with five synthesizer boys,

three singers on stage and a ninth boy working the slides, they sadly did just that. Even their biggest

(only) hit, "Believe"

(RealAudio excerpt), off the new one, Polydistortion, had its pumping "Pump Up The Volume"

backbeat drowned out by a bedrock of computer fog that failed to drone, accumulate, propel or

undulate. It just got louder and duller. "It was like an interactive version of their album," a blue,

spikey-haired 29-year-old audience member told me after the show.

I just wish I could've been sure that wasn't an insult.

Their last number, whatever that was, was perhaps their best because it had the most energetic dance

beat. With rapid-fire images of each band member flashing behind and a rumbling bass that

weeble-wobbled the eardrum, it made for a classic, quasi-psychedelic boogie experience.

But Cornershop had them beat from every angle.

From leaving the stage mid-song at points, and saying nothing to his smiling countenance in the audience

during intermission, Singh generated more personality than the three court jesters of Gusgus' avant

garde, abstracted, slide-showed, captioned-rock put together.

If a concentration in other media was to blame for their dull debut disc, then hearing Gusgus' music in a

context that could incorporate many of those media could only enhance the music, right?

Wrong. [Tues., Dec. 2, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]