NEW YORK — Some of the city’s rock avant-garde came here to the Cooler, a
spartan club in Manhattan’s meat-packing district, to raise money for a fallen comrade
Drummer Steve Shelley of noise-rockers Sonic Youth, singer Alan Vega of
electronic-rock duo Suicide, experimental turntablist DJ Olive and ’80s no-wavers the
Bush Tetras were on hand at the benefit for Simeon — synth player and singer for the
Silver Apples — who broke his neck in a van accident on Nov. 1.
The Silver Apples’ innovative music in the late 1960s pioneered the use of electronics in
rock music, included on such songs as “Decatur” (RealAudio excerpt). The Apples
reunited in 1996 after a 26-year hiatus, but their future was thrown into doubt after the
accident on the New York State Thruway, which left Simeon (born Simeon Coxe III)
According to the band’s official website (http://www.silverapples.com), Simeon’s
condition has been steadily improving, but he lacks health insurance and faces
staggering medical bills.
“Simeon got a bad break,” said Shelley as he packed up his drums after performing a
jazzy, wholly improvised set with experimental guitarist Loren Mazzacane.
“I know how tough it is for musicians who don’t have insurance,” Shelley said. “Just to
walk into a hospital is expensive.”
Shelley was on a busman’s holiday from Sonic Youth, whose latest album — A
Thousand Leaves — was released earlier this year and featured the single “Sunday” (RealAudio excerpt). At the Cooler,
he banged out complex tribal rhythms with such force that he broke one of his sticks in
According to Shelley, he’s not a longtime fan of the Silver Apples, who released their first
album in 1968. “I heard about them after the fact — when they did reissues [in the ’90s],”
he said. “I can see that they’ve traveled a similar line, musically, to a lot of stuff I like.”
Conversely, Don Fleming — onetime leader of the guitar-pop band Gumball — said he
has admired the Silver Apples for years. “I’m way into the oscillator thing,” Fleming said,
referring to Simeon’s unique use of electronic filters. “The first time I met Simeon, it just
tripped me out.”
Fleming played a set at the benefit that matched Shelley and Mazzacane’s in ferocity, if
not duration. The improbably tall, silver-haired guitarist was accompanied only by Dee
Pop, the drummer of the Bush Tetras. The two played a single song, which Fleming later
said was a modified version of the theme song of one of his old bands, the Velvet
Monkeys. Over the course of the song, Fleming played grungy riffs, squealing feedback
and single-note, surf-rock runs. He finished by abusing his Fender guitar, appearing to
stop just short of smashing it to pieces.
“I thought it was fitting that sonic radicals would show up to salute the Silver Apples,”
Unfortunately, there weren’t many of them; no more than 100 people were in the
audience. “Obviously, this isn’t the big sell-out crowd we needed [to raise money],”
Fleming said. But maybe, he said, “It’ll help a little bit, though.”
The Bush Tetras, who emerged from New York’s deliberately abrasive no-wave scene in
the early ’80s and who worked with Fleming on an upcoming album, played one of the
more conventional sets of the night. Singer Cynthia Sley was a mesmerizing, theatrical
frontwoman who quivered and shouted her way through the band’s arty, dense songs.
Before Sley had time to leave the stage, Vega and DJ Olive rushed onstage. Vega had
been scheduled to perform a headlining set with his Suicide bandmate, Martin Rev; but
Rev failed to show, leaving Vega no choice but to perform an unrehearsed set with DJ
Olive. Vega later said the two hadn’t met before they took the stage.
With DJ Olive providing stark, modern beats, Vega performed an impromptu medley of
Suicide songs, including “Cheree.” It was a daring performance — and the audience
screamed its approval as Vega shook spasmodically, screamed into his microphone and
indulged in incomprehensible stage patter.
“[Martin] Rev couldn’t make it. But that Olive was quite good,” Vega said afterward.
Club-goer James Loman, 23, who approached Vega for an autograph after his set, said
he was disappointed with the rest of the show’s lineup. “They should have gotten more
electronic acts,” Loman said, fretting that many of the night’s acts failed to reflect the
digital spirit of the Silver Apples.