SXSW: The Homosexuals Provide the Festival Highlight
AUSTIN - I just had the closest thing to a religious experience since my bar mitzvah.
The Homosexuals played the most dynamic, explosive set I've seen in a couple years. For the half hour immediately following their set at Spiro's all I could think to myself was, "Holy (expletive), I cannot believe I just saw that!"
Before you think this is some kind of joke, it's not. The Homosexuals are a real band, albeit one without a very Google-friendly name. But that wasn't really a concern when the trio formed in the U.K. in the 1970s. Over the course of a couple years the band released a handful of spiky, DIY, post-punk singles that were eventually collected onto something called "The Homosexuals Record." That record is one of the greatest records ever. No doubt, no debate, 100% great.
Free-form radio station WFMU, which sponsored this showcase, put it best when describing the band on its consistently awesome blog: "Crammed with more ideas in a song than most bands deliver in a discography, the Homosexuals were the collision point of urgent punk attack, sideways pop hooks, dub dementia and literally anything else that might exist in a British kitchen at the time."
The songs zigged and zagged, abruptly shifted tempos and employed "random snippets of sound" while always maintaining a pop base. The band imploded without making any real impact except on a handful of record collectors and the album (and its eventual re-release on CD) became one of those rare lost classics that was more classic than lost.
Principal songwriter Bruno Wizard has been back on the radar recently, playing a handful of one-off shows in New York and dabbling in electronic-based new music. My expectations were low going in, but there was absolutely no chance I was going to miss the Homosexuals.
Bruno was backed by a four-piece band from New York, Apache Beat, and older frontmen looking to recreate glories should use his approach. Find some young superfans who can probably play the songs better than the original members ever could and let their youthful energy be a driving force. It didn't take long to realize this was going to work out beautifully. They launched into "Hearts in Exile," a slow-building, dubbed-out gem from "The Homosexuals Record," and it sounded perfect. The band was locked in, the 57-year-old Wizard had the energy and voice of a man half his age and, simply put, it just killed.
Wizard, wearing a Batboy tank-top and looking like a skinnier, gaunter version of Jeremy Irons, babbled semi-coherently between songs but was all business when performing. He sashayed across the stage, throwing his arms out for emphasis during certain lines. As for the set list, it was "hit" after "hit" - "Soft South Africans," then "Neutron Lover," then "Walk Before Imitate," then "False Sentiments." These titles probably mean nothing to you but they are all 5-stars in my iTunes, songs I never dreamed of hearing played live, let alone with all the vitality of the original recordings.
Not enough can be said of the job Apache Beat did. The band hit every cue, not missing a single note. They let Bruno (deservedly) have the spotlight but still made it feel like we were watching a band, not just a dude and some hired hands.
I rarely bop around at shows - after all, I am white - and I especially avoid it when I'm ostensibly working. But there was no containing myself on this night. Jumping, fist-pumping, singing along, "Woo!"-ing. I broke out the entire arsenal for this occasion.
When the band wrapped up its half-hour set with a jarring version of "You're Not Moving the Way You're Supposed To," I just stood there in awe. I went up to some random person who I noticed was also jumping around for most of the set and said, "Oh my god!" I just needed to share this moment with someone who was feeling the same thing. We exchanged a few gleeful "Oh my gods!" and "Did we really just see thats?!" before going our separate ways.
I stayed at the venue for another four hours, partly because WFMU put together a killer lineup (including underground heroes Half Japanese) but also because I just felt the need to stay in the space where I'djust witnessed that performance. It was that great.
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