The real Skinny... The late Dwayne Goettel wasn't a founding member of Skinny Puppy, but he might as well have been. When Goettel joined the Vancouver band in 1986, his synth flourishes and inventive sampling broadened the band's dense creative canvas as much as lead singer Nivek Ogre's ludicrous vocals and macabre lyrics had confined it. With Goettel's help, Skinny Puppy's mid- to late-'80s work set the tone for a handful of legitimate inheritors (Nine Inch Nails, Nitzer Ebb) of its spine-chilling legacy, not to mention a few forgettable imitators (Filter). Although critical opinions of Puppy's work have traditionally ranged from the overwhelmingly negative to the somewhat standoffish, the group is still considered by its many fans to be the archetype of the ongoing industrial revolution.
Budding music promoter Jason Whitmire is one such proponent of Skinny Puppy -- and of Goettel's (often) behind-the-scenes brilliance. And while it's been almost two years since Goettel died of a heroin overdose, Whitmire has organized a concert in his honor, which is scheduled for Saturday at the Abyss.
"I've been wanting to do this for a while, but I haven't been able to bring it together until now," he says. "The last time Skinny Puppy played here, they drew like 3,000 people. It was a big show, and they have a big support base here in Houston."
Whitmire manages Alien Swirl and Secret Sunday, neither of which will be playing at the event. The local acts that will be featured have all been influenced, on one level or another, by Goettel's tenure with Skinny Puppy, not to mention his time with Hilt, Tear Garden and Doubting Thomas. Though Goettel's stamp is all over those side projects, most of the bands playing the tribute will focus on Skinny Puppy material. Saturday's lineup includes Bamboo Crisis, Violent Blue and Dethkultur BBQ, along with the elusive industrial/noise projects Proving Grounds, Adinae and Derrighan, the last of whose ambient "audio files" are only found bouncing around the Internet.
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Puppy's last gasp came just last year, with the disappointingly glib The Process. By the time of that CD's release, Ogre had quit the band and Goettel was dead; some swan song. Still, the band continues to rage unabated within vintage discs such as 1986's Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, its first outing with Goettel, and VIVIsectVI, a 1988 rail against vivisection and other forms of brutality.
"[Their music] is very weird; I don't know how else to describe it," says Brigid Sade of Violent Blue. "The lyrics are extremely dark, though I've never been able to understand a word they say. It's eerie -- extremely gothic."
In fact, Violent Blue's more discreet experiments with sampling and other electronic modes of expression seem downright pretty compared to prime Puppy. "[With us] everything's real soft and flowing," Sade says, adding that she won't even attempt to approximate Skinny Puppy's horrific angst. "I'm not going to scream my head off and sing through distortion like [Ogre] does."
Bamboo Crisis, on the other hand, is crafting its set to stay as true as possible to the real item in sound and spirit.
"We're approaching it probably more straightforward than some of the other bands," says Bamboo Crisis leader Ken Gerhard, who also plays bass and does programming for Violent Blue. "Our music was very heavily influenced by Skinny Puppy -- more so to the mainstream side of the band, as far as the club scene goes. I don't think they really intended to be dance oriented, but it's always been a rhythmic type of music. That's sort of the basis for Bamboo Crisis, too."
Still, it's unlikely that any of the performances will approach the ungodly spectacle that was often Skinny Puppy live. One especially graphic tour had Ogre cutting himself to bits using cheap props and gallons of fake blood while, behind him, scenes of various gory atrocities were projected on a backdrop. Some things, after all, are better left in the past.
"They were way ahead of their time," Gerhard says. "The kind of music they were doing may even be the mainstream of the next 30 years. It's got that dark, futuristic sound that I think people will eventually relate to."
I hope that won't be in my lifetime.
Tribute fever, a continuation... As if local shows honoring the Rolling Stones and the Who within weeks of one another weren't enough classic-rock nostalgia to stomach, Led Zeppelin will now be taking its beating on a Houston stage. Friday, the Urban Art Bar will host the first of what they say will be an annual Zeppelin tribute night. The evening will begin with an acoustic set from Ken Valentino (I can already hear the distant echoes of "Over the Hills and Far Away"), to be followed by the Sundowners, Rosebud, Alien Swirl, Think Tank, the Zealots and Under the Sun. Go easy on "Stairway to Heaven," okay guys?
-- Hobart Rowland
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