EDITED: Concert report: Cesium-137, ThouShaltNot, and Information Society at the Trocadero in Philadelphia.

Jan 06, 2008

(obligatory disclaimer: Many links reference my Amazon Associates account.)

On Friday evening, our good friend Derek Pegritz drove down from Pennsylvania to visit Lyssa and I and stay with us for the weekend because we had another wacky and amazing adventure all lined up: A trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to see a concert at the Trocadero Center thrown by Dancing Ferret Productions. A veritable trifecta of awesome music would be played at this venerable Philly venue, Cesium-137, ThouShaltNot, and Information Society. This was to be a most unusual show in that it would be recorded for a future DVD release by Dancing Ferret Disks, and also in that this is the first time that the original members of InSoc would be playing together since 1993 or 1997 (I'm not sure which - well over fifteen years at any rate). Around 1400 EST5EDT yesterday afternoon, the three of us loaded up the TARDIS, connected our new navigation system (a Tomtom One GPS unit), and set course for Philly.

Without stopping off anywhere, the TomTom got us there in a little over three hours' time without getting us lost, something that has never, to my memory, happened before. Once we hit the highway, it was smooth sailing, and we arrived at the Trocadero ninety minutes ahead of schedule. After finding a parking garage within easy walking distance, we walked around the distract for a while and eventually settled on a Thai restaurant called the Siam Cuisine Thai Restaurant (925 Arch Street; Philadelphia, PA, 19107; 215-922-7135). The three of us stopped outside of their window to look over the menu, but were beckoned inside by one of the waitresses, who was enthusiastic about our wanting to check them out, and promised us a wonderful Thai dinner if we came in to warm up.

What a dinner it was: I had pineapple fried rice with chicken for dinner while Lyssa and Pegritz had a yellow curry and tofu dish that were, in all, excellent. The fried rice wasn't oily or over spiced, yet left a pleasant afterburn with each bite. The yellow curry wasn't overly hot and had a nice sweet note on top of it all. They even served a decent coffee (Lavazza, one of my favourites) that was spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. All of us were very pleased with our meals, which were decently priced for the Philly area (averaging $11.50us per dish). I give them one and one-half flareguns: If you're in the Philadelphia area and like Thai food, stop in here. Tell 'em the time travelers sent you. After dinner we hiked back to the Trocadero Theatre to stand in the VIP line before the doors opened. All three of us had opted for the VIP tickets, which meant that we got to go in first and had first crack at the swag, in the form of a free t-shirt once we got in the front door. I'm quite thankful that we sprang for the more expensive tickets because it drizzled the entire time and left us shivering on the sidewalk next to the road. Even under my leather jacket and gauntlets I was quite cold and lost most of the sensation in my hands in short order. One the line started moving we made our way swiftly to the front of the line and were searched by the bouncers. I still curse the moment when I remembered that I still had my trusty Swiss Army Cybertool in my pocket and had to surrender it at the front door. I completely forgot to reclaim it when we left.

As my namesake once said, I feel like I've lost an old friend.

The line to the swag booth backed up all the way to the opposite side of the building and back again toward the front door in a long serpentine - lots of InSoc fans came out for this show and were more than willing to wait. The fact that they were playing one of my favourite albums over the PA system, Dreamcypher, by the Cruxshadows, definitely did much to raise our spirits and body temperature. By the time I finally got to the front I asked for a t-shirt of the original self-titled album's graphic and bought a hooded sweatshirt on top of that. I noticed that they were selling copies of all of the band's CDs at the concession stand, along with a couple of copies of Hack that were autographed ahead of time by the band.

I hasten to add that I'd brought my own copy of Hack to get autographed; this will be important later.

I haven't spoken to Patrick of Dancing Ferret in years, not since I used to hang out with the Pittsburgh goth crowd back in the late 1990's, so I spent a few minutes talking to him and catch up on old times. Patrick, however, was also the promoter, stage manager, financier, liaison, and a bunch of other stuff that I don't know about last night, so Lyssa and I let him go after a short period of time. The three of us ventured onto the dancefloor (which was put to use by My People who Dance the Same Way for much of the night, I was gratified to note), and much to my surprise were greeted by Gwen, Mari, and Gwen's significant other, whom we talked to through much of Cesium-137's set. I caught up with Gwen, who is now working at CMU, and got to hang out with Mari, who is good people all across the board.

The first band to take the stage was a synthpop group called Cesium-137, a group based out of Philadelphia. Their sound is a clean synthetic sound, with the synth loops and melodies that stand up and scream "SYNTHPOP!!" at the top of their lungs. What I most enjoyed about their on-stage set is that they very obviously enjoy performing, and they really get into their songs. Their frontman Isaac is all over the stage with a hand-held microphone, and it's plain to see that he puts everything he has into his voice when the PA system goes on. Their drummer Vince plays a set of drum pads during live shows, and even he gets into his work; in fact, Vince reminds me a little of the members of Ayria on stage. I enjoyed their music so much that I went back to the swag booth to purchase one of their CDs, and the woman working the booth gave me a fistful of stickers and a free copy of one of their EPs, Regrets. It's pretty good - synthpop with a slightly harder edge than usual due to some of the remixes by such outfits as Haujobb. Not bad.

While Cesium-137 was breaking down their gear on stage, I found my eyes drawn to the back of the head of a certain individual standing front and center before the stage. Most of his head was shaved, save for the hair at the top that was spiked up and a blue braid that ran down behind his right ear. He looked, in fact, a lot like Kurt Harland circa Peace and Love, Incorporated. I know that Kurt changes his hairstyle from time to time, and that he wears eyeglasses, so I thought that it might have been Kurt watching the opening acts to get his game stage face on. After Cesium-137 left the stage I kept trying to work my way toward the front to talk to him, but fate intervened (much to my later relief) - no one would move, and so far as I knew he didn't hear me. After conferring with Lyssa a bit, I decided to relax and let it go: If I got to talk to him, I got to talk to him. There are other things in my life that are more important to me (sorry, Insoc fans, I have a fiancee' that I love to pieces - the band isn't the end-all-be-all of my existence).

Pegritz knows the guys from ThouShaltNot quite well - they hang out together from time to time when they get together, so we spent some time before and after their set. They also know how to work a stage - the kilt-wearing Alex Reed wears his heart on his sleeve when he performs, and I loved watching his face change between songs. They played a couple of their better-known songs, including When Everyone Forgets from the Neil Gaiman tribute album Where's Neil When You Need Him?. Jeremy Long is an excellent guitarist, but percussionist and programmer Aaron Fuleki really stole the show. About halfway through their set he switched out his drumkit for a rig that was part marching band marimba, part array of drum pads slaved to a synthesizer. Once on his feet he was all over the stage - I love it when musicians lose themselves in their music, and I'm fairly certain that he did so. All too soon it was over, and the crowd anxiously awaited the coming of Information Society.

The house lights went down. Three rear projection screens clicked on, displaying the turquoise and black InSoc logo. One by one, shadowy figures came from the stage left and right: The first manned a bank of synthesizer, samplers, and a laptop computer. Paul Robb was back on stage. Next, a talller figure carrying a home-built guitar/synthesizer/drum machine: James Cassidy, the Great Kazmeyer. Last and certainly not least, crawling out from under the rear-projection screens was Kurt Harland, Trap Vector himself.

InSoc played songs from all through their history, going as far back as 1982 as well as playing a couple of songs from their latest album. They even played some very rare material, such as the unreleased track Jonestown and a song that had been released on their first EP way back in 1983. In between every song were Kurt's trademark antics and sarcasm, ranging from "Insert snide anti-corporate comment here." to "As you can see, we were ahead of our time, which is another way of saying 'not well liked.'"

Everyone's getting up in years; Kurt's pushing 45, if I'm doing the math correctly. He's put on quite a bit of weight since he got married, but actually looks good with a paunch. Distinguished. Fatherly, in an "I can still get away with wearing pigtails" kind of way. They still look good, though, and bring a lot of energy to the stage. I used to be one of the #insoc regulars in the late 1990s'; I don't recall Kurt swearing very much, if at all. Like many techies, he seems to have developed quite a facility for vulgarity in recent years. Also, I've noticed that while on stage his duties are largely singing and smacking drum pads to play back samples (usually Star Trek related) - as far as I know he doesn't touch a keyboard during stage performances. Still, they put on one hell of a show. I'm quite proud to have been there with Lyssa and Pegritz. The sarcasm, the sound, the Subgenius-esque video show in the background (rife with subliminal references and footage from their older music videos), Kurt's running commentary and posing like a kewpie doll on bathtub crank, I haven't felt anything like this show before. I found myself singing along to the songs I knew and dancing happily in my little place on the dance floor. Kurt was apparently ill during this show, and at one point asked anyone in the audience for cough drops to soothe his throat. He also left the stage a couple of times for water, and possibly to rest. James and Paul kept on without even slowing down, troopers that they are. One thing that I noticed was that the lyrics changed here and there, something that I very much enjoy hearing at a concert because it means that things are shifting a little, growing, and changing - songs, like people, don't stay the same through their entire lives. During Make It Funky the band left the stage "on a secret mission" and came back wearing trench coats with cauls and black fedoras, ostensibly as Men In Black for the song Growing Up With Shiva, which is about the Cold War and growing up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over one's head.

I'd like to give my thanks to CMack1 and Patrick Bateman for their comments on the InSoc website which contained the set list for last night (quoted in its entirety without permission - this isn't my work!). I'd also like to thank commenter 'EE' for the corrected setlist:

  1. The Introduction to Synthesizer

  2. Introduction to Synthesizer

  3. Peace and Love, Incorporated

  4. Wrongful Death

  5. Seeds of Pain

  6. Walking Away

  7. Baby Just Wants

  8. Burning Bridges

  9. Think

  10. Jonestown

  11. Make It Funky

  12. Growing Up With Shiva

  13. I Like the Way You Werk It (They showed parts of the music video in the background; unfortunately, my clip wasn't a part of it.)

  14. Run Away

  15. Back In the Day

  16. Running

  17. Are 'Friends' Electric? (The Gary Numan cover from Don't Be Afraid)

  18. What's On Your Mind? (Pure Energy) (encore)


After the show was over and the final note of What's On Your Mind? sounded, we said our goodbyes, to the Pittsburgh contingent that had journeyed far to see this show, and headed for the front of the Trocadero to get our coats. After a few minutes on a hunch, I went back into the concert space and got to meet Paul Robb and James Cassidy, who were breaking down their gear and signing autographs for the fans. I went up to the stage and talked with Paul a bit about his Hakatak work and wished him luck on tour. Jim was off to the side, and after the people cleared a bit I talked to him for a while, and got his (very elaborate) autograph. Kurt, on the other hand, was mobbed by fans, and before I could talk to him, site security had everyone move out into the lobby so that they could close everything up. Lyssa and I followed. I don't know where Pegritz was - I think he was hanging out with ThouShaltNot.

Kurt seems to be a magnet for two things: Hardcore fans, and drunken women who want everything on them autographed (almost - no undergarments or skin were subjected to Kurt's Sharpie). I think that he started to lose his patience with it all - at one point, he autographed one woman's copy of Synthesizer (which is mostly colored black) on the black part of the disk (but then autographed the liner notes, which are CRT-green in hue). In fact he was mobbed: It took about a half hour to get his attention for longer than an instant. Much to my surprise, he remembered me from the days of irc.insoc.org, and we chatted for a while about people we knew from back then and what had happened to them. He too was nice enough to autograph my copy of Hack. All too soon we had to leave for home because the time grew late and we needed to rest at some point, and so the three of us headed back to the garage to pick up the car and set course for home.

However, while waiting for Kurt to fend off the ravening hordes of fans (some of whom who'd flown into this States specifically for this show) and drunken females throwing themselves at him (literally - Kurt had nearly been glomped by one individual), I ran into the individual who'd been standing up front at center stage.

Click.

Press pause.

Hair. Chains and elaborate closure mechanisms on the front of his longcoat. Small, black-rimmed spectacles. Is that Rogue??? He knows Patrick Rodgers and his band's signed to Dancing Ferret; he just got married, but would he be traveling again so soon afterward? This is a guy who goes on tour every year, after all... maybe... I don't know.. stranger stuff than this happens to me.

Resume.

I caught the guy's eye. Point. "Rogue?" I mouthed.

Puzzled look.

"Rogue?" I asked again as the Brasilian kid to my left talks with Kurt about how long his flight was.

Finger behind the ear - he can't hear me. I realise that the guy's not quite as tall as I thought he was as he circles around the back of the crowd and stands next to me.

"Are you Rogue?" I asked, suddenly feeling like a idiot. Hey, it's worth a shot.

"No, Nigel from Platform One," he replied.

Pause. Rewind five seconds.

nice -n -10 'play --resume'

"You do realize that you're the spitting image of Rogue - it's scary."

He shrugged. "I'm sorry. It happens sometimes," Nigel told me.

He handed me a copy of his demo CD-5 for my embarassment, which I happen to be listening to as I write this entry. Everything I've heard so far is synthpop that reminds me a lot of Neuropa. It's actually not bad. Given that I'm listening to a home-burned CD-single, their full-scale productions are probably quite a bit different. If I can get hold of one of their albums I'll give it a listen and write about it. What I will say is that I'm enjoying what I'm hearing right now, and I think that they've got potential.

Pegritz, Lyssa, and I took to the streets once again, paid our parking fee at the garage, and headed back to the TARDIS to head home. I hooked the GPS up again and started up the engine while everyone else got comfortable the car, and then we set out for home. Not thirty seconds later, we found ourselves stopped by a police car. "Did you know that you're going the wrong way on a one way street?" he asked me.

"About thirty seconds ago, when we saw all the headlights headed right for us. Could you please tell us how to get back to the highway, we're trying to get back to Washington, DC," I said sheepishly.

We wound up getting stuck in the cross-bar crowds that clog the streets of Philadelphia late on Saturday nights in our attempt to start the trek southward once again. Our GPS unit tried to get us to take a shortcut through a parking garage when we could easily have just kept going straight on Market Street and gotten to our destination without too much trouble. All told, this added an extra twenty minutes or so onto our travel time. Once we got onto the highway it was smooth sailing, and we arrived home once again safe and sound around 0400 EST5EDT today, whereupon we collapsed until well after noon local time.

That catches things up pretty well, I should think. Off to bed, and thus to work tomorrow.

Oh, here are my photographs from the show (taken by Lyssa because her photographic skills are much better than mine). Lyssa, the gods bless and smile upon her, also recorded some video footage from the show to her camera, which I will upload to Google Video and post as soon as possible.