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Concert Review (NYC): Butthole Surfers at Webster Hall, July 29

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For one night, New York City was thrown back to 1987. In an age where the trendy have become hypersensitive and hyper-ironic, where rent in the East Village is at levels unimaginable a quarter century ago, Webster Hall had a searing reminder of indie rock’s more volatile roots that’s about as far from today’s Sufjan Stevens, Zach Braff worshipers as possible. The Butthole Surfers, a band with one of the worst reputations in pre-Nevermind alternative rock, returned to New York for the first time since the beginning of the decade. The night ended in lead singer Gibby Haynes assaulting the sound guy and nearly getting arrested, fans throwing bottles and nearly rioting, and with Throbbing Gristle frontman Genesis P-Orridge, of all people, trying to calm the crowd down. For fans old and new, all expectations had to be met.

There were problems with the sound all night. I was standing near the stage on the right third of the auditorium, and from there the monitors were turned so low that they were barely audible. This may be less of an issue for the School of Rock kids and openers MC Trachiotomy and th’ Terribleness, but for the Butthole Surfers, who depend on the distortion of singer Gibby Haynes’ Gibbytronix machine, it’s pretty essential.

That didn’t stop the Surfers from rampaging through a set consisting of mostly 80s tracks such as “22 Going On To 23,” “Sweat Loaf,” and “Moving to Florida,” but it became an increasing issue throughout the night. Eventually, Gibby got into an altercation with the sound guy and was warned by security repeatedly, until he eventually threw a bottle. Security had seen enough and whisked him off stage. He kept insisting on doing an encore, but left the stage anyway. No lights went up, though background music played. Some people weren’t sure if this was an elaborate gag or not. Obviously, those people didn’t know what to expect from the Butthole Surfers.

Butthole Surfers

As an observer who was too young to experience them in their heyday, or even in their 90s major labels days, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had been told not to take acid at the concert (check), and to expect things to be set on fire (didn’t happen), but the end result was something much more spontaneous and alive. No matter how disappointed the fans were (they were more pissed off at the Webster Hall staff than anyone else), this has done nothing but improve the band’s legacy. Some fans had been going to Butthole Surfers concerts since the mid-80s, and others were total newbies. As volatile as Gibby Haynes was, the crowd was even more so. If it wasn’t for security guards perched at every corner of the venue, a riot may very well have erupted.

Some early reports mentioned that Gibby Haynes had been arrested. I was one of the first to report that this rumor was patently untrue. Gibby had been scheduled to DJ at a nearby bar for an afterparty, and when I showed up there at roughly midnight, no one knew whether Gibby would show up. I talked to Paul Leary about the incidently (he looked merely amused on stage when it had happened), and he went on some spiel about the moon being a U.F.O. Serves me right for searching for a straight answer out of a man who hangs out with a Green Lady.

Gibby showed up at 2 a..m to much fanfare, and immediately proceeded to the DJ set. I talked to him as he got a smoke as the night was winding down, when there was virtually no discussion of the incident. He instead talked with MC Trachiotomy’s bassist about New Orleans and other attendees about music gear. He seemed like the punk rocker you’d want to have a beer with, not the one that scared you to pieces. In my exceedingly awkward state, I managed to ask him about what he expected the reaction to be. He took a puff, and said “it will be a binary response — 1 or 0.” Earlier in the night, one 0 was registered by the Webster Hall bartender, who told me he’s never seen a worse behaved band for all the time he’s worked there. I don’t think anyone with an appreciation of the Butthole Surfers would have it any other way.


Photo by Arnold Brower

 

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