Screaming Headless Torsos: Live!! in New York & Paris
Live!! in New York & Paris
2 DVDs (153 min)
We forge our personal connections with music based on any number of (sometimes random-seeming) factors, but often it's just a matter of time and place. I can still remember the afternoon I stumbled into the listening station at my local music retailer and walked out with a disc that first grabbed my eye because of its outrageous title and cover graphics. I took the original Screaming Headless Torsos home, played it loud, and entered into a deep trance-like state that I've rarely revisited since.
The Torsos first shouted their recipe for rejuvenation to the world in 1995, and they're still shouting it today. It's not restless invention, deviant energy, or a deadly groove per se, but a lumpy coctail of all three that sucks you in almost against your wishes and demands that you submit to the power of the moment. Since then the hard-working jazz/funk/metal/hardcore group has returned to disc twice with live (1996) and studio (2005) efforts, plus various related spinoffs, including a non-screaming instrumental reincarnation (2001) and a one-off side project called Black Cherry Acid Lab (2002).
For those who don't necessarily have time and place on their side, this brand new double-DVD set is the next best thing to seeing the Torsos in person. The first disc documents a red-hot 1996 Knitting Factory performance in New York City and the second a somewhat more uneven 2004 New Morning gig in Paris. Between the two, you can get a pretty good idea of where these boys have been and where they're going. The cramped stage (especially at the KF) doesn't always allow for perfect camera angles, but there's plenty of action to feast your eyes on. The sound, however, is uniformly crystalline, sharp, and well-resolved, packing megajoules of vital energy.
Vocalist Dean Bowman, who's capable of velvety softness, often breaks loose into raps, growls, and snarlsand yes, a fair share of screaming, of coursebut never gratuitously. In that respect he's like guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, whose legendary virtuosity is the main reason to check this group out. When Fuze takes solos, he voyages deep into outer harmonic space, tossing glowing shards of sound into the air without turning back to see where they might fall. The simultaneous contrast between exacting precision and wild abandon is infectiously energizing.
Especially on the first disc, you'll want to watch the interplay and tongue-and-groove fit between drummer Gene Lake and percussionist Daniel Sadownick. In many ways Lake is the hidden turbine driving the group, laying down polyrhythms, funk, metal, and hip-hop rhythms that shift regularly on the fly; but I never properly appreciated the sophistication and color of Sadownick's added percussion until I saw it on film.
These are songs, at least by somebody's conventional definition, but they're so blistering hot I don't think anyone else will be touching them with a ten-foot pitchfork. Such is the way of time and place, and if you want to tap into the primal source, I can't think of too many better times or places to start.
Visit the Screaming Headless Torsos on the web for extended RealVideo samples.
Personnel: Dean Bowman, vocals; David Fiuczynski: guitar; Fima Ephron: bass; Daniel Sadownick: percussion; Gene Lake: drums.
Contents: DVD 1Jazz is the Teacher, Word to Herb, Graffiti Cemetery, Arline, Woe to the Conquered, Panic 178, Just for Now, Cult of the Internal Sun, Darryl Dawkins, Vinnie, Smile in a Wave, Hope. Recorded at the Knitting Factory, New York City, 1996. DVD 2Just for Now, Vinnie, No Survivors, Word to Herb, Daniel Sadownick, Sakura, Phoenix Rising, Graffiti Cemetery, Arcadia Finlandis, Cult of the Internal Sun, Free Man. Recorded at New Morning, Paris, 2004. Produced by Lian Amber.