Posted on July 27, 2008


Boston is a split up, fragmented town in all kinds of senses of the idea. It’s kind of the way navigating the city’s old crooked cow-path streets is next to impossible for anyone who hasn’t spent a large chunk of their time just trying to get lost in the hopes that they’ll eventually figure it out. A friend from out of town decided that this place must have been designed by a five-year old with fingerpaints, which is actually really appealing, isn’t it? I mean outside of getting somewhere you NEED to go for the first time on time (which is impossible). You can follow what appears to be a straight line and end up in places you’d never even have a clue you were heading toward. Everything’s a mess and, if you’re lucky, you might learn to appreciate that.

Kirsten Malone was one of the people that surely not only appreciated it, but thrived in it. She was the kind of person that embodied what’s going on in the vaguely connected events, shows, and parties that could be conceived as the Boston underground arts scene. There is some serious passion and open-mindedness (and passion for open-mindedness) going on when you have people throwing together avant-jazz improv shows in punk rock houses, DIY art galleries made up of hundreds of Polaroids, and kids in short pants and lawn chairs who commandeered Linden Street in Allston this summer in the name of 4-Square. I mean the better things get, the less sense they make! Malone was the kind of person who could provide the glue, in a way.

As was written about all over the Internet, bulletin boards, and publications from Pitchfork to the Boston Globe, Kirsten was hit by a car while riding her bike at the intersection of Franklin and Lincoln Streets, a desolate spot of Lower Allston at the foot of the Cambridge Street caged pedestrian footbridge. She suffered severe head injuries and later died at Mass General Hospital.

Two long months later, things have come together in the form of this show, a benefit in name for her and the eventual release of a CD by her band, The Faux, which had finished recording an album’s worth of material before the accident. The Faux, which Malone had formed with longtime collaborator Joseph Coelho, was one of the ubiquitous bands on locals’ must-see lists, mixing aggressive hardcore energy and Malone’s creeping Castlevania synth lines and wrapping it in art-punk grime before tossing it into crowds’ faces like a hand grenade.

That the Faux was just a fraction of Malone’s persona should give you an idea of how much she had going on– just Google her name if you really want to get into it. Tons of art, tons of activities, tons of friends.

The Middle East show is, then, a fitting and in some ways unlikely tribute to her and her music and art. A lot of credit for the show goes to Ben Sisto, a local promoter (under the banner of Honeypump Productions) and friend of Malone, for getting such a weirdo show like this into the Middle East in the first place. The bill was packed with bands and musicians who crossed paths with Malone and the Faux in the last few years and Malone’s eclectic reach is obvious. There is a lot of dancey 80s synthesizer action, led by Plunge Into Death, UV Protection and Mahi Mahi. There is hip-hop–Cathy Cathodic rhyming and crooning over a live band. There is pensive post-punk in the form of Shore Leave. And there is the indescribable–the scrap-metal Neptune, the skronk-metal Gold, the baton-twirling Laurel Kurtz, the synth-helmet-hardcore Fat Day.

The most noticeable thing about the music this night is that, shot through the enormous speakers at the Middle East, a lot of the electronic-based bands sound impossibly enormous. Plunge Into Death and Mahi Mahi, both almost entirely electronic drums and synth sounds, sound like rechristened masters of the universe with this system. It’s in fact difficult to even ID Plunge Into Death as the same band as the one on their albums or the one used to playing through the styrofoam cup-like speakers at O’Briens. The show they put on tonight is almost too surreal for words–involving big disco goth beats, samples from all over the place, a guitar that looked like it might have been plugged into a laptop, a frontman swaying around like a punk Neil Diamond, and two hype-men in red jumpsuits shouting backups and dancing all over the place (FYI that’s Mac and TD from Big Digits).

The last time I had seen Mahi Mahi was in the dining hall at Mass Art last spring, and while that was cool because you could stand close enough to see every button and LED on the drummer’s digital drum pads, pumping all the keys, vocals and drums through the band’s small white PA speakers can leave a little up to the imagination. Compared to that, this show is like seeing a movie in a theatre after you’ve seen the edited-for-tv one on Fox with bad reception. For once, people in the audience are being blown away by the actual sound coming off the stage and not just the idea or energy of the band.

And all of that is great, right? But isn’t this going a little against the whole underground art-rock aesthetic? Weren’t these bands created out of playing against the odds in basements and lofts? Isn’t that most of the fun of going to DIY shows–that you never know what’s going to happen, that you never know if all the equipment is going to break, if the bar owner is going to say “That’s enough of that noise” and turn the power off and the TVs above the bar back up? That we’re all somehow getting away with something a little too insane to be real?

Luckily, that aesthetic is both ignored and championed at the same time tonight. Who cared if these bands, for once, had professional sound guys manning the boards and didn’t have to duct tape the mics to the stands? This shit sounds awesome, every band was more than up to the task of rocking it, and most importantly, we were getting away with something a little too insane to be real. This was the Middle East, used to selling out shows of big national touring bands on record labels with lots of money behind them, sometimes using the restaurant to cater little backstage dinner parties for A&R guys, label execs and whoever else is following the music biz cash trail.

But tonight, Fat Day is up there playing ten second songs, draping the stage in huge, blinding white lights strobing along with the drums and guitars and sometimes playing what almost resemble church hymns on helmets with built-in home-made synthesizers they all wear the entire show. Tonight UV Protection is singing in operatic falsettos about data entry and quality assurance. Tonight Neptune is finishing the entire night off with a Go-Go’s cover sung through a microphone worn by the drummer as part of a vaguely creepy early 1900’s medical-looking piece of headwear.

Tonight there were a bunch of relatively unknown and positively strange bands and their best friends, playing and dancing for no other reason than to remember another great friend.
[Originally Appeared in SOMEOTHERMAGAZINE.COM 10.1.04]

Posted in: Live Reviews