Chant's founding member, Bradley Bills, looked like a riveted stegosaurus. Photo: Madelyn Boudreaux
It’s not unusual for a crowd to skip opening bands when a big-name group is headlining, especially on a school night when the doors open at 7, the openers aren’t local friends, and the final act isn’t going to finish up until midnight. When we arrived, right at 7pm, I was a little disappointed at the sparseness of the crowd. My companions and I discussed whether there would be much of a turnout. Several other bands––including a psychobilly show and a noise show––were in town the same night, drawing off a lot of the “dark” music crowd. Additionally, KMFDM hasn’t had any serious play recently despite the release of their 18th studio album, Kunst, in February. We suspected the crowd would remain lean, and that most wouldn’t show up until later.
Folks who waited to show up late made a real mistake. Austin, Texas’ two-piece Chant blew both of the following bands out of the water. Founded in 2004 by Bradley Bills, who also plays drums for Die Krupps, Chant has supported many bigger names in industrial music as part of the big-tent industrial “family” headed by Martin Atkins (Pigface, Public Image Limited), but this is the first time I’ve seen them. It won’t be the last, if I have another opportunity! Joined by recent addition Kristopher Robin (Guild), Bills stomped and thrashed through eight heavy, intense tribal-industrial screeds. As the opening song, “Universal” (which is unreleased, but should be available online in May) began, a smattering of people stood around, watching politely. By the time the second song started, a much larger crowd had formed, pumping fists and making a lot more noise than they had at the onset.
Bills––who reminds me of a cross between Skinny Puppy’s Ogre and Bella Morte’s Andy Dean both in looks and performance style––is acrobatic and dynamic in his performance, climbing on trash cans, banging on a whole stage’s worth of drums and percussive things (including the aforementioned trash cans), while Robin handles the keys and still more drumming. The music recalls Nitzer Ebb and Twitch/Rape and Honey–era Ministry (when Ministry was at its best)––hard, driving, political rants set to more drums than you can shake (or beat) a stick at. The message is one I’ve come to expect from the best industrial bands: Take back your country, revolt, yell a lot, and smash things with a purpose! If the Occupy movement is still around, Chant could be their voice.
Visually, Chant was great, as well. With only two members, a band can risk being overwhelmed on a large stage, but this was not a problem for Chant. In addition to the large number of things to beat on, three large LED light panels backed the stage. These probably induce seizures in some folks as they flashed through the spectrum with the music, blinding the crown repeatedly. The bursts of overwhelming lights created a sense of science-fiction apocalypse. It was like watching a Mad Max–era evangelist preaching to the perverted amid nuclear blasts and rock-star super trooper brain explosions. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Bill’s amazing pieced-together jacket, complete with double rows of enormous spikes down the back, making him look like a rivet-head Stegosaurus. Bills is really cute, and while I watched him gamely chatting with fangirls after the show, I found myself wondering if the spikes aren’t to keep people from hugging him against his will. Or maybe he just likes to perforate car interiors. Either way: well played, sir! Well played!
Looking like five different central-casting answers to a call for a “modern dark band member,” Seattle’s Legion Within took to the stage with a bit of a whimper, definitely not a bang, and never really cranked it up. The gorgeous bass player was fun to watch, but the songs all glided seamlessly into each other, failing to stand out, and the members had a distinct air of people wearing costumes, playing at being a band rather than actually playing rock n’ roll. The singer channeled Peter Murphy, but came across as a kind of a wannabe Jared Louche (who, of course, is a wannabe Bryan Ferry, who is a wannabe David Bowie, but everyone wants to be David Bowie, so that’s kind of a given…). The finale, a long and meandering cover of Bowie’s “Hallo Space Boy,” was the standout, but that was mainly because everyone knows it, not because it was particularly well-performed. Overall, it was a disappointing, wan performance. Throughout the crowd, people muttered that the first and second bands should have been switched. While the stage setup made the choice obvious, and while Legion Within presumably has more cred as the national supporting act, I concur. The energy Chant built up was sucked out of the room by the time Legion Within was done.
Then it was the headliners taking the stage over the strains of Strauss waltzes with founding member Sascha K and Lucia Cifarelli––band member since 2002 and Mrs. K since 2005––front and center, and two guitarists necessary to the work that former member Günter Schulz can do on his own. By the time KMFDM hit the the stage, the crowd had filled out and the floor was actually pretty packed, but if they were enjoying the music, there was almost no dancing, just woots between the staccato machine-gun fire lyrical delivery. The requisitely sexy Cifarelli owned the stage, slithering around in that standard hot-rivet-chick kind of way, and Sascha, of course, growled and pumped and rocked out, reminding us that they are KMFDM, doing it again, KMFDM, going for a swim, KMFDM, wham-bam thank you Jim.
Let this be a lesson: Go see the openers once in a while. You might discover a new favorite band.
Find Chant online at chantproject.com, and sign up for their contests and exclusive releases.