Fear of Dolls, Abney
Park, Written in Ashes
The Catwalk - Feb 2000
~review and photos by Blu
Fear of Dolls
I'll tell you the truth - I went to this
concert just to see Fear of Dolls - a unique and captivating band whose
CD I reviewed last year and I was curious to see how they pull off their
live show. I was in for quite a surprise, not only did Fear of Dolls FLOOR
me with their performance, but Written in Ashes - with a new lineup, made
me stop and take notice.
Fear of Dolls -- how to describe them?
Much like the background wall paper on their website, you don't quite notice
the sharp, violent things at first. The danger isn't overtly obvious...that
is, unless you're the preppy sweat-shirt-wearing half-drunk fella at the
bar who's suddenly stopped midway through a brutish come-on attempt at
the bar maid when he hears Bonni Suval SCREAM out of no where.
Like someone is violently murdering her
on stage. I wish you could have seen the look on the drunkard's face. It
More akin to performance art than just
some gothic band on stage, Fear of Dolls makes seeing a live show a whole
new experience. First you have to understand what they're attempting
to do. On their website it says:
"Bent on creating confrontational
psychological experiences, Fear Of Dolls draw upon a schizophrenic mix
of musical suspense, psychotic nervousness and tension, angelic beauty,
emotional frailty, and violent cacophony. The approach is naïve and
childlike (minimal, exaggerated and irrational), often resulting in what
sounds like parodies of songs; like a child using it's toys to write
music about a murder it has just witnessed."
Do they accomplish this lofty task? Indeed
they do with all the blood and gore and precision of a skilled but deranged
surgeon. The music itself is enough to freak you out if you let it wander
in and through the dark caverns of your mind. Child-like melodies, mixed
up and pushed about by violent nightmares, coarse through your ears. Tiny
bells ring, xylophones chime, dolls talk. They take you on quite a ride.
Its a complex fear-scape of sound and syncopated rhythms (kudos to Bonni
for her carefully placed percussion additions). The drumming by Shaun Richards
is brutal at times - forceful, invading drum beats that smash and interrupt.
Its amazing. Greg and Thomas round out the band with guitar, bass and keys
creating some of the spookiest melodies ever played in minor chords. Its
your childhood nightmares brought to life. Incidentally, it seems quite
fitting that Greg is a huge Edward Gorey fan. He has one of the best
pages I've seen at http://www.fearofdolls.com/gorey.html.
if that was not enough, Bonni puts on a show that is akin to some
of the best theater/stage performances I've ever seen. She's childlike
and laughing and giggling at one point, hair up in cute pig tails, and
suddenly something goes terribly wrong, and she's hyperventilating and
screaming and completely loosing her mind - trying hard to convey some
gruesome incident that's haunting her memories. Its frightening to witness.
I felt alarmed and tense. And those screams - I'd really hate to ask what
she draws on to make those come out so real sounding - they seemed ripped
from some deeply wounded soul and she genuinely looks completely terrified
in the process. In the silence that follows, she's left gasping for breath.
At other points her voice is low and sultry,
vaguely like Mazy Starr yet gruffer. She is intoxicating to watch - not
knowing what face or voice she'll morph into next. I'm left wondering how
crowds in other cities would take their performances. I saw them a second
time last night at the Vogue for a benefit concert and they were just as
shocking and as exhilarating a second time around.
I must preface what I'm about to say with
a note: normally we try NOT to waste our time talking about negative things
on StarVox. Its not productive in the least. We don't slam people in reviews,
but instead, if we can, we offer up constructive criticism or don't talk
about it at all. I was going to skip talking about Abney Park in this concert
review, until several people related similar opinions to me on the matter
so I hope what I write here will be taken as good-hearted advice.
About two songs into their set, Abney Park did a cover song. Not
only was it too early on in their set to play a cover, it was Sisters of
Mercy. Not only was it Sisters of Mercy, it was "This Corrosion." I winced
and shuddered at the bar. That's almost as bad as gothic bands playing
"Bela Lugosi's Dead". You just don't do it. And if you must, do it at the
end or in an encore. And if you must, at least put your own spin on it.
They also covered Radio Head's "Creep"
(which I believe can be heard on their mp3 station). At that point I really
stopped paying attention but others have said there were more cover songs
that night in their set. From my humble stand point, that's just a bad
idea. You don't want to become known as the gothic cover band. Sure, a
cover is fun at times, especially when a band takes it and molds it into
something new (3SKS's version of "Time After Time" is so different you
hardly recognize it as a cover but that "it seems familiar" notion won't
leave you alone until you figure it out). However, the covers Abney Park
did seemed to hold dully to the original form. Don't get me wrong, they
did them well, but that's not very interesting. When I'm out listening
to a band, going to the effort and time to see them in concert - I want
to know what THEY can do, not hear how closely they can play old stand
bys. And perhaps Abney Park has some very good original songs -- but that
was all lost because of the cover songs. Perhaps next time I get to see
them live, I can hear Abney Park - not Abney Park doing The Sisters.
And finally Written in Ashes took the stage.
I had seen them at the Pre-Convergence concert in Portland last year, and
while they were good, they weren't outstanding or memorable that night.
Perhaps it was just an off night for them, or perhaps their old line up
was just not gelling. Whatever the case, I felt bad at times because Jett
kept harping on how good they were and I just couldn't share his enthusiasm.
May I humbly take all that back now? Written in Ashes has a new line up,
and contrary to my original opinion, they kick ass. Kevyn Hay, vocalist
for Written in Ashes, and
drummer, Mr Battrick, and Pete Guzzarid who joined somewhere around May
but after the CD was cut, were all that remained the same. I do believe
this concert at The Catwalk was the first time the new line up played publicly
together. At any rate, whatever prompted the change, the new lineup is
divine musically and aesthetically.
Pete Guzzarid, on guitar, is one of the
founding members of Monochrome (not to be confused the Monochrome in Atlanta).
He brings a more rock n roll sound on guitar to the band by way of the
likes of Dave Navarro. Ashe Ruppe, formally of the popular Trance to the
Sun and Nocturne PDX, has been added as a bass player. Ashe's rumbling
bass lines and inclination towards trip-hop rhythms greatly intensifies
and textures the songs with new depths. Jöga, formerly of Son of Rust,
brings the quirky talents of greats like Klaus Naomi to the table with
his creative keyboard/synth playing. And holding it all together is the
precise drumming of Mr Battrick and the soaring vocals of Kevyn. Similar
at times to Bauhaus's Peter Murphy, Kevyn takes control of the stage and
is an expert at communicating the themes of the song to the crowd. His
vocals are impassioned, sometimes whispered, operatic and sultry.
His interaction with the crowd is also appreciated and was well noted.
His attempt to include them, singing TO them, dancing amongst those on
the floor during instrumental parts and then shaking their hands to thank
them for coming afterwards, is something that endears me to other bands
like the Cruxshadows. Their performance was full of raw energy that night.
I gladly stand corrected in my original
observation of this band. They are hardly dull. And if their performance
at the upcoming GothCon in New Orleans
is anything like the show I saw that night at the Catwalk, I think they'll
have the crowd eating out of their hands. Congrats to Kevyn who seems to
have assembled an all-star lineup. Now hurry up and get a new CD out. You
have an impatient new fan waiting.
Fear of Dolls is:
Greg Forschler - guitar, vocals?, other.
Former member of Ninth Circle (Ivy Records)
Shaun Richards - drums, percussion
Thomas Purdy - guitar, bass, keyboard,
Bonni Suval - vocals, xylophone, toys
Written in Ashes is:
Kevyn Hay (vocals)
Mr. Battrick (drums)
Pete Guzzardi (guitar)
Ashe Ruppe (bass)