see all the photos from this concert here

The Legendary Pink Dots
Palac Akropolis, Prague, Czech Republic
Monday November 24 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Here's a confession. I have never seen The Legendary Pink Dots play live before. In fact, before this gig, I don't think I'd ever heard a note of their music. I'm frankly embarrassed to admit this, and I'm not even sure how this state of affairs came about. After all, the band are essentially a bunch of 80s-vintage alterno-heads just like me; they've been on the live circuit and all over the alternative press for more years than I suspect any of us care to contemplate, they've put out a stack of releases, and have even done John Peel sessions in their time. In short, they've moved in much the same circles, and inhabited much the same cultural territory, as I have. And yet, our paths have never crossed. Now, how did that happen?

For this reason, tonight's gig is all very much a new experience for me, so perhaps it's appropriate that it's all taking place in a city I've never visited before. The Palac Akropolis turns out to be a late art deco-styled theatre turned rock 'n' roll hole, incongruously located in the basement of an apartment block somewhere among the Skoda-strewn residential streets of Praha 3. Everything seems to be run with a laid-back informality - the ticket desk is a trestle table temporarily set up in the foyer, and there's nary a bouncer in sight. Curiously, there's a strange mismatch between certain elements of the audiene. Most of the crowd seem to be latter-day bohemians, all hippyish long hair and just-woke-up dishevelled clothing, like a bunch of delegates at a Frank Zappa convention. Appropriately enough, there's more than a whiff of jazz cigarettes in the air. But there's also a bunch of post-industrial heads in the house, all sporting severely cropped barnets and Skinny Puppy T-shirts. Yep, they *all* seem to be wearing Skinny Puppy T-shirts. Skinny Puppy must've done great business on the merchandise stall last time they came through Prague.

There are no support bands. Assorted Dots simply stroll out and start the show. There are four of them, and right from the start it's clear that we're not in for a night of straightforward rock 'n' roll. There's an electronics-boffin behind bank upon bank of vintage analogue synths (his gear-stack seems to include the dismembered innards of a theremin, among other arcane noisemaking technology), a guitarist at the back, squinting at his fearsome array of effects pedals, a saxophonist, who's obviously the joker in the pack, shamelessly mugging for the audience - and, at the microphone, the man who is arguably the principal Dot: Edward Ka-Spel, looking like a dishevelled economics professor who's wandered into a poetry reading by mistake, and then decided to stay because, hey, he writes poetry, too.

The Dots' performance is a wayward amalgam of avant-rock and Edward Lear. They take us on excursions into jazz, and package tours to odd corners of indie-land; they build towering pile-ups of noise and then take time out to tell tall tales. They have strange little songs like folk-club laments - but the next minute they're off into a free-form noisefest, racking up a racket as fearsome as anything created by any 'ardcore industrial noiseniks you care to name. The audience hangs on every word Edward Ka-Spel utters - he has everyone in the place rapt with attention, no mean feat when you consider the fact that everything is in English and the audience thus have to get their heads round a second language before they can really twig what's going on. He tells a bizarre tale which starts, innocently enough, as a straightforward account of the band's trip to Prague in their van, ranges over philosophical musings on cause and effect, seamlessly incorporates intergalactic warfare with unsuspecting aliens, and climaxes with a 'gelatinous birthday cake with 180 eyes' coming up through his bathroom drain. Just another day at the Legendary Pink Dots office, then. As he's telling the tale, the band crank up a jazz-punk workout which soundtracks the story quite brilliantly. I'm not sure how much of this stuff is improvised, and how much is rehearsed to the hilt, but it all hangs together with the surreal precision of umbrella and a sewing machine meeting on an operating table.

The main visual element of the Dots, however, is the saxophonist, who also doubles on clarinet, electronoise gear, and toys. He wanders the stage, dropping in squalls and honks and quirky little melody lines, but always with a quizzically arched eyebrow, and a knowing grin cast in the direction of the audience between blows. He spies a photographer who's climbed up onto the stage to grab a pic or two, creeps up behind him, and lets loose a sonorous sax-blast which has the poor chap almost dropping his camera. Then, while the rest of the band set up a rolling groove on stage, he descends into the audience, trailing wires behind him. The stage lighting is dimmed, and, from out of the pitch darkness, there comes a succession of foghorn blasts on the saxophone, each one accompanied by a sudden burst of white light. Those trailing wires aren't just for the instrument microphone - there's a spotlight concealed inside the bell of the sax, triggered to light up every time a note is played. It's a delightfully unexpected stunt, a genuine surprise, and yet it's not just a gimmick because the instrumental number which accompanies these antics stands up as a cool piece of music in its own right.

There's an encore, of course, and the Dots look genuinely gratified that the audience appreciate what they do. Afterwards, the band hang out in the foyer, shooting the breeze with passing fans, and signing all manner of merchandise. It's been a great gig, and I'm kicking myself for not picking up on this engagingly surreal weird-noise-pop group before. Well, one night in Prague is all it's taken to put me wise. The Legendary Pink Dots fanbase has hereby increased by one.

see all the photos from this concert here

The Legendary Pink dots website:

The Palac Akropolis website (English version):

Reviewed by uncle Nemesis: