December 16, 2014 Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Haujobb, & Youth Code sell out Ogden Theater Denver, CO 12-12-14
In July of this year, Skinny Puppy, Industrial legends on both wax and stage, surprised many by announcing the most head-scratching tour line-up in recent memory. Ogre and CEvin Key would be bringing their brand of audio and visual chaos to us once more this year, along with VNV Nation. VNV Nation has, over the course of years, albums, and numerous tours, established themselves as one of Electronic music’s premier acts. They have a large gathering of devout fans who attend their shows religiously. However, VNV Nation’s fans and their style of music are vastly different than those of Skinny Puppy. It is akin to Guns N Roses touring with Poison; while both bands are very popular in their own respective realms, and technically, their music falls into the same genre, the two were worlds apart in many ways. The internet was aflame and heated debates erupted, with each band’s most devoted followers taking up sides.
Then, just as suddenly and inexplicably, Skinny Puppy announced in early November that VNV Nation was no longer a part of the now named Eye vs Spy tour and would be replaced by fellow Industrial legends Front Line Assembly. The internet rejoiced and all was right in the rivethead world again. In the eyes of fans not only was Front Line Assembly a more logical choice as a co-headliner, this was the tour that old-school, Wax Trax-era Industrial fans have yearned for since Front Line frontman Bill Leeb expressed interest in uniting the two bands last year. Two of the best bands from Industrial music’s (arguably) greatest era, who have persevered through popularity shifts, line-up upheavals, and overall changes in the industry, would be combining their forces together to blow the doors off venues throughout the country. The tour would also include Haujobb, German electronic music veterans who have established their own reputation and following, and Youth Code, an up-and-coming band who many consider to be the future torchbearers of Industrial music. Beginning at the end of November, the tour ended up in Denver, CO on Friday December 12th to take over the Ogden Theater for one sold out night.
With such a large bill, the show started early, with many fans still filtering in as Sara Taylor and Ryan George, the duo known as Youth Code, took the stage. Though they only played a shortened five-song set, Youth Code left a lasting impression as they spanned their relatively short career. Sara and Ryan thrashed about onstage showing a level of raw, brutal energy rarely demonstrated by bands, either young or old, these days. While Ryan carefully manipulated beats and rhythms, he was joined by Sara in raging on the mic in a style that reflected the influence that bands like Skinny Puppy have had on them. The band showed a lot of potential for the future. Many were left wondering what may lie ahead for them. Given a proper budget for a stage set-up, Youth Code could one day become as legendary a live show to see as their current tour headliners.
Haujobb has been around much longer than most people realize. With a career spanning twenty-one years and thirteen albums, along with remix work for numerous acts, Daniel Meyer and company have established themselves as true veterans in the Electronic music world. Though they have run the gamut in terms of style and aggressiveness in their release history, Haujobb brought a more club-friendly sound to the stage and the crowd reacted in-kind. The band kept the crowd dancing through most of its six-song set, focusing mainly on songs from their last album, 2011’s New World March. Meyer interacted with the audience more than the other acts did that night, at one point giving a shout-out to local Industrial icon Bryan Erickson, aka Velvet Acid Christ – yet another trick to win the crowd over learned after many years of touring. As Haujobb finished their set with “Dead Market,” the crowd was fully primed for what was yet to come.
The anticipation for the night’s co-headliners was palpable. Although nearly as storied a band as Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly has not been as active in recent years as their counterparts have been. Their last appearance in Denver was in 2011, in support of the brilliant and heavy-sounding Improvised Electronic Device. That tour was very reminiscent of Ministry’s “In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up” video – heavy guitars and drums layered with synths and samples with a dystopian stage set. In the time since the release of Improvised Electronic Device, frontman and founder Bill Leeb, once a member of Skinny Puppy, has moved the band back towards its electronic roots. This was extremely evident in the night’s Front Line Assembly performance.
Though longer than the previous two acts, Front Line Assembly’s set was still shortened to a mere eight songs. Opening with “Neologic Spasm” from Hard Wired (1995), the band’s most commercially successful album, Front Line Assembly was quick to endear the audience to them. Leeb was visibly happy throughout the entire performance, with a big smile on his face and a rare moment of interaction with the crowd. After pounding out three quick songs from their most recent release, last year’s Echogenetic, the band ending their set with a bang by blasting out their biggest hits in succession. After touching on Hard Wired again with “Plasticity”, Front Line Assembly brought out “Prophecy” as they worked their way back through “Millennium” and culminated with arguably their most classic song, “Mindphaser.” It was during these last few songs that the first and only appearance of live guitars was seen throughout the night. If Front Line Assembly’s last tour reminded some of Ministry’s heyday, tonight’s performance was closer to Front 242. The ability to keep fans guessing from tour to tour and album to album is what has garnered Front Line Assembly the devotion they have acquired over the years. If there was a drawback to Front Line’s appearance on the tour, it was that they were not given enough time to create tour merchandise, relying instead on selling classic shirts and vinyl.
As early reviews of the Eye vs Spy tour started to filter out, word that Skinny Puppy was rehashing the same tour that they unleashed earlier in the year filled some with trepidation. Although aesthetically the night’s show was similar to February’s performance, that is where the similarities ended. Ogre and CEvin Key destroyed the crowd with an eighteen-song set that touched on nearly every Puppy album in their catalog, and a theatrical performance to rival the best Broadway shows.
Ogre strode onstage in his trash bag/parka outfit to deafening crowd cheers. Throughout the show, the theme was Ogre and, to a lesser degree, CEvin and the rest of the band being put through a series of experiments and observations. In addition to the band members, medically clad “handlers” wandered the stage throughout the show, poking and prodding at them as they frantically jotted down their observations on their clipboards. Through no less than four different costume changes for Ogre, the show progressed and the experiments on our protagonist continued. In addition to the cameras used by the “medical staff” to observe various parts of the show, Ogre himself also had a Go-Pro camera attached to the back of his costume that was used as a major part of the visual backdrop for the show. Few people slept easy that night after seeing a close-up of Ogre, covered in blood with a demented jackal half-mask.
As stunning and encompassing the visual aspect of the show was, it would be nothing without the music. Skinny Puppy started the night off with “Fritter” from 1988’s VIVIsectVI. Considering the dog-shaped lamp and dog food used on stage throughout the night, it was no big surprise that Ogre and the guys went back to this album a few times. Without a solid history of mainstream radio play, Puppy is not limited to playing “the hits” when they perform. By digging deep into their catalog, they can play album tracks like “The Choke,” “First Aid,” and “Convulsion” and still receive the same crowd reaction as when they hit them with “Hexonxonx” and “Worlock.” While some of their most recognizable tracks (“Assimilate,” “Tin Omen”) were missing from the set list, notably absent from the set were any songs from 2004’s The Greater Wrong of the Right, Skinny Puppy’s comeback album after a twelve year hiatus. Every album since The Greater Wrong of the Right was represented, however, with the nostalgic-sounding Weapon being the fodder for most of the later tracks played.
At the end of their blistering stage show, the band took a short break and returned for the encore, sans makeup or costumes. Ogre took a moment to acknowledge the sold-out crowd once again, then proceeded to what were possibly the best performances of the night. Starting with a classic performance of 1986’s Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse track “God’s Gift (Maggot),” Skinny Puppy transitioned into a flawless version of “Smothered Hope.” The night ended with an updated version of another Remission track, “Glass Houses.”
The genre’s most anticipated tour lived up to every bit of its hype. Working backwards from the new face of Industrial, to the workhorses of Electronic music, to the many-faceted veterans, to the godfathers and current holders of the throne, the crowd was essentially given a history lesson of aggressive electronic music as well as a view of things to come. With young, hungry bands like Youth Code and seasoned pros like Skinny Puppy continuing to put out good music and providing shows that burn memories in the mind, there may be hope for Industrial music just yet.