No Star Too Far – My take on Legendary Pink Dots’ Nov. 10, 2010 concert in Austin

Edward Ka Spel

Imagine that a group of pagan priests knew all the right spells, got hold of some electronic equipment and assembled a starship powered by dreams and magic. That image came to me Wednesday night as I saw the Legendary Pink Dots in concert for the third time.

I always get the feeling I’m seeing a mystical event rather than a mere concert when I see the Dots play. Obviously the material has something to do with it, with its dreamlike mix of symbols, philosophy and dark humor, accompanied by electronic beats and washes of sound. There’s also something hypnotic about the way singer Edward Ka Spel, dressed in his robe and scarf, moves his hands. I get the feeling I’m watching a shaman perform a ritual.

The Dots played in a club on Red River called Elysium. A good club for a band like the Dots, the Elysium tends to host bands of the darker variety – goth, industrial and the like.

I wondered what they would be like with the new lineup. Short answer: They’ve still got it. Erik Drost, LPD guitarist from 2003 to 2006 is back in the band, coaxing pleasant screams out of his instrument. I definitely missed woodwind specialist Niels Van Hoorn’s zany presence, but without him you could really see how closely Ka Spel and Phil “The Sillverman” Knight work together. Silverman with his massive table of electronics, queuing up notes, rhythms and textures; Ka Spel with his smaller table, producing melodies and sound effects as he sings. All finely coordinated. Ka Spel pilots the starship, while Silverman operates its powerful engine, or maybe it’s the other way around?

I started out jotting down the setlist on my cellphone, but gave up pretty quickly and just let the music wash over me. The band has such an extensive back catalog that even if you’ve been a fan for years they can play a song you’d swear was new that turns out to be something old you just haven’t heard yet. I can tell you they had a satisfying mix of old favorites and songs off their latest, Seconds Late for the Brighton Line.

They opened with “The Unlikely Event” from All the King’s Horses, followed by “Third Secret” from The Maria Dimension, “Rainbows Too” from Plutonium Blonde, a really cool spoken word that might’ve been “God and Machines” from the new album, then “Russian Roulette,” the first song on the new album. Followed by lots and lots of great music, including many of my favorites. The encore featured a kickass version of “Birdie” from All the King’s Horses. About two hours of music altogether.

Just one sour note. A guy with long blond hair and a tank top who was either crazy or on drugs or both had to be escorted out by the bouncer. He kept shouting out nonsense at the band. Funny at first, then annoying. Then waving his arms in people’s faces. Finally a guy on the front row slipped out through the crowd, and pretty soon a big biker looking dude went over and dealt with crazy dude. After that no more distractions, which was awesome. I feel like I owe front row guy a beer for fetching the bouncer. The show certainly did get better after that.

The music was enhanced by the trippy film and slide collage from Lori “Surfer” Varga and her trusty assistant Eric. I’ve met her before – used to watch her film presentations at the Cathedral of Junk. I got her number and plan to interview her in the near future.

Note: Always take at least $20 or $40 to any LPD concert so you can take advantage of their amazingly well-stocked merch table. You’ll be kicking yourself later on if you don’t. You’re liable to find out that rare live album you were eying is impossible to find, or impossible to find without paying a premium to somebody on eBay.

I got the T-shirt with the Roulette design from the tour. Black of course. Almost got Ka Spel’s latest solo effort, The Minus Touch, but wound up getting the tour-only release by Ka Spel and The Silverman, The Thirty Year Itch. I’ve given that a few spins already and it’s quite good. Two long tracks. The first is a triptych on the subject of loneliness — a one night stand that didn’t happen, adrift at sea; and a monologue by an astronaut adrift in outer space followed by a “creation story” about the Big Bang; the second is a long experimental soundscape. Nice addition to my growing Dots-and-related collection.

I’ve been a huge Legendary Pink Dots fan for many years. I posted a sort of Dots 101 about the group a while back. There are several YouTube videos in case you haven’t heard their music. I also posted a list of tour dates here. The North American tour is winding down, but you’re in luck if you live on the West Coast. Quite a few California dates left, plus one in Oregon.

And send a little love their way if you can. They create their wonderful, thoughtful music and tour the world on a shoestring budget. LPD music and apparel can be found on the ROIR website.

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26 Comments

Filed under dark ambient, darkwave, experimental, indie, live show, music, postrock, psych, review, rock, Uncategorized

26 responses to “No Star Too Far – My take on Legendary Pink Dots’ Nov. 10, 2010 concert in Austin

  1. David

    Lovely review. Thanks, and glad you enjoyed yourself. Weirdnesses good and bad happen at shows, but what struck me was the quality of everything: the music, the performance, the merchandise, and yes, for the most part, the fiercely individual people. At our performance there was no special lighting or effects to speak of, and I didn’t miss them one bit: the three Dots, plus their amazing sound man, WERE the special effects.

  2. Glad you liked the review and thanks for the reply. I know I would’ve enjoyed the show without the slides and film. I’ve seen the Dots three times and the first time they didn’t have it. It so happens Lori lives in Austin (at least half the year, I think she splits her time between Austin and San Francisco) and is a huge Dots fan. BTW, she was a projectionist for the Butthole Surfers. I can’t wait to interview her.

    • Christopher Kinney

      Your review of the show was spot on. The show at Elysium was my lucky 13th time of communion at the great church of Ka-Spel. I had trepidation towards this great happening. Without Niels and his hypno suits of joy I was very worried plus the fact that their last time at this venue was one of the greatest disappointments from my favorite band. It is very difficult to please everyone when you have 30 years of material to pull from. As always they have no formula for placating the masses. The fact that this set did a good job of covering these years and integrating a different touring line up was a feat in itself. My greatest let down from the whole show was they didn’t play The Grain Kings. After so many shows I have almost come to expect this psycidelic masterpiece.

      They are one of the most difficult and challenging bands to love. Their experimentation has no bounds. To the casual listener with an I-pod attention span they will constantly be passed over. It’s like learning to drink wine and all of the steps one must take to appreciate the experience.

      I must thank you sir for your great words of affection to my not so secret passion called The Pink Dots. By stumbling upon your blog through this mutual experience I will become an avid reader of your prose about the auditory world. The only gift I have in return is a recommendation. My personal favorite is Shadow Weaver #1. If you have not had the pleasure, please give it a listen and tell me what you think.
      Running short on time, so off I go. I’ll return to tell you the fantastic tale of how LPD became my first.

      Sing (& Write) while you may.

      • Thanks, glad you liked it. How on earth did you manage 13 time? Color me envious. What happened the last time they played at the Elysium? My main complaint about that place is there’s something weird about the AC so it can get really close in there when there’s a lot of people. I had to leave one show early at SXSW because it got so stifling. This time it wasn’t too bad. I was rather disappointed last time they played at Stubbs because they were scheduled to play inside at the same time as Los Lonely Boys were playing in the outside venue. The whole building was shaking. Had to put things off by like 3 hours. I heard some good bands at Emo’s in the meantime and got mildly trashed though. I got the feeling the Dots cut their show a bit short because of that and they didn’t do any spoken word stuff. I had been hoping for something like “Regression.” Loved the way they did that the time before at Stubbs.

        I also missed the “Grain Kings” the other night. It’s one of the first Dots songs I played when I got home.

        The Dots are definitely challenging. I haven’t managed to turn many people onto them, though I’ve made a few online friends into fans. They just experiment constantly, which I love, but for the uninitiated, it’s very daunting. Also it took quite a while before I picked up on the unifying philosophy and the fact that the symbols were consistent. Really amazing.

        I first got turned onto them when someone gave me an mp3 of “Blacklist” back when I used to chat on IRC. I picked up a few other mp3s here and there and liked some, was meh about others. At some point I started looking for albums and could find almost none. Turned into a mild obsession hunting for used ones at Cheapo Disks.

        It’s only been a few years since I realized that they are THE favorite band for me. I’m so eclectic and love so many things, but I keep going back to them again and again. So many times I’ll hear a Dots song that I first dismissed as not their best work – and suddenly get it, and realize it’s brilliant.

        I have Shadow Weaver #1 and I love it. “Stitching Time” and “Key to Heaven” just blow me away. As does “City of Needles.” That one I didn’t like at first – I heard “Needles (Version Sirius)” before and loved it, so the original turned out to be a grower. But when it hit me it hit me.

        That’s about it for now. Sorry it took a while to approve your post last night. I was stuck covering a school board meeting and my phone was just smart enough to let me read your message in e-mail, but not smart enough to let me log in to my blog.

  3. Christopher Kinney

    Yup, 13 times. I got turned onto them in the late 80’s when I was a teen. Long story behind that one I’ll share it with you at another time. My first show was in Mesa Arizona in 91 or 92. Seen every tour since.

    It is so easy to dismiss their work, even for a fan such as myself. The first album I purchased was Any Day Now and I mildly enjoyed it. I’d pull it out every now and then for a few of the more goth tracks because I was all doom and gloom in my youth. And then I found Shadow Weaver. Gave it a listen and said to myself “Ehh, so so”. Then one day It found it’s way back to the CD player. WHAM! I found myself blown away. As I heard Edward whisper into my ear “I think I found the key to heaven, but I can not find the door” I realized never to underestimate them. After that, back to Any Day Now. Wow more wonderment.

    It’s funny how I can gush for hours when speaking LPD. I do believe our exchange is going to go back and forth for some time to come. Looking forwards to our tit for tat.

    Cheers friend,
    Christopher

  4. Christopher Kinney

    One more note. Over the years I have collected over 40 albums of LPD and their side projects. If you are ever interested in any of them I’d be glad to share. Just shoot me an e-mail. Heck I dropped $140 at the this show al0ne just on disks. I guess there are worse things to be hooked on.

    I need help, I’m a cracked out Dots junky.

    MUST HAVE MORE!!!!

  5. How do you feel about Ka Spel’s solo stuff? I am crazy about Laugh China Doll. Some of the really recent ones I found hard to get into but even those had some impressive moments for me, like the story about the afterlife on The End of Everything (can’t remember if it was part 1 or 2).

    I’m also a big Tear Garden fan, though I don’t have the latest and I didn’t care for Crystal Mass (am I nuts or was that almost a strange country music album?).

    • Christopher Kinney

      The funny thing about Edward’s solo work is it’s not really him on his own. Phil as well as others share a lot in the production. Red Letter’s to me can hang with any of LPD’s work. The Blue Room is also great.

      One hole in my collection is the Tear Garden works. Must fix this blunder. I make a point to purchase their work directly from them and that is mostly done at their shows. They get a better payout when you do this. On a budget I tend to go straight for the rare albums. TG always comes second.

      To answer yor question about the first Elysium show, it was a train wreck. They were supporting a weak album ( Children Placate…), the sound was horrid, small turn out and a tired/ dissapointed band. They rushed thier set with very little passion for the show. It’s like they were just going through the motions.

      • Hmm. That’s weird. I could swear the Stubbs show that I liked was on that tour. Maybe there was another show that I missed the next year? Also, Your Children has turned out to be a grower for me. I didn’t like it at first and ended up liking at least half the songs, maybe more. I feel the same about their latest. I didn’t care for it at first, put it away. Then took it in my pickup and gave it a few spins on the way to and from work, and ended up liking it a lot. Especially “God and Machines.”

        Re Tear Garden… If nothing else, you really should get hold of Last Man to Fly. Can’t get enough of “Turn Me On Dead Man.” Also I see I’m two albums behind. I need to get their last two. I’ll vouch for the first three full albums. Still haven’t got hold of the EPs, though I’ve heard the title track to Sheila Liked the Rodeo and like it quite a bit.

  6. Christopher Kinney

    I may be wrong about the album they were supporting the last time they were at Elysium. It could of been Plutonium Blonde. All the shows are running together into one giant blur of color and pleasure. You know how it goes when the scotch gets in your brain. I’ll have to do a bit of digging in the dregs of my mind.

    Been going through your older post. Birds of a feather my friend. It’s a crying shame (sniff) that I missed Tool. I saw them at the Frank Erwin Center and it was gosh darn awful. You should do a little homework on Maynard K. He’s is the rock god striving to be human. Met him a couple times in AZ. Very nice as long as you stick to the topic of wine.

    Also saw the one about Black Mountain. Hope I can make it to their show. I’m more of a fan of the Black Angels. Phosphene Dream has not left my player for almost 2 months. The two together should be one not to miss.

    • I wonder if you could be confusing Stubbs with Elysium? They’re practically next door. That sounds an awful lot like the second Dots show I saw, which was on the Plutonium Blonde tour. The set seemed short to me and the band seemed tired. I blamed Stubbs for messing up and scheduling Los Lonely Boys at the same time, so that they had to delay their show for several hours. I figured that was why they were at Elysium this year.

      Thanks for checking out the other stuff. I’m a bit late to the party re Black Angels. I’ve heard a few songs and liked them, but work has kept me pretty busy. I’m a reporter and it’s hard to get out to shows the way I’d like. I’m always covering some meeting or other. In fact, there was one scheduled for the night of the last Dots show and I said, no I’m putting my foot down. Bought my ticket and found another way to get it covered.

      Maybe that’s a show I can make. I’ll look into it.

    • OK. Talked me into it. I bought a ticket to Black Keys/Black Mountain. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the guy in the black T-shirt. Haha.

  7. Christopher Kinney

    It’s a shame I can’t make it to the show. Have to make the doughnuts.

    You getting a little long of tooth and large of gut? Too bad, old dudes make bad hipsters.

    Tell me what you think of The Black Angels. I have a fealing that they are about to explode. Lot’s of great press.

    Speaking of old…. UHG! Drinking takes it’s tull on you more and more as the years go by. My brain needs to find it’s happy place.

    • Long of tooth yeah, gut comes and goes. Currently in between skinny phases. Or back to my usual overweight phase, depending on how you want to look at it.

      Eh, don’t really care to be a hipster anyway. I want to be free to like Coldplay and Genesis if I want.

      I’ll probably write a review of the show. I definitely wouldn’t be hip if I waited for the predicted explosion before writing about them.

    • P.S., definitely watch the drinking. Get high on life, yadda yadda.

  8. gloria

    Very nice review!

  9. Oakland Aaron

    Good read as I tick off the minutes before tonight’s show in SF- near as I can tell going into tonight and tomorrow night (we’ve been spoiled with two shows several tours running now) I’m on something like 16-18 shows inclusive of Edward solo (which of course involves Phil as well).

    Letting it wash over you is definitely the way to go. Our counterpart to the film you had is the always enjoyable opening set by Big City Orchestra, also celebrating a 30th anniversary this year. Stars are aligned…

    Christopher I share your addiction; behind me rests a 3 1/2 ft-by-2 1/2 ft wood chest filled exclusively with LPD and relations vinyl, and that’s just the vinyl.

    I wonder what it is about Edward and that elusive transit to Brighton- he’s missed it at least twice now.

    Incidentally I’ll be catching the Black Angels later this month as well and look forward to your review.

    • Back from the show. Ears ringin’ like the Bells of Ireland. I’ll give my take on the Black Angels tomorrow.

      • Christopher kinney

        I saw them a few times in San Fran. They go the extra mile there. Enjoy my friend.

        I thought I was a LPD junky. Jeeesh that’s a bunch of vinyl.

    • Hey, thanks. I’ll get my review up soon. Let me know how your show went when you can.

      • Oakland Aaron

        Last night was great- I love Martijn dearly, and can’t say I don’t miss Niels, but Erik meshed with Edward and Phil seamlessly in a way I never really observed during his last stint- his role in the extended jams just felt so Dots-ish if you will- and without the chaos Niels tends to interject the set flowed really really well.

        I didn’t stick around to talk to them (show ended just before 1am and I had woken up around 3am and just needed to get to bed) but Edward has a new keyboard and Phil’s new toys included an old-fashioned microphone looking thing he manipulated and some sort of pad the back of which lit up as he struck notes.

        More after tonight’s show…

      • Thanks. Can’t wait to hear how the next show went.

  10. Oakland Aaron

    So sorry to keep you waiting then!

    The second SF show was spectacular as well- I was wrong the other night, Edward doesn’t have a new keyboard at all, I’d just never seen it from the back, as he was off to the side rather than near the middle…he certainly looked as happy as I’ve seen him, and as I said before it was like Erik never left. Those awesome moments where Phil sets up a sweeping wave, or an arc, or a pillar of sound and Edward sends it back with dramatic stabs and it reverberates between the two of them seemed particularly inspired Saturday. It’s going to be a long two years’ wait; it always is…

    I dropped what in all likelihood was a sum formerly earmarked for the Black Angels/Black Mountain show (alas) at the merch table; the unquestionable highlight so far is the French Collection- the sound on the vinyl edition (4xLP!) is simply pristine. Certainly one of the better non-album releases of date and quite possibly their best live recordings ever released.

    Listen to Space Captain from this release (also available on 2xCD) here:

    [audio src="http://blrrecords.com/free_downloads/SpaceCaptain.mp3" /]

    I’m not sure how much the paparazzi taking these shots the first night got to enjoy the actual music, darting back and front in front of the stage for much of the night as they did, but they got some good shots:

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=nord&w=98652717%40N00

    By the way, Big City Orchestra stream a radio program live Wednesdays from 4-6pm Pacific; they have opened for the Dots in SF the past three tours, make a joyous noise and are definitely worthy of your attention:

    http://ubuibi.org/radio.html

    • Thanks for the run down and those links. I’ll check them out more when I get a chance. Sounds like the Dots are on a roll. Now I wish I’d bought the French Collection while I was there. Next collectible on my list though is Edward’s book of poetry. I’ve been wanting that one for quite a while.

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