Lydia Lunch, James Johnston and Ian White were back on “the ship” once again, and after last year’s mindblowing Retrovirus gig, I was more than looking forward to what they were going to do this time.

But firstly, let’s talk about derTANZ. It had been a while since I last heard them live, so I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was definitely more excited about them opening for Lydia Lunch than I was about last year’s support band, and – oh, boy! – they didn’t disappoint. The moment I heard the bass, I knew this was going somewhere. It is the kind of dirty, distorted bass sound that makes you question why most bands even had guitars in the first place, while wondering what Rob Wright might be up to these days, and remembering how much you love Shellac, when a perfectly positioned, close-to-deafening shriek pulls you back into the audience. This by itself should be enough to make me giddy, but when accompanied by tight, syncopated drum work, the result is ecstatic.

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Some might call it post-punk, they themselves might call it freepunk, but it’s also the kind of noise rock that has been missing from the Hungarian music scene for so long, and finally, there we have it: a sufficiently dissonant, simple, but heavy rhythm section (too bad the drum groove falls apart a few times) with an interesting addition: Kovács Gábor’s singing. It’s from a completely different musical universe. It starts out deep and haunting, then it turns into a chant (sometimes even reminiscent of Jim Morrison-esque spoken word), then there’s a shrill, a scream, some praiseworthy shouting, and yes, it is more often than not a tad off-key, but it still all fits together fine enough. There’s not a word uttered between songs, only when the last sound of the cacophonic jam session has died off do they announce their name and say good night, so we can all grab a drink and get ready for Big Sexy Noise.

The first ever mention I heard of Lydia Lunch in my favourite bar was related to Big Sexy Noise. After trying to listen to every possible project she was or has been involved in (and I’m telling you, that’s plenty), I knew I wanted to see her live. Then the opportunity finally came. Last December’s Retrovirus gig proved that she’s referred to as the “first lady of no-wave” for a reason: after Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (one of the most significant bands of the no wave movement), her distinctive voice and style was not left abandoned. She has continued to contribute to the canon of noise with several collaborations and newly founded projects, staying uniquely fresh, outspoken, and an excellent frontwoman ever since. The same applies to the musicians she’s touring with: James Johnston and Ian White from Gallon Drunk are both extraordinary, extremely energetic, and a perfect reminder of how vital chemistry between musicians is, because these three undeniably have it, you can sense it from the first second.

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They are mostly playing newer stuff. It’s raw and dynamic, more rock’n’roll than noise, but tremendously powerful at the same time. Lunch’s voice is hoarse, even guttural, and loud. Very loud. She owns the stage like she was born there, a sort of natural habitat where she’s in constant motion while the music is playing, and her restlessness, suggestive grimacing, and overpowering energy has an instant effect on the audience: bobbing heads, tapping feet, and glistening eyes can be seen all around, and it’s only the beginning.

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Incredible as it sounds, the mood intensifies, and way after the moment of realisation that “holy shit, this is actually a stoner set”, and past a potential rock’n’roll party anthem that makes Beastie Boys’ Sabotage feel like a lullaby, the show reaches its climax with Gospel Singer, a grand sludgy-ass classic co-written by Kim Gordon, shortly followed by Your Love Don’t Pay Me Rent. Lunch introduces this song with a longer speech intended for women in the audience about what each and every one of us is supposed to experience at one point or another: a “spliff smokin’, beer-drinkin’, video game-playin’, all-your-food-eatin’, all-your-drugs-takin’ man-child” sleeping in the bed, and the bottom line of course is that “your love don’t pay my motherfucking rent”. That’s about the point when all hell breaks loose. From then on it’s band members rolling and crawling on the stage floor, grunts, screams and inarticulate noises incorporated into the vocals, and even stopping mid-song just to tease the guy from the front row a bit. So the finale is euphoric and the crowd wants more. The wish is granted, we get one more song “so that we finally shut up” and eventually leave the venue reinvigorated, if also a bit knackered.

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Lydia Lunch and her band are still the bomb, and if they are this bursting with energy now, I cannot even start to imagine what their shows must have been like in the late 70’s. Probably the same. That’s what I’m telling myself.

pics by Rusek


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