Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Alternative to Real World Is Just Time For Me and a Fantasy

Here's one more old gig review. This is the last one. From now on there will be fresh ones as I go to more gigs (doing a Masters Degree takes up valuable portions of my time). I promise.

I'm also including the bonus track on the UK release of The Alternative album - the splendid string version of Spit It Out. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but it becomes both ethereal and haunting.

The Alternative to Real World Is Just Time For Me and a Fantasy

An hour before doors opened at The Mod Club for the IAMX show back on October 20, I was just a tired, relatively introverted Masters student sitting on a hard bench, listening to my ipod. And Chris Corner was just a shy, diminutive man in sunglasses and a white jacket scurrying away from soundcheck with a quick nod to acknowledge my wave and "hello." But when the show started a few hours later, something changed...

For those who don't know, Chris Corner, formerly of the triphop band Sneaker Pimps, is now at the helm of a brilliant darkwave electro project called IAMX based in Berlin. With its glam flourishes and ambiguous, often deviant sexuality, it's fitting that his project is based in a city that was known for its outrageous cabarets and the excesses of the Weimar Republic era. It's also fitting because Berlin itself used to have a split personality between East and West.

Once Chris Corner hit the stage, it felt like a gothic circus had taken over the venue. I was swept up in the pounding beats and riffs of the opening "The Alternative" and mesmerized by Chris Corner's alter ego, who moved about the stage like a possessed marionette, his kohl-rimmed, sequin-teared eyes often hidden by a glittery gold hat. He encouraged a feverish reaction by cocking his ear toward the crowd and beckoning to them, wanting to hear more screams. I admit that I screamed and sang like Chris Corner was pulling on my vocal cords, a master puppeteer of the entire audience. His extremely slender body, encased in a skin-tight, black bodysuit with yellow sequinned straps slung over it, alternated between fluidity and robotic movements. The chorus resulted in an explosion of jumping and arm pumping as the pure tones of Corner's voice soared over the heavy, driving beats. The boundary between performer and audience dissolved in a sweaty madness and everyone began reaching out to him, the keyboardist, and the guitarist. In the frenzy, for some reason, Chris Corner chose to take my hand in his and hold it for a moment, but I almost forgot about my hand as the music and his hypnotic dark eyes dragged me into an underworld completely of IAMX's creation.

As the show progressed, the band kept almost exclusively to upbeat tracks mainly from the latest album The Alternative ("Kiss and Swallow" and "Skin Vision" from Kiss and Swallow also made appearances). The entire band sustained an inhuman energy that rippled throughout the crowd. I lost myself so entirely, I can't remember smashing my elbows on the monitor and giving myself bruises. What I can remember is actually grabbing a hold of one of Chris Corner's high black boots and having the song "Venus in Furs" fly into my head. Other members of the audience, boys and girls, reached out and ran their hands over Corner's legs, and he rocked his body so violently over the edge of the stage, his sweat rained on the front row. His bodily convulsions continued as he constantly fell to his knees and twisted through jumps in the air. He wielded the microphone cord like an S&M whip, nearly strangling the guitarist, and hanging it between his teeth. The band threw themselves into every song even though the pace never slackened, and Chris Corner's voice cajoled and pleaded, dripping with dark purpose and freewheeling hedonism.

The encore was "Attack 61," a song from the soundtrack for the French film Les Chevaliers du Ciel, an album that Chris Corner produced, and "Song of Imaginary Beings." When the show ended, I was drenched in everyone's sweat and genuinely understood what "After Every Party I Die" meant. Though the drummer and the guitarist hung around the venue after the show (the former eventually changing into track pants and the latter no longer bare-chested) and talked with the fans, Chris Corner had disappeared from the venue and into the tourbus before anyone had even gotten outside. I completely understood why. He had just prostituted his entire being for the fans and needed to shift back into reality. I, too, had to shift myself back into my own reality. If you never came down from all that, you'd probably go insane.

One of the girls I met after the show (while waiting for the manager to get our stuff signed by Chris Corner) asked if I would be interested in seeing IAMX again in two nights in Detroit. She wanted someone to split the gas money with her, and the trip was doable since Detroit was about four hours away. A large part of me really wanted to experience that incredible feeling again, that feeling of completely losing yourself in the music and performance - that was my own Mr. Hyde's desire. The Dr. Jekyll, sensible side of me said that I had class the afternoon before the show and that I should be doing all the weekly homework required by a Masters Degree, so I should just forget about it. However, by the end of Sunday evening, Mr. Hyde won out and I followed IAMX to Detroit.

The Detroit show was at an even smaller venue than The Mod Club called The Magic Stick, and the crowd was also disappointingly smaller. I actually worried that the crowd wouldn't be enough to support the alternative universe of IAMX properly. And in my crazed state, I somehow fancied myself a crowd leader. My metamorphosis happened all over again the second that IAMX took the stage, Chris Corner this time sporting a silver hat. Screaming like I was trying to exorcise my average persona, I couldn't stand still and felt myself dancing in imitation of Chris Corner's erratic movements, unbeknownst to me, smashing my knees into the stage in front of me. I have a feeling he may have recognized me from the Toronto show because he grabbed my hand multiple times and kept grinning at me, a twinkle in the event horizon of his black eyes. Even in my mind's eye, his direct gaze in combination with his smile takes my breath away. After I had touched him, the rest of the crowd seemed more comfortable with doing the same, and the connection between the band and the audience grew with each song. At one point, Chris Corner grabbed the head of a guy who had also followed IAMX from Toronto to Detroit, and he roughly ruffled his hair. To the waltz beat of "President," the audience swayed together like a pendulum, pacing out the perversity and drowning in the decadence of Chris Corner's cadences, his voice wracked with desires that were tearing him apart.

The set was virtually the same as the Toronto set, but this time the encore featured "Your Joy is My Low" instead of "Attack 61." At one beautiful moment, Chris Corner pointed directly at me as he sang the title line of the song. As ridiculous as this moment would seem from an outside perspective (and perhaps from my more rational brain), it was transfixing and enveloping while in that moment. And really all that counted was what was self-contained in that world of the stage.

Nursing knee-cap-sized bruises, I've now gone back to my unassuming, regular life as a quiet graduate student in Waterloo just as Chris Corner retires to his tourbus every night and hides his bewitching eyes behind sunglasses. We all need a little escape from ourselves to keep sane. I have no need to reconcile the willowy man silently fleeing soundcheck with the ringmaster of musical fantasy. The beauty is in the division.

Missile (Acoustic) - IAMX

The Alternative - IAMX

Spit It Out (String Version) - IAMX

No comments: