Suicide Sally: A Concert Tribute to Electro-Punk Pioneer Alan Vega REVIEW+PHOTOS: ALAN VEGA TRIBUTE @ BOWERY ELECTRIC 1/25/18
NEW YORK, NY- New York is a city constantly destabilized, disrupted, and remade again. No music captures the roiling countercurrents of this creative destruction quite like Suicide’s self-titled album from 1977. The surreal starkness of Alan Vega’s vocal delivery — think of the narration of post-industrial decay in “Frankie Teardrop” through heavily-reverbed huffs, gasps, and primal screams — paired with the electronic assemblages of instrumentalist Martin Rev, produces a deeply unsettling effect. Or consider the ominous “Ghost Rider” — the synth ostinato coming out of a ten-dollar keyboard run through a series of Electro-Harmonix boosters (the Farfisa organ came later), forms a skeletal structure for Vega’s half-chanted invocation of an antihero, hurtling toward some apocalyptic climax that never quite arrives. It’s the sonic equivalent of funhouse mirrors, reality both reflected and distorted, a pre-punk and post-punk carnival of sound for a Mr. Dark.
When Vega passed away in 2016, artists from Bruce Springsteen to Pearl Jam paid homage, with the former describing Suicide’s “blunt force power” as “deeply influential” and capable of shocking and inspiring, even today. They may not be a household name, but give them a listen and you’ll discern the ways in which a spectrum of artists from Bauhaus to Algiers to LCD Soundsystem (“Losing My Edge” name-drops Suicide) to M.I.A. (“Born Free” samples “Ghost Rider”), have been influenced by Vega’s and Rev’s synth-punk creations — minimalist, dystopic, and altogether arresting.
At Thursday night’s sold-out show at Bowery Electric, artists paid tribute to the music of Suicide and the memory of Vega. The lineup — a cross-generational who’s who of rock, included Rev; the Cars’ Ric Ocasek (who produced Suicide’s second album); Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello); Bob Bert (Sonic Youth); Jesse Malin w/ Derek Cruz and Johnny T.; Joseph Arthur; Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds); Kid Congo Powers (who also emceed); Dante Vega and Liz Lamere (Alan’s son and wife, respectively) w/ Jared Artaud (Vacant Lots) and Perkin Barnes; Diana Gentile w/ Jason Victor; Johnny Aries (The Drums); Don Fleming; Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras); J.G. Thirlwell; Ben Vaughn w/ Palmyra Delran; Cynthia Ross; LG Galleon (Dead Leaf Echo); and Keith Streng and Peter Zaremba (The Fleshtones).
Mr. Pharmacist (Gregg Foreman) worked his alchemy behind an array of synths throughout both sets of Suicide songs. Pink Slip Daddy kicked off the evening with a high-energy mix of their own music and covers of the 50’s teen idol, Fabian.
Pick up Suicide’s albums (vinyl; digital; Spotify), listen on repeat, and for bonus points, contemplate resistance in this age of alternative facts (Hey, baby he’s screaming the truth / America, America is killing its youth).
Vivian is a Texas-raised, NYC-based photographer. She writes about critters by day and music by night. Find her on Instagram (@Lithophyte) and at www.LithophytePhoto.com.