Things aren’t going well. Sure, everyone’s favourite bumpkin/despot has just been put in charge of the world’s biggest army again, but when it comes to portents, that’s nothing compared to Skinny Puppy touring a new record.
Few bands have captured fear, tension and apocalyptic misery as well as the Vancouver industrial icons and with Herr Bush entrenched for another four years, it makes perfect sense that Ogre and cEvin Key (aka Kevin Ogilivie and Kevin Crompton) would choose now to re-emerge with a new record and a new stage show. And judging by the large Kool Haus crowd of older fans dressed up for a nostalgic evening and kinder-goths looking to discover the Pup for the first time, the group have lost none of their allure.
But there was much to doubt in a band (now clean) that played most of its more electric shows pumped full of drugs and in one that now features a 41-year-old as its fearsome figurehead. In their prime, Skinny Puppy could be genuinely terrifying and if anything’s the antithesis of terror (at least the enjoyable kind), it’s reunion tours. The first third of the band’s set did little to assuage such doubts. Ogre emerged sporting a large lupine mask, flanked by Key on a synth riser, a live drummer and a guitarist wielding a double-necked axe straight out of a Thor video. Presumably intended to evoke unholy things, Ogre’s mask mainly served to make you wonder if he looked this ridiculous back in the day, too.
As the show progressed, though, context came to settle over the proceedings. It was tempting to write off as heavy handed the video montages – full of images of George W. juxtaposed with Nazi iconography – that accompanied the band’s newer tunes (“Daddyuarbash” and “I’mmortal” among them). But SP were around to rail against the first Bush and they’ve been growling about animal testing and environmental issues since 1985. What was new – and less forgivable – were the sometimes strained attempts to appear contemporary and, above all, the pulling back of the proverbial curtain at show’s end.
Although you can’t begrudge Ogre the desire to thank his audience, his repeated rock-star ejaculations that punctuated the late-set hit parade (“Testure,” “Harsh Stone White” and “Smothered Hope” were all brought out for a curtsy) blew the sense of menace right out of the Kool Haus – itself a boneheaded corporate approximation of the kind of warehouses Skinny Puppy made their name playing.
At that point the show, which had glimmers of brilliance and sonic terrorism, matching anything Wolf Eyes or Black Dice is capable of, seemed to rip off its mask in an effort to make everyone feel more comfortable and a little safer.
Skinny Puppy was always about discomfort, and while they put on an enjoyable set, it felt more like a shiny happy homecoming than a scorching, visceral and organic bad omen and that’s a little bit of a shame.