Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Ventilation on Mercury: Missing Quad Muth

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. Discussions crop up about Quad Muth every so often, and when they do, it makes me wish I could see them play again. The band were an important part in my musical development - their music was weird, they made ample use of performance’s visual aspect, and they would move their audiences to respond and affirm what they the band were doing on the stage…or on the floor in front of the stage…or in the dingy basement…

            It was no small feat given the sadly oft-proven caricature of Midwesterners as staid, retiring folk, given to resenting anyone for sticking out, for daring to dress up and especially for committing the sin of not using any of the acceptable and expected tools everyone in their right minds should use if they’re to be in a band. Quad Muth were a poke in the eye and a rude fart in the general direction of this tragic mindset. To me they were inspirational.

            I first saw them by accident in the spring of 2003. I was a big Sicbay fan and this show was my chance to finally see them, as I was only nineteen at the time and couldn’t go to any ID shows. Having no idea what Quad Muth was save for the vague suspicion that they would be somewhat math rock, I was surprised when two figures stalked into the venue from out back. One had its face covered by this sickly gray mask whose flesh seemed frozen in mid-boil, with bits of rag barely containing the dark brown hair which spilled out from behind its head. The other was a short fellow with ooze the color of his alien-like counterpart smeared all over his otherwise business-friendly attire; he came in with a crutch. The duo commenced with this diseased churning of programmed and live electronics, almost subterranean in how the otherwise pristine digitally-rendered details were being obscured into a frothy muck. The young professional type alternated between incoherently mewling and howling into his echo-laden microphone, gyrating his upper body all the while to compensate for his lame leg that rendered him incapable of any other movement. At the conclusion of each song, the alien figure would raise both its arms into the air as if to indicate some kind of victory, and I immediately envisioned a scene where the young professional, on his way home from work earlier that day, was captured and possessed by the alien to do the otherworldly visitor’s bidding. The ooze seemed to indicate as much.

            At the sight of this unexpected bit of theater unfolding in front of us, my friend and I laughed for the entire set out of sheer joy. It was one of those beautiful moments when something wholly unexpected just seizes and refuses to let go. Sure I had listened to Suicide and loved the first record for how timeless it sounds, but until that afternoon I’d never actually seen anything like that attempted and then pulled off with such a tightly wrapped layer of visual and sonic mystique. That they were also from Minneapolis blew my mind.

            They went on add another member on “drums" (a collection of electronic pads and assorted percussion ephemera) and play shows with some of the better bands of the middle 00s: Mindflayer, Lightning Bolt, Deerhoof, Fat Worm of Error, Metalux, King Cobra, Quintron & Miss Pussycat. It made me happy to go to those shows and see them represent for all the music weirdos in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota. Their touring out east to play No Fun Fest '05 was one of the reasons I went to the festival, and their under-the-radar local shows brought me many times to the dearly departed illegal venue known as the Church. They played one of their best shows there, on Halloween even. By this point the singer's outfit had evolved into this bizarre bodybuilder, muscles bulging out in all the wrong places. The extra percussion player added this additional frenzied clatter, and the programmed beat stuff was jacked up in the mix. Someone in an ant costume with a huge green head and a pair of crab pincers was dancing in front, and the singer walked over and began to commune/dance/hump it. Since everyone else was dressed up and there were no technical hang-ups (a constant bane for the band as it is for every other one) it was the perfect night to see them.

            When it got out that the band was about to end in the summer of ‘05, it seemed like more and more people had found out them and were starting to come out to their shows. It made for a bittersweet conclusion to what had been an intensely personal affair of mine with the band’s music and whole MO. I’d gone to just about every show I could of theirs, and it felt validating that more and more people were finding out about how awesome Quad Muth were, that the sheer experience of a performance, like the ones you can see on something like the Lightning Bolt DVD, could happen in our own backyard, perpetrated by one of us.


            Lucas the singer moved away to the Bay Area, James went on to play in Peace Creeps and then moved to Philly, and Markus continues to live in Minneapolis and play in the even more solidly danceable Skoal Kodiak


  1. Comment I don't often but this band is near and dear to my heart as well. One of the best live bands ever, they played at my spot in Philly and a crowd of 20 or so people enthusiastically crowd surfer Lucas, no small feat as the space was huge and the crowd tiny.

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