Two seconds after the first bottle gets thrown, I decide to step quietly over the velvet rope into the comparative safety of the side of the stage. This is totally false security, since the velvet rope is the only thing blocking me from a crowd of about 1,200 Butthole Surfers fans, who have just gone from a simmer to a rolling boil of dissent. Also, the stage-left security guard is nowhere to be seen, which is how I got back here in the first place. It's just after midnight on a Tuesday at New York City's Webster Hall, and I came here to see a set by the New Orleans act MC Trachiotomy, who played sandwiched between almost an hour of exuberant rocking from the teenage shredders of Paul Green's School of Rock (where the Surfers occasionally teach) and a classic set from the "80s psychedelic freak-punks. The latter just ended unceremoniously, when frontman Gibby Haynes lunged at the monitor engineer and was firmly dragged away with Secret Service efficiency by security, and the capacity crowd isn't happy.
MC Trachiotomy is something like a Don Quixote of the music scene. Best known for cacophonous noise effects and marble-mouthed rap, his recorded albums are sludgy, complex collages that can be hypnotic. Live shows can be anything from himself and a DJ to a full stage show including naked women and/or a full, live lounge-punk/funk band. He constantly switches up his show, his sound and sometimes the band's name, attacking every phase of his decadelong career with the same weirdly committed zeal, despite a stream of audiences that like the crowd at Webster Hall clap a little, but mostly look confused. Currently signed to the underground-hip label New York Night Train Records, he tours, at least briefly every year, and has a ranging network of musical friends around the world who will pack a backyard or a punk-rock party house to see him gleefully tilt at whatever windmills catch his eye. This two-week tour is billed as MC Trachiotomy and Th' Terribleness. It includes, variously, a trumpet, a violin, a guitar player who flew in from L.A. for the tour, two live DJs, New Orleans oddball Ratty Scurvics on bass, a rapper in a nurse's outfit and a hula-hoop dancer.
The afternoon of the show, things seemed slightly off. Band members were late or missing or targets for bitching that seemed intense for so early in the two-week tour (this is the third date). There was a parking ticket on the van. There was no room onstage for the hula-hooper. The date on the all-access stickers mistakenly was written as Aug. 29, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina a bad omen for a New Orleans band. In the face of stress, Trachiotomy stood placidly on the corner of East 11th Street, chatting with New York friends and scalping the tickets he'd bought before being asked to open for the Surfers.
Gibby's outburst and subsequent corralling by security was, of course, the primary thing that spurred the unrest. The way-over-21 crowd was also, probably, nostalgic for the kind of punk mayhem that fueled Surfers' shows back in the day if not feces and nudity, then at least a little confrontation with "the man." But back at stage left, the tension dissipates surprisingly quickly when the house lights finally come up. New Yorkers are a sedate lot these days, and the crowd finally starts to shuffle out, muttering. For some reason, Genesis P-Orridge strolls across the stage smiling, kicking through the layer of flung plastic cups and water bottles as if it were a fresh snowfall, and toting a Psychic TV handbag. The New Orleans contingent who have been nervously placing their bodies between their gear and the crowd seem relieved. The next day, various blogs will report that Gibby was dragged offstage in the middle of the show (it was the second-to-last song on the set list) and arrested (he wasn't).
The next day, as the blogs rolled in, reviews dueled. The New York Press reported that Trach's show was "so terrible, that when they announced it would be their last song, the crowd cheered." The rock blog nightafternight.com countered, saying approvingly that Trach was "genuinely confrontational." Maybe utter incomprehensibility is the most punk-rock way to go of all.
- Alison Fensterstock
- MC Trachiotomy performs at New York City's Webster Hall.