Last Night: Butthole Surfers at the Fillmore

Categories: Last Night
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Butthole Surfers
Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008
The Fillmore

Words by Jennifer  Maerz, photos by Scott Caris

Better than:
Taking enough acid to visualize an x-ray of a girl passing gas.

The hippie geezers may get their acid flashbacks going to see Santana or Jefferson Starship, but for the punk geezers, there's no better place to fry your brain like an egg for old time's sake than a Butthole Surfers show.

This was made very clear last night, when the Fillmore was packed with pre-New Year's Eve excitement not for the year to move forward, but for the clock to turn back -- to the early days (late '80s, early '90s) of these fucked up Texas psychedelic cowboys. Before the show started, by buddy Tony said he'd last seen Butthole Surfers in London 12 years ago -- on acid, of course. For my friend Scott, it was Detroit, sans LSD, but still "a really wild night," he added with a grin. And after two hours of "Sweat Loaf"s and pot smoke, it seemed the Buttholes' trip is thankfully still very much of long, strange, and mind-skewering variety. 

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The Buttholes returned last night for the first of their two-evening run at the Fillmore -- and for their first West Coast show in seven years. So the fans came outta the woodwork for the big event, including members of the Melvins (I missed a surprise performance by Dale Crover upstairs at the Fillmore) and Mudhoney, and I'm sure many other heavy music legends you could spot if you spent all your time in the lobby.

But why waste precious moments starsearching when Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, Jeff Pinkus, King Coffey and Teresa Taylor were mastering a punk underworld from the stage? After strolling out to a recording of their Locust Abortion Technician ditty "Kuntz," the band spent 120 minutes bashing out their repertoire of sleaze, skuzz, and psychedelics at top volume. With the double drum-team of Coffey and Taylor hammering the beats into your gut, Leary and Pinkus drilling your ears with guitar and bass riffs, and Haynes twiddling the vox effects machine up front, the Buttholes completely engulfed you in their performance... And if that wasn't enough, they brought three screen's worth of hippie acid visuals (oily primary colors blobbing up and breaking apart).

It was the best sensory overload I've experienced all year -- except perhaps for My Bloody Valentine's show a couple months back. The vocals came through completely distorted -- slowed down, sped up, flipped backwards, whatever -- against sludgy slabs of punk rock. Sometimes it was like Haynes was running on 45 while the rest of the band was spinning at 33; other times it felt like the reverse. And they mixed things up a bit, too, Haynes leaving his effects console to grab a megaphone to scream into, a saxophone to blow, or a guitar to thrash.

Between songs, Haynes stayed sharp, throwing out quips to the crowd like "I suspect some of you are as old as me. What are we gonna do about that?" and pretending to address his fans personally ("Lisa, you are my woman." "Clara, look at you." "Mr. Hand, I love your hand.") He gave shout outs to everything from the movie Deep Impact to the portion of the crowd "with no hair" (to wit: there were a lot of dudes in attendance with shiny domes, yet keeping the devil's goatees pointing out from their chins).

By the end, the crowd looked comfortably split between the slackjawed, deer-in-the-headlights folks standing in stock-still peace, and an increasingly frenzied mosh pit working out the songs with their elbows. But collectively, most of the onlookers seemed to agree with Haynes' half-joking lament that "I wish it would go on and on and on and on"; they were yelling positive enforcements like "Buttholes have smoke coming outta their ass" when the band left the stage before the encore.

And when the group returned, that encore was a grand finale -- which, again, overtook nearly every other show I've seen this year (including perhaps My Bloody Valentine). While the Buttholes launched into their feedback coda, a fog machine blanketed the entire stage with white smoke that made the whole band disappear while strobe lights gave eyeballs heart attacks. This went on for what, 10 minutes? 20 minutes? Time had really fallen by the wayside by that point, and the giant puffs of smoke were climbing out into the front rows of the Fillmore, slowly blanketing the fans as well.
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By the time the house lights came on, casting the chandeliers in lavender once again, and the speakers shifted from the live Butthole squall to a recording of "Greensleeves," the band had disappeared completely in the smoke. The stage was just a fogged-in skeleton crew of instruments and amps (labeled "Honky"). We'd had our collective flashback -- and now came the push for the commemorative Fillmore poster. Although no matter how cool the takeaway artwork was, nothing would rival the rush of climbing that Hairway to Steven live.

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By the way: Butthole Surfers promise an even wilder ride tonight, when they return to the Fillmore with Negativland for "The Booper Symphony No. 1."

For further reading: Check out our interview with the Butthole Surfers here. 



 





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