Laurie Sue, I'm Afraid of You 

Oakland's Ludicra terrifies its crowds; Mark Eitzel gleefully confuses his.

The poor girl on the ratty couch at 924 Gilman could barely keep her eyes open. Eventually, they drooped shut entirely, her mouth set in a teeth-gritting wince, her body pointed, hopefully and hopelessly, at the exit. In space, no one can hear you snore.

You know what tired is, people? Tired is falling asleep at a death-metal show.

You know what a bad date is, people? A bad date is when your special someone falls asleep at a death-metal show.

Indeed, there's a dude with his left arm wrapped tight around his droopy-eyed special lady. Dudes. Now. Seriously. We've all been this dude. Being this dude is no fun. So this dude is nervous and distracted, but has approximated a sympathetic dude embrace. I know, baby. His eyes dart from the stage to his despondent, woozy paramour. Been a long day, baby. Dude, does she ever look pissed off. The encore is almost over, baby.

You're screwed, dude. The encore is not almost over. Ludicra may single-handedly destroy this relationship. And that, dude, would only be appropriate.

The 924 Gilman crowd is more interesting than the actual band onstage a solid 92.4 percent of the time. This isn't necessarily a knock on the bands -- which rarely display technical genius but perform with a youthful exuberance that's awfully appealing -- yet it is awfully hard to appreciate while you're trying to avoid getting kicked in the taco.

It's riveting to watch a Gilman crowd whirl itself into a Sexual Frustration Tornado of all-ages rage and cartoonish violence. Particularly on this metal-crazed Saturday night, the sort of five-band bill that begins with Brutal Death. By the time Voetsek (key recording: The Castrator Album) leaps onstage, the meek among us have to scrunch against the back wall to avoid getting sucked into the mosh pit's washing machine vortex of destruction. It's pretty great.

But Ludicra, oh, Ludicra. The coed Oakland metalheads (key track: "Time Wounds All Heels") slapped the washing machine into a stunned, staring, stupefied stupor. Oh, shit, we all thought, as Laurie Sue Shanaman unloosed the first in a quite remarkable series of banshee-pulverizing death shrieks. We're in trouble now.

Laurie Sue. Oh, man.

Go ahead, cobble together your mental image of a girl named "Laurie Sue." Got it? Dudes. Now. Seriously. Ludicra's Laurie Sue could beat the ever-loving crapola outta your Laurie Sue.

Laurie Sue plays the sort of death metal wherein long-haired dudes and dudettes bob their heads in solemn, menacing unison. Ordinarily with this kind of stuff, you assume a melody is buried somewhere under all that bombast, albeit eviscerated to the point where it's only identifiable via dental records. With Ludicra, the evisceration is a bit more overt -- the tunes on Another Great Love Song, the band's Alternative Tentacles debut, sound like gorgeous power ballads that somehow turned real, real, real ugly. A Picture of Dorian Gray sort of thing.

Lyrics, too. Death-metal lyrics are indecipherable by design, but screeched, hooted, and/or grunted violently enough that you presume malice, dissatisfaction, unpleasant content. It's disturbing but weirdly emotionless and cartoonish to the point where nothing is really at stake. Ludicra's lyrics aren't exactly clearly enunciated, with Laurie Sue often receiving backup banshee-pulverizing death shrieks from guitarist Christy Cather. (Go ahead, cobble together your mental image of a girl named "Christy.") But the rage and despair are clearly audible, and almost operatic in their melodrama.

Each tune, then, unfolds like a five-act Shakespearean tragedy of death, dismemberment, Deicide. Like "Layla" in hell. The Gilman kids, thirteen going on thirty, stare slack-jawed, in shock and awe. Give 'em hell, Laurie Sue.

Except, of course, for the half-asleep girl on the ratty couch. Midway through Ludicra's Grand Guignol encore, her couch lay vacant. She has finally convinced her dude to flee the premises. But probably too late to save his chances for an encore date.

Alas. You can't kill 'em all.

Mark Eitzel, holding court at a gala SF tsunami benefit Wednesday night, encountered the exact opposite problem: excessive crowd interaction. The 12 Galaxies crowd had gathered for a rotating pie-rack of bedroom-folk big shots -- Bart Davenport, Sonny Smith, Jolie Holland, Jeffrey Luck Lucas -- but the squawking chatter nearly drowned everyone out.

Your affection for a singer can be measured by how angry you get at people loudly yakking in your ear while he/she is performing. Next time I go to an Eitzel gig, I'm bringing a shovel. Everyone, shaddap.

For Mark's three-song set, however, he brought along a secret weapon: the Carrot Lady. Yes, as Mark pounded out "Patriot's Heart" and "Another Morning" -- the most gloriously devastating pessimism/optimism one-two punch in recent memory -- a sneering lass wearing enormous glasses stood beside him, clutching a stick and three giant carrots, which she proceeded to eat with zeal and disdain. She looked remarkably like Edna E. Mode, the pint-sized fashion designer from The Incredibles.

Zeal and disdain. The crowd loved her, despite having almost no idea who she was, what she was doing, or why.

"She was my backup," Eitzel writes, by way of explanation. "Sometimes it's good to have backup. Sorry if the metaphor was too broad. Will you publicly mock me for it? At least I persuaded her not to wear a Hitler mustache and a Star of David armband."

Regardless of the metaphor's broadness, be on the lookout for an encore. "We are already planning the next show," Mark reports. He'll bring the guitar, she'll bring the carrots, you bring the shovel.


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