Black Moth Super Rainbow
The Hawthorne Theatre
I first heard of the Pittsburgh, PA band, Black Moth Super Rainbow back in 2009. At the time, I was living in Tacoma, WA, working two shitty jobs, and stuck in a real “going nowhere” phase of my life. Somehow, I managed to download a copy of their 2007 album, Dandelion Gum, and was blown away by the low-fi electro trance being generated by sythesizers, a vocorder, and a drum machine. I felt like this was the new sound that was desperately needed to elevate my current situation; a chance to experience drugged out-bliss without the drugs.
On June 25th of the same year, I drove to Los Angeles with some craigslist riders who needed a ride to the Electric Daisy Carnival, a two-day electronic music festival being held in the Los Angeles Coleseum. I only remember the date because Michael Jackson died that day. These Kids didn’t give a fuck about MJ and only wanted to listen to dub step the whole way down. I was cool on it for about 10 minutes before we all managed to agree on BMSR. [This is not unlike the last time that I had given some CL riders a lift to LA (2004?). On that trip, a guy constantly wanted to listen to Modest Mouse. He also told me that he had never heard of Built to Spill. Can you guess what we listened to?]
In 2011, my buddy Lars and I tried to see Kurt Vile in Portland, OR, but the show was sold out. Fortunately, BMSR front man, Tobacco was playing a show up the street at Holocene that still had tickets available. Joining him on tour were two regular Black Moth Super Rainbow band members, The Seven Fields of Aphelion and D.Kyler. By this point, I was as familiar with Tobacco‘s solo material as I was his output with the full band. One album that I was particularly drawn to was The Allegheny White Fish Tapes, a compilation of early tracks from the 1990s. These recordings are pre-BMSR and bear little resemblance to that band. The Allegheny Whitefish Tapes sounds like a complete clusterfuck of drums and noise and, with each song harder on the ears than the one before it, it’s guaranteed to piss at least one person in the room off. It’s similar to listening to Ween’s God Ween Satan if the only other album that you own is White Pepper. The other Tobacco albums–2008‘s Fucked Up Friends and Maniac Meat from 2010–were both released on the independent rap label, Anticon and do sound similar to his work with BMSR. I did not know what to expect from the Tobacco show that night, but I guess that I wanted to hear loud, offensive, clear-the-room type noise rock. What I got was something closer to Black Moth in sound. I am uncertain of the exact setlist from that night, but I’m pretty sure that he was playing mostly solo material on that tour. At the end of the show, I was thoroughly impressed, yet I still felt like I was left high and dry. As good as it was, in my eyes, it just felt like BMSR light; I would eventually need to see the full band live.
Fast forward a couple of years to the end of last month and I finally get my chance to see BMSR live at The Hawthorne Theatre–also in Portland. On Tobacco’s Facebook page, he mentioned that this would be the group’s only tour of 2013 to support Cobra Juicy, their fifth full length album, which was released last fall after being funded by a sucessfull Kickstarter campaign. By the time that I got off work, took some dabs, and made it to the theater, I was ready for some spaced-out, psychedelic-pop. The venue had a no-readmittance policy, so once you’re in, you’re in. That was cool with me and, as I made my way into the theater, I found myself in the bar area.
Now, I expected that I would have been too early for Black Moth Super Rainbow, and I didn’t have a clue as to what other bands were on the bill, but what I didn’t expect to see was a DJ on stage with some poor mash-ups and a desire to get the crowd to sing “Ignition Remix.” Fortunately for me, he did have an amazing light set-up behind him which I could trip out on.
After his set, and before the headliner, I made my way to the front of the stage. The crowd up front seemed to be equal parts hippy and hipster with, what looked like, many dreads-to-black-threads converts tying the two together.
Finally, the band came out. Along with Tobacco on synth and vocals, there was The Seven Fields of Aphelion on Keys/synthesizer; D.Kyler on drums; Ryan Graveface on guitar; and Ponydiver on bass. A five piece. As the band was getting ready, the video screen behind them showed the warning that precedes the video for the Cobra Juicy track, “Hairspray Heart,” which they opened their set with. Supposedly, the “flashing lights” in the video–which features the wrestler, Gold Dust sexually writhing around in a neon hot tub, surrounded by candles–has the potential to to cause people with epilepsy to go into seizures. For the rest of the show, the video screen played nature scenes.
After the opener, BMSR churned out an hour-long set of material that was mostly from Cobra Juicy, with a few songs off of Dandelion Gum; their previous album, Eating Us (2009); and some Tobacco solo material. The sound of the live band was similar to that of the albums, but each song was treated as a remix unto itself, leaving only the vocals sounding like what I was used to hearing.
I read somewhere that Tobacco records the Black Moth Super Rainbow albums by himself, only using the band for the live shows. When I listen to the albums, I can hear the synth and vocorder the most, but in concert, I was able to focus on the various different parts much more. From my vantage point, I had the clearest view of Tobacco, Graveface, and D.Kyler. Watching the way that they would play and approach each song, I was surprised by the use of the slide guitar on “Psychic Love Damage” off of Cobra Juicy–I always thought that song was pure synthesizers. Maybe it was because I was excited to finally see BMSR as a live band, or maybe it was because, as a live band, BMSR is bigger than what can be edited and mixed by the front man alone, but I felt that every song played was a better, longer, bigger remix of what I had previously heard on the albums. It seemed like Tobacco‘s bandmates had the go ahead for a little improv, as the songs were being played; guitars could be shredded a little harder… the beat could be dropped a little faster. Everybody was of one mind.
Whether it was on songs like Cobra Juicy’s “Windshield Smasher” and “Hairspray Heart,” where the drums are really driving the song; or something like “Sun Lips” off of Dandelion Gum, where the drums are relegated to the background, D.Kyler played with constant energy and was my favorite band member to watch throughout the show. She was mesmerizing and, while I don’t really see the drums as being in the forefront of the songs when listening to the albums, in seeing the band live, they are the most powerful thing on stage. I only wish there would have been a drum solo at some point in the set.
My favorite song of the night was the encore, “Forever Heavy” off of Dandelion Gum. This was the first song that I ever heard of BMSR and it is fitting that it was also the last one played, like my experience with this band has come full circle. An hour long set was the perfect length for them and, thanks to it being an all-ages show, on a Tuesday night, I was out of there by 11pm with my dreams of seeing Black Moth Super Rainbow fulfilled.
I only hope that Tobacco continues to put out quality music, whether it’s under BMSR or his own name. A split 7″ with Tobacco and Black Bananas that was released this year, and you can also catch Tobacco playing Music Fest NW this September in Portland.