Wanna trying classifying them? Be our guest. Photo from StarWars.com (no, seriously).
Bringing with them a heavy dose of psychedelia, synth-pop, industrial, ambient and any one of a dozen more musical avant-garde “isms,” the Legendary Pink Dots turned the Bluebird Theater into Denver’s own version of Amsterdam’s world-famous venue/museum/cultural mecca, The Melkweg, for a few hours Tuesday night. And, much to the delight of an unfortunately small crowd, bandleader Edward Ka-Spel led the five-peace through a fantastic, albeit somewhat short, journey through their hugely prolific history.
In case you’re among the uninitiated, the Legendary Pink Dots are a vastly multi-faceted band that started in 1980 in Britain and quickly moved themselves to Amsterdam. The move was fitting, as the general mood in Amsterdam arguably seemed to offer a more appropriate culture from which the band has pulled its music. To call the band’s style psychedelic, industrial, avant-garde, goth rock or ambient would not be wrong, and the band has been described all of those ways many times in the past two and a half decades. But any of those descriptions, and many combinations of them, wouldn’t be entirely right, either.
The Dots are artists of such a prolific nature that it proves difficult to classify them under any of these headings for long, and by “for long,” I mean even within the confines of one album, or, as was exhibited very well on Tuesday, within one show.
In under two hours, Ka-Spel and band members Phil Knight (synthesizer wizard), Martijn de Kleer (bass and guitar), Niels van Hoorn (saxophones) and Raymond Steeg (sound board wizard) pulled the audience through a musical journey that exhibited a wide range of styles. Accompanied only by electronic drums, the songs averaged somewhere between five and twelve minutes long.
Their set list at times channeled a combination of synth and punk, reminiscent of Test Dept. and early Stranglers (Ka-Spel often seemed to sing with an uncannily similar croon to Hugh Cornwell’s). Then they mixed in songs influenced by avant-garde bands like Public Image Limited (more from the “Second Edition” and “Flowers of Romance” era) and the Bevis Frond, soaked with a repetitive rhythm that resurrected legendary noise and industrial bands like Eisturzende Neubauten and Crash Worship. On top of all that, a few more tunes were thrown in that had an unmistakeable taste of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd or “Lucy in the Sky…” era Beatles.
While denying any of us a single genre on which to focus, the Dots provided the audience with an exciting set, along with just a touch of history. Songs included “No Matter What You Do,” “I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty,” “Just A Lifetime” and “Princess Coldheart,” among others.
One highlight came as van Hoorn, bald and adorned in a fantastic op-art printed suit, traveled through the audience from the stage clear to the front lobby, playing his saxophone with a light fixture attached to the bell. As he coaxed various screeches, groans, squeaks and squeals out of his horn, the light fixture would shine and increase in intensity with sound, lighting up audience members’ faces. A fan in the front later offered van Hoorn his similarly-colored hat to wear on stage for a few tunes.
And I’ll never forget Ka-Spel, barefoot and draped in a black robe and pink scarf, stomping emphatically back and forth across the stage during “No Matter What You Do,” screaming “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!” over and over again with a squeal somewhere between Ozzy Osbourne and John Lydon. The words were screamed out across the audience with a powerful mix of fear and rage, certain to burn a vision of Ka-Spel’s twisted face into many a cornea.
The Legendary Pink Dots maintain a devoted fan base that some might even say borders on cult-like. The band’s tremendously prolific artistic output and influence speaks for itself, and their discography consists of more than 40 records. Ka-Spel also has a considerable number of records to his name alone, and the band has collaborated in the past with bands like the Tear Garden (with members of Skinny Puppy) and Mimir (with Jim O-Rourke and others).
Though the band members’ ages are evident, they showed Tuesday night that they have no intention of slowing down, and their devoted fans seemed to be ecstatic for the news.
Billy Thieme is a Denver writer and regular Reverb contributor.