It's always tough to watch a band you admire jump the shark. Regardless, it's pretty common to see bands make creative choices that forever remove them from the realm of the cool and send them hurtling on inescapable trajectories toward gimmicky stagnation or even downright mediocrity.
Unlike Happy Days (or even the fridge-nuking Indiana Jones franchise), the evolution of electro/industrial band Combichrist had no moment of shocking absurdity that defined a shift in the band's quality or credibility. Instead, frontman Andy LaPlegua has slowly but consistently ratcheted up his appeal to mainstream audiences, just as a chef might boil a frog gradually to keep it from trying to escape.
Contrary to popular belief, though, frogs can still tell when it's getting a little warm, just as most fans who've been listening for a couple of years can tell that, at this point, Combichrist has more in common with Insane Clown Posse than it does with any group in its own genre.
Though Thursday night's performance at the Marquee Theatre was not the least bit surprising, it definitely served as a stark reminder that Combichrist is continuing its push toward MTV-type audiences and largely rejecting its industrial roots in the process. Luckily for Andy, though, his techniques certainly seemed to be working.
Looking like a homeless Ronald McDonald, Andy lip-synched to samples in his music like a champion, whipping an army of similarly mohawked goths and rivetheads into a stomp-dancing frenzy.
Although much of Combichrist's back catalog consists of largely instrumental dance tracks, Andy has gotten pretty good at presenting these songs with rock-god vigor. In addition to playing older favorites like "This Shit Will Fuck You Up" and "Without Emotions," the band pounded out newer hits like "Get Your Body Beat" and "Today We Are All Demons" with even more energy, presumably because they were written with a live band in mind.
Backed by a touring group whose members were apparently selected for their lack of shirts and body fat, Andy has come a long way from the days of rocking out with laptops for his other, similarly well-received band Icon of Coil.
All told, fans of dark, synthetic music had a great night.
Since the Valley's industrial scene is largely restricted to gay lounges and punk and sports bars, fans seemed pretty excited to be listening to their music of choice at a decent-size venue.
Although Combichrist gets more and more poppy every time they come to town, the band also brings more and more recognition to a scene and a genre that are both in dire need of it.
Last Night: Combichrist at the Marquee Theatre
Better Than: Paying twice as much to see them open for a washed up, over-the-hill
incarnation of KMFDM the last time that band came to town.
Personal Bias: After seeing Combichrist virtually blow the roof out at a warehouse
art gallery show for Sadisco* a couple of years ago, it's pretty difficult for the
band to outdo their past glory and impress me.
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Random Detail: Andy gets fatter every time he brings Combichrist through town. If
the trend continues, next time he may be singing from a motorized wheelchair.
Further Listening: 13 Ways To Masturbate, the debut release from Andy's least-known
side project, Scandy. That album's electroclash sound is more fresh, fun and sexy
than new material from Combichrist will ever be.
By The Way: A note to the band's live drummers: If you're going to throw your
sticks in the air, it would help your credibility if you caught them every once in
Photos by Jonathan McNamara