In May of 1981, Throbbing Gristle, the world-renowned noise pioneers often credited with inventing the genre of industrial music, played a final, legendary show in San Francisco and then broke up. Last Thursday, April 23, the original line up of vocalist Genesis P-Orridge, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (found sounds/laptop), Cosey Fanni Tutti (guitars), and Chris Carter (synthesizer/laptop) returned to San Francisco for the first time since reforming in 2004, to play a sold-out show at the Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center.
After welcoming the audience to the “Throbbing Gristle Experience,” the pandrogynous, platinum blonde Genesis announced, “I have a story to tell. It’s a children’s story. Well, it’s about children being murdered…that counts, right?” The band then launched into “Very Friendly,” a sadistic tale of a real life pair of Manchester–based serial killers from the 60s. Welcome to the Throbbing Gristle experience indeed.
The set continued with the hypnotic “Persuasion,” a haunting hymn of psychological perversion, followed by “Something Came Over Me”, an equally depraved narrative sung over the sort of churning beat that might emanate from a washing machine the size of a Muni bus. Next came an extended instrumental break, with Genesis’ bottle rocket-sounding electric violin screeching through a ghastly hum, heavy like the gasp of an army of iron lungs respiring in unison.
The band then played old favorite “Hamburger Lady,” featuring morbid lyrics of charred flesh, sung over an unearthly buzz, like the drone of a mechanized termite hive. After the funereal “Almost a Kiss,” Genesis brought her daughter Genesse on stage for an introduction, admonishing the audience not to get “any weird ideas.”
During the melancholy “Endless Not” Genesis crooned, “Will you choose the easy way out” over and over while Christopherson, draped in a faux-Dalmatian boxing robe, unleashed a bass-laden rumble, like controlled detonations inside a cement mixer. Genesis next growled through “What a Day,” her harsh vocals grinding against a wall of sound built from the kaleidoscopic noise of discarded machinery.
The set was perhaps not the transgressive sort of affair that characterized Throbbing Gristle’s earlier career, but the sight of a 59-year-old transgender woman rapping and leaping about with Flavor Flav-like abandon would probably have been radical enough for anyone not savvy to the band’s idiosyncrasies. The crowd though, composed of financial district suits, leather bound Armory types, and several demographics in between, appeared to be mostly all longtime fans and followers, so nothing in the retrospective set, musical or otherwise, seemed to come as much of a shock. Still, by the time the band closed with the iconic “Discipline,” the audience had been worked into a near frenzy. Carter and Tutti stepped away from their laptops and held up cameras to take video of their fans as the nuclear winter came to a climax.
Erika M. Anderson opened the night with a twenty-minute narcotic drenching that provided a solid lead-in to the main act.