(Note: publishing this as I’ve not seen any reviews of Tusk / Brainbombs debut in the UK).
I am only able to make the Saturday of Tusk, due to childcare, but that’s when Brainbombs are playing their debut UK gig so I’m like so totally there dude, even if I’ve got to go on my own as, surprisingly, my wife isn’t into them. Still, it’s nice to be let out of the house. I’ve not been to Tusk before or indeed Newcastle for about 30 years since I was last here for a Youth CND conference but having initially walked the wrong way from the station, the Tyneside waterfront when I finally find it, is not what I recall from all those years back i.e. Newcastle Brown, miniskirts and t-shirts in the depths of winter hell, but an eclectic mix of the modern, traditional Victorian and the yet to be developed, with Baltic looking like a contemporary art gallery should and the Sage glittering in the October sun like a silvery cocoon.
Having had a scoot round the Bloomberg New Contemporaries (a bit meh) and an afternoon nap in the hotel (you’ve got to grab them whilst you can, eh parents?), when I finally walk into the lobby of the Sage, things are starting to take shape. The record stalls are enticing with the expected weirdo cassettes and also lo and behold, actual Brainbombs vinyl which I’ve never seen in real life so I purchase a couple to sell at a vastly inflated price in a couple of years.
I get a beer and go into the small theatre space where tonight’s events will be held. The DJ is playing ‘The Gift’ by the Velvets and Mo Tucker’s tribal drumming warms us up for the first act. Luna Del Cazador play the kind of cool tribal post-punk dirge on pretty basic gear you’d want to hear in a forest clearing with some sort of bonfire on the go, to celebrate an equinox or solstice or suchlike. Which is a good thing – they convince me. And they convince the hippy dude who is stood next to me at the end of their set who tells me he’s had half a tab and is feeling secure and social. Alright!
I go and get another beer. Next up, Kink Gong, who looks pretty chilled and like the kind of guy who meditates a lot. He asks us to sit down on the floor for his set which most of us do and then starts up the old laptop. I don’t know much about him but from his Facebook I find that what he does is ‘record ethnic minority music mostly in south-east Asia and then transforms, collages and recomposes the original recordings into experimental soundscapes’. And that’s what it sounds like. I can take it or leave it, but I guess that’s the point.
Act three is Staraya Derevnya and they’re pretty fantastic. They play a kind of psychedelic folk with wind-up toys, shouting, buzzy sounds and with live animated drawings projected behind them – out of some foggy scribble emerges a head, then a bug thing grows tentacles and sucks ectoplasm out of the head, then stuff starts spinning around and then a phoenix rises… highest recommendation, as David Keenan used to say. They get the biggest round of applause of the night.
I need a gin and tonic and then it’s time for Èlg who plays a kind of gentle funky wobbly electro and sings non-words like a messed up Robert Wyatt. I like it.
No more alcohol or indeed acid is needed for Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet. If you like the performance art of Paul McCarthy then these three fabric cuckoo clock and giant rag doll heads with no eyes take you to that place but with a soundtrack of modular synth bluzz and trumpet. It’s over all too soon with a completely nutty version of Reign in Blood by Slayer with tap dancing. Which by now we were all ready for and in fact wanted, without realising it, innit.
All too quickly then it’s time for Brainbombs, our final act of the night, with their Sotos-inspired one song done many many many times. They set up grumpily, full of Stella, looking like… normal blokes. When they launch into their set, it’s great (but not as loud as I would have liked… I saw Pussy Galore at the LSE, mate). It’s weird to hear this ‘traditional’ guitar rock at the end of the day’s events but Brainbombs are of course, oddly psychedelic themselves, what with the horrible lyrics, the discordant trumpet floating over the top like a nod to Whitehouse’s Wasp scree, and the oddly groovy riffs. We can’t hear the vocals but that’s probably just as well. The bros in the crowd start to slam around, as of course they would, they have to, they are bros, programmed to do that.Glasses are thrown. The band definitely plays Kill Them All, Darker Shade of Pain and Burning Hell. At the end of their set I am up in the balcony and to the left of the stage there is a middle-aged woman dancing, untouched by the bro-violence, as she might do to, I dunno, Roy Orbison or something. Conclusion? Pass, but I love Tusk and I want to come back next year.