And then, when all hope left the East Side, when it seemed St. Louis would be forevermore a haven to garage/alt-country/rockabilly/bling-bling, time itself fractured and hope wheezed again. The fabled beast, the Mighty Oops! Tour, reared its pointy head above the horizon and let out the two-octaves-above-bagpipes shrill static burst that cleaves the sky asunder and cleaves together the no-wavers, the now-wavers, the brutal prog-rockers and the kid with the four-bit Nintendo cart lodged in his brain. Last seen in these parts in 1997 at the lamentably late Side Door, the Oops! Tour returns from the past to deliver the future -- or at least one possible future. It is a future so bright, it compels you to gouge out your eyes and shove them in your ears so you can taste the music. Yeah, and then some.
The original impetus of Oops! was terrifying in its simplicity. In 1994, Skin Graft Records and Comics assembled some of its finer bands, including Mount Shasta and the incomparable Dazzling Killmen, to play a festival, have some fun and counter the critical intellectualization of the music said bands created. Oops! was designed to showcase the music and stifle the influence of critics who liked to use words such as "intellectualization." (Arrgh! Hoisted on our own petard!). The show was so successful that it became a recurring event, with a raft of bands, off-kilter theatrical accompaniment and special-guest appearances by a faux Danzig. Success in Chicago led to Oops! events in other cities, but not long after the 1997 St. Louis show, Oops! returned to the slime that spawned it. Some folks say the music died then. Some folks say the music was just badly concussed and had gone to sleep, which meant it might never wake up again. Some folks jerked off quietly into the wind, but that was a return to form, not a new development.
In any case, for reasons as simple as the thinking behind the original Oops! show (music, fun and critic-baiting), a new Oops! tour was organized this year through the combined efforts of bookers Brian Peterson (of Skin Graft) and Ben McOsker (of Load Records). Built around the triple-threat core of Arab on Radar, the Locust and Lightning Bolt, the new Oops! Tour will undulate across America in grand fashion for the remainder of the summer, including a stop at the Creepy Crawl on July 11. In a contortion of time and space so incongruous it reeks of deus ex machina, the "legitimate" Danzig will be serenading the Pageant the same week the current Oops! show unfolds its dewy petals in the dank confines of the Creepy Crawl. The mind reels at the possibility of wee Danzig's finding his way to the Creepy to make an appearance. But minds were already reeling at the fact that Danzig still has the clout to merit a Pageant booking.
All right, enough about Danzig. The crunchy bands at the center of the Oops! Tootsie Pop are nothing like the Diminutive Dark One. These three bands rely on innovation and their own idiosyncratic visions to formulate music that is by turns challenging, infuriating, maddening, bracing, abrasive and sweet balm to music lovers who are sickened by the pabulum that mewls from most summer tours, radio stations and the great ziggurats of Corporate Record America Producers (known popularly and acronoymically as CRAP Inc.). What follows is a scorecard of sorts for the triumvirate of Oops! bands in it to win it this summer. You can tell the bands apart without the scorecard, but for the newcomers, the puzzled and the bipolar-curious, this is the sort of cheat sheet necessary to determine just who it is that will be musically fucking their asses this Thursday night. Cut this out, stick it in your sock and hit the road to follow the Oops! tour cross-country.
Arab on Radar: Easily recognized by its uniforms, its bassless four-man lineup and the unrelentingly nasal ranting of vocalist Mr. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Arab on Radar offers a twin-guitar scree that slashes through psychosexual undergrowth dark and twisted enough to put Freud off his breakfast. Mr. PTSD's graphic lyrics are not hip-hop salacious, skirting as they do the boundaries of therapeutic confession, demented teen fantasies and clinical gynecology. They just seem unbelievably filthy when delivered over the slippery guitars of Mr. Clinical Depression and Mr. Type A. Both guitarists eschew chords for the most part, unleashing trebly gouts of skronk and rapid-fire feedback spasms that splatter over and under Mr. Obsessive Compulsive's herky-jerky drums. The cumulative effect of sprinting drums, spiraling dueling guitars and a vocalist whose voice could scar titanium is like witnessing a quartet of drunken, horny Amish rake-fighters argue over who gets sloppy seconds with the sheep. And as anyone who has ever jockeyed for position in the sheep line can tell you, there are no losers in this sort of struggle.
Lightning Bolt: Numerically the smallest group, at just two members, Lightning Bolt offers the greatest possibility of stretching its songs past the three-minute mark. Bassist Brian Gibson and vocalist/drummer Brian Chippendale are industrious crafters of music that is heavy and sinuous, slipping into gutbucket grooves and delicate pretty sounds that belie their origin in the 3,800-watt amplification system Lightning Bolt carts around the country. That's 3,800 watts of bass coming down on your head like the wrath of dog, and to further induce vertigo, Lightning Bolt occasionally sets up offstage and plays from the back of the room or the middle of the dance floor. Oh, and despite this being St. Louis and everyone having cement feet, people will dance. When that much volume cracks your skull, the raw electrical output alone is enough to rewire your nervous system, forcing you to dance, drool copiously or eat and then shit your neighbor's pants -- or all three.
The Locust: As its name implies, the Locust sounds like a swarming wave of grinding insect horror. It buttresses a full-frontal guitar/bass/drum/vocal assault with shrill, whirring keyboard sounds that up the freakout quotient considerably. The Locust burrowed out of California's soft punk underbelly, but the only remnants of its hardcore past are the blink-and-you-miss-it song lengths and the rabid devotion (some might say "destructive tendencies") of its fans. You might notice a red glow surrounding the members of the Locust as they throw themselves into their blurry, cacophonous set: It is not an aura of bloodlust they project, merely the increase in light radiation wavelength caused by the Doppler effect as they approach and then surpass the speed of light. Please keep your arms and legs inside the club at all times, because the Locust will rip them off through pure velocity.
And one final note: As a wise man once warned, "No one in the venue may look Danzig in the eye." So don't even try it.