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Review: Skinny Puppy @ Webster Hall 2.14.14

Skinny Puppy band

Many things have occurred for legendary Canadian industrial act Skinny Puppy since their last North American tour back in late 2009. The band released two studio albums (2011's HanDover and last year's Weapon), dropped a live album (2012's Bootlegged, Broke, and In Solvent Seas) and worked on some solo projects. Oh, and they billed the Pentagon $666,000 for using their music as part of torture tactics in Guantanamo Bay (more of that later in the review). For New York City fans, hopes of seeing the act on Valentine's Day were almost shattered when a massive snowstorm rolled through the area the day before. Skinny Puppy's performance in Philadelphia was immediately postponed (NOTE: that show has offically been canceled) due to the treacherous weather conditions, and cEvin Key, Skinny Puppy's co-founder and synth player, was forced to spend his 53rd birthday trapped in the snow. Luckily, New York City were quick to clear the streets and made it almost seem as if the storm didn't happen.

Brooklyn post industrial folk/punk act Cult Of Youth didn't bother to give their name to an unsuspecting crowd. Maybe vocalist Sean Ragon simply didn't have the time. The man is quite a busy fellow; aside from performing in Cult of Youth, Sean owns a Brooklyn record store called Heaven Street Records and runs Blind Prophet Records, a label which has released material from like-minded acts such as Hot Guts and Future Blondes. The Webster Hall crowd wasn't expecting a folk punk band to open for one of industrial music's influential acts. Sean strummed his acoustic guitar with jerky movements as he flipped his sing/scream tactics like a light switch. The tracks were definite circlepit inducing material, but the audience was still save for a few bopping their heads along.

Italian electronic band Army Of The Universe tried to liven things up, but the crowd still wasn't very responsive. Vocalist Lord K's thick accent made it difficult to comprehend what he was saying at times. At one point, the vocalist confusingly said, "New York City, what the hell is doing here?" Perhaps it was an intense adrenaline rush from performing in front of a sold out Webster Hall crowd. Many tracks, namely the title track from their latest album The Hipster Sacrifice and their new track "Uniform", possessed a hard rock swagger thanks to guitarist Davide Tavecchia. The crowd slowly but surely warmed up to A.O.T.U. before their finale "Hollywood Drama", a track which had the vocalist bumping fists with a few people in the front row.

Aside from their current Live Shapes For Arms headlining tour, February has been a hectic time in the Skinny Puppy camp. When word broke about the U.S. government using Skinny Puppy's music in Guantanamo Bay, a huge media frenzy surrounded the act with major publications like Time, Billboard and Al Jazeera America covering the story. Things got more interesting when the act announced they've billed the U.S. government a devilish $666,000 for compensation.  If the act recieves the money or not, (vocalist Nivek Ogre stated in a recent interview with Breaking The Set's Abby Martin that they would donate it all towards fighting post traumatic stress disorder), their strong stance against cruelty is nothing new to their fans.

As a figure dressed in a white radiation protection suit surveyed the stage, the crowd gave off a massive roar in anticipation for what happened next: Skinny Puppy vocalist Ogre dressed in a black cloth with a white mask on his face. Skinny Puppy's live shows, which have been filled with bleeding crucifixes, angle grinders and mock executions, are some of the most theatrical and controversial performances that have ever taken place. Musical acts like Marilyn Manson and Rammstein have emulated their performance style for years, but they can't quite duplicate the sheer intensity pouring out of Ogre as he uses the stage as his canvas. This evening's performance found the vocalist in a radioactive wasteland with shocking developments at ever turn. The vocalist transformed into a handful of characters that night, including a werewolf for the track "Wornin'". The thing that separates Skinny Puppy from most bands is their setlist. While most bands that have a vast range of albums stick to mostly playing the hits, Ogre and cEvin Key try to dish out something fresh on each tour. While the band usually performs a few fan favorites on each tour, they always pull out some deep cuts to give folks a different experience each time.

As expected, there were a couple of moments during Skinny Puppy's set that were simply outrageous. During the track "Worlock", Ogre proceeded to repeatedly cut his left arm with a long blade. Concerned about what was happening, one of his stagehands jumped on stage to stop him only to be dragged away by security. There was no need to worry; the use of prosthetic body parts is common practice for Ogre. The use of security in that particular performance blurred the line between fiction and reality. "First Aid" saw the vocalist in dire need of assistance. With his left arm shrinking, Ogre had no choice but to throw his head in a box bursting with radiation. The next track "Solvent" found the vocalist appearing like an unfortunate victim of his actions that night. Staggering onstage with his skin deformed from the immense radiation, Ogre roared through lines like "Remorse, a heartless soul, senseless, no apparent self control" before doctors placed him inside a tiny box.

For the encore, Ogre came back on stage, but it wasn't the way in which he originally left. Stripped from any costumes and props, the vocalist greeted the attentive NYC crowd before kicking things off with "Far Too Frail", one of Skinny Puppy's most beloved dance numbers, before heading into other Remission tracks "Glass Houses" and "Smothered Hope".  After Skinny Puppy ended the evening with "Overdose", the final track from their latest album Weapon, many people were pondering about when the act will make their way back to the States again. With the grandiose performance given by Ogre and Co., those folks will have enough memories to hold them until the next time around.