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One of the coolest things about Skinny Puppy is how the act has always been more than just a simple band. Since its inception in 1982, this Vancouver industrial juggernaut has turned out live shows that are complete, shocking audio-visual experiences. A Skinny Puppy concert was then, and still is, really a mixed-media art piece, filled with contradictory religious, political, and sexual imagery. And it's all accompanied, of course, by outlandish stage costumes and a relentless, pulsating psycho beat.
A Skinny Puppy show also represents a way to reunite with old associates. And last Friday's performance provided a welcome congregation of old and young members of this alluring subculture. The androgynous and mostly black-clad crowd was definitely a little older than what you would expect at, say, a Nine Inch Nails show, but then again, Skinny Puppy has always appealed to a more selective and arty demographic.
Skinny Puppy took the stage at Revolution about 11 p.m. last Friday, opening the show with a pounding rendition of 1992's impenetrable "Love in Vein." Showered by a mysterious collage of red and blue stage lights, singer Nivek Ogre appeared dressed in a white body suit sporting a white, cone-shaped mask. He spouted the lyrics through a heavily synthesized vocoder while distorted digitized images of his mask hovered above him, projected on a white canvas.
Thus began a set of new and classic Skinny Puppy material, which in 2009 is still profound for its constant wrestling with themes such as depression, war, and intolerance. And on record and live, the band still seems shrouded in an isolated remoteness, heightened by Ogre's intentionally obtuse lyrics. Add to this flashing images of, say, Christian iconography interspersed with scenes of military combat and the overall distortion of perception creates a really sinister atmosphere.
And so there was Ogre in his white foam mask, eventually shouting random words, in his trademark improvisational style, to the song "Rodent." He finally locked himself in a translucent white container while a large video monitor, set up above him, captured his movement. What this physical isolation and costume was really supposed to mean, though, he left for each audience member to interpret.
It wasn't until the night's encore that Ogre appeared onstage without a mask or full get-up. Wearing white pants and a long , pale shirt, it was then that the smiling singer launched into "Worlock" and "Brap." Still, he took things out on a relatively soft note, with the staggeringly engaging "Far Too Frail," a touchingly human plea sung after an hour and a half of butchering industrial noise. It was a perfect conclusion to a stunning performance.