Where: Vic Theatre
When: February 21st, 2014
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Neil Miller, Jr.
I’ve seen Skinny Puppy several times, even before their sold out show at the Vic Theatre on February 21st, so my own personal expectations were set fairly high. My favorite shows I’ve seen from them were back in 2004 when they began touring full throttle again. The setlist was great then (getting to hear “VX Gas Attack” and “Harsh Stone White” were the most memorable experiences I think I’ll ever have from seeing Puppy live), and the band was full of vigor to the point where the show rivaled other immersive rock shows. Since then, the shows and setlists may be different, but Cevin Key and frontman Ogre are still capable of invigorating their audience and churning out a captivating set of their experimental electronic music. This show was even more spectacular than others for one major reason…
Never before have I seen a band live and appreciated hearing so much new material in one set. When it’s someone who has been around as long as Skinny Puppy has, I go into the show hoping to hear a plethora of fan favorites and deep cuts. I still hope that someday I’ll get to hear “Ghostman” from the recently remastered Greater Wrong of the Right album or even “Tear or Beat” from Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate. With that said, I love Weapon. Especially after the major disappointment that was their second-to-last album, Handover, this newest record is a very welcome return to form and a fitting chapter to follow Mythmaker. But there were a couple of tracks on Weapon that I didn’t like as much as others. Experiencing the glitchy electro grit of “tsudanama” and witnessing Ogre become possessed by the music to the point where he is a human extension of the song, it definitely helps put things in perspective. There’s a reason I’ve seen Skinny Puppy live so much, after all — it’s not just that the show is an experience like no other; it’s more that their songs take on a whole new life when performed live. I’ve gone to their shows and fallen in love with songs I didn’t like previously (“dOwnsizer” being one of those), and that’s what makes a show memorable for me.
But I digress. The Weapon material sounded absolutely impeccable on this evening. “wornin’” had the front half of the crowd — myself included — stomping, pushing, shoving, and bouncing to the Weapon opening track’s infectious beat and 8-bit synths. “paragUn” was a dizzying cut that, as my personal favorite song from the new record, wound up being my favorite Weapon track I heard at this show. But of course, the old stuff was where it was really at. “Hexonxonx” can easily be considered a staple of their live set now and for good reason — Rabies is not my favorite Puppy album, but I don’t think you can call yourself a Skinny Puppy fan if you don’t like that song at least a little bit. “Smothered Hope” sounded more intense than I’ve ever heard it before, and that’s saying a lot. It seems like this is the song where Ogre really leaves his everything on the stage.
Something should be said about this, too… I’ll be the first to admit that I love Ogre’s theatrics for the live Puppy show. It’s almost like experiencing a Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci film live onstage. It’s terrifying, grotesque, baffling, and of course, thought provoking. But when Ogre strips down for the encore (including “Smothered Hope”) and appears to us all as a regular dude fronting the band that many say invented industrial music, I think that’s when he really shines. There’s something magical about watching a tall, scary looking behemoth such as Ogre bounce around the stage while growling the lyrics to “Far Too Frail” and “Glass Houses” — it’s almost as scary as the more dramatic parts of the show. This is all part of the charm though… no matter what Ogre’s doing onstage and whatever Cevin Key is churning out from his coffin of synthesizers, it’s impossible to not pay attention. I’ve had gripes over setlists in the past from their shows but I’ve never left a Skinny Puppy show disappointed. This set was no exception. It was bloody, it was gruesome, it was fun, it was uncomfortable, but most of all — it made us all listen. If you’ve never seen Skinny Puppy live and you’re even a lighthearted fan, go see the show and become a devout fan like the rest of us because the show is where the music truly comes to life. But I won’t lie…I’m excitedly awaiting a new OhGr album. Until then, join me in appreciating Skinny Puppy’s newest Weapon in their arsenal.