It was old home week at South Street Seaport on Sept. 7, and we’re not talking about fish. We’re talking leather jackets and heavy-fringed heads descending upon the iconic Seaport’s music festival to witness the reunited soul rockers The Make-Up, the legendary Martin Rev of Suicide, and the avant-garde No Waver James Chance and the Contortions, among others.
I arrived late, just in time to catch Martin Rev torturing the audience with sonic terrorism. Part of Martin’s appeal is the complete lack of fucks he gives. He is the sort of guy who will continue to play music well into a third hour while the sound guys are telling him to stop and the lights are being turned up in the club. He did that a few years ago at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn; the crowded, sold-out show ended with only four guys and myself still standing in awe. On that occasion, Martin looked down on us and, with a smirk, said, “They want me to stop… FUCK ‘EM!”
At South Street Seaport, Martin’s music was piercing people’s ears, and not in a good way either. A lot of people were holding their ears and standing back. Maybe he did that on purpose? Who knows… You can’t really predict the thoughts of a man wearing a vinyl tank top with sweatpants and the sort of skier shades last seen in the 1980 Winter Olympics. His sets have always been groovy in the past, so it made sense when I heard rumors that some technical issues had evolved on Sept. 7.
I originally met Make-Up singer Ian Svenonius in the late 1990s when he was dating a friend of mine. He was stylish and handsome, with the best head of hair I’d ever seen. The three of us went out for nachos after a Locust gig somewhere in Los Angeles. The svelte singer ate one nacho and then held his stomach saying he was full. I couldn’t help but laugh since his lyrics to “I Want Some” read, “I want a piece right now, I don’t care about calories…” His lyrics are always cool and intelligent with a humor that sometimes goes unnoticed.
The Make-Up had played the Troubadour in L.A. earlier that year and my teenage brain was mesmerized by this charismatic unicorn who was walking on people’s hands while screeching the most high-pitched yet sexy shouts I had ever heard. Ian was summoning James Brown, Question Mark, Sky Saxon, and Charles Bradley, with a dash of Iggy Pop. I went out and bought every Make-Up record I could get my hands on the next day. I’ve been dusting off these twenty-year-old albums and slapping them on my turntable once again this month, confirming something I had already suspected: The Make-Up are one of the grooviest bands in the universe. Put on In Mass Mind and dance around your pad… believe me, the rest of your day will improve dramatically.
Michelle Mae is one of my favorite bassists, and her booming bass and cool demeanor onstage make her the Richards to Ian’s Jagger. James Canty plays a major role as keyboardist and guitar player, adding a unique spice as a multi-instrumentalist. Interestingly enough, he was the drummer in Ian’s former band, Nation of Ulysses, and worked recently beside Ian in Chain & the Gang. (Fun fact: James Canty is the younger brother of Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty.)
Back at the Seaport, I gazed up to see that the only change in the Make-Up lineup was that the original drummer, Steve Gamboa, wasn’t there. Mark Cisneros of Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds has been the sticks man as of late.
The Make-Up’s set was…electrifying!! Chilling! Hip shakin’! Panty-dropping madness!!!
Ian was walking on people’s hands, screaming, and kick-starting our engines with his massive presence and energy. Ian is the best frontman I’ve ever watched. If he ever retires from music, I hope to god he becomes a game show host or acts in a future James Bond movie. I can’t stop watching this man. The band wore matching shiny gold suits which fit them perfectly. Between songs, he told us to stop coming down on the weather because we were hurting the weather’s feelings. Making the audience laugh hysterically he added, “If you see any spacecrafts leaving the planet, you gotta shoot those fuckers down. We made this mess and we have to live with it. Airplanes are fine.”
I got a big, sweaty hug from Ian right after the show and while he was hugging me, he reached over to shake the hand of Nik Zinner from the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Nik told Ian and I that it was one of the best shows he’s ever seen. A bold statement coming from a man who has been to more gigs than anyone I know. The after-party raged on at Home Sweet Home where Jonathan Toubin spun his 45’s and everyone boogied.
Be sure to catch the Make-Up at Desert Daze on Oct. 14th in Joshua Tree, Calif., along with Iggy Pop, John Cale, and many other fantastic musicians.