By Vincent Abbate

Was it surf? Was it punk? Was it science-fiction? If either of the bands appearing at Gebäude 9 had turned down their amps from 11 to 10, say, it might have been easier to tell. But the youth packing the gutted former warehouse, several hundred in fact, enjoyed it. I'm not certain about the scowling blonde girls, who looked ready to move to somewhere less damaging to the central nervous system, a sauna maybe, or an all-night oxygen bar.

Nor am I all too sure about the troubled-looking boys I saw ogling said girls. But the room was full. Heads bobbed. People cheered. Moshed. Bought T-shirts.

What special guests Zen Guerrilla opened with was essentially a jacked-up blues. Zen GuerillaLead singer Marcus Durant even blew into a Hohner nobody heard and sang a rockified "Bring It On Home to Me." With all the delay on his mike, I caught just one word he sang all night : heart. (He helpfully pointed at his shirt.) And the band had it. Their sound, though full of angry feedback, had an earthy blues feel to go with buckets of adrenaline and at center, this Zen Gorilla : a big, loopy guy with electric socket hair and a charming elephantine leap he used to good advantage. No, that's unfair. Durant's act wasn't calculated. The guy was psyched. Guitarist Rich Millman hammered away like a crazed Bob Vila stage left. Zen Guerrilla's collective enthusiasm flew to the back of the dark, packed room and was probably felt blocks away.

Then it was time for Man or Astro-man?, one of the busiest bands on this or any planet. Since their 1993 Estrus Records debut, Is it...Man or Astro-man? , they've released a score of seven-inch singles and nearly a dozen full-length albums. Once a fairly standard, guitar-driven surf-and-spy band, they've since cultivated a quirkier, more complex mix of electronic beats, tape loops and "other astro-styles that fall under the greater cosmic umbrella," to quote their literature. Their most recent European tour took the four band members (or, more accurately, their clones) from Madrid to Reykjavik and thirty cities in between in just over a month. This in support of EEVIAC: Operational Index and Reference Guide, Including Other Modern Computational Devices , their latest CD/LP release.

What exactly is EEVIAC and why should we listen to it? To a musical gurgle, four figures in gray diving suits and helmets emerged to ceremoniously unveil the colossus of a super computer that would be having unexplainable influence on what was to follow. The quartet itself appeared onstage minutes later in red jumpsuits and swimming goggles, looking for all the world like the sons of Devo. Images drifted across a screen behind them : floating telephones, politicians, little boys, scientists. Three EEVIAC-controlled guitarists and a drummer were about to spank out a pumped-up, surfy, mind-numbing rock.

I'd hoped to interview the four semi-natives of Auburn, Alabama before the show. (Semi because Man or Astro-man? originally hail from the Grid Sector, a far-off corner of the universe. A decade ago, their intergalactic cruiser crash-landed in Alabama. Since then, they've roamed the world as a band, searching for the parts which scattered when their ship hit the earth's atmosphere. Someday they'll probably rebuild and escape.) But lo, a slew of earthlings were already lined up to talk to the Astro-men. The nearest I could get was their T-shirt guy. He gave me a good deal on a used magno-interferometer which he said would allow me to contact Man or Astro-man? at a later date, provided I entered the correct coordinates.

It's nice to be able to take a man at his word. The following interview with Birdstuff who, when not busy with genetic experiments, minds Man or Astro-man?'s drum kit was conducted solely with the aid of my magno-interferometer. The answers were deposited outside my office window by a cloned carrier pigeon.

Q: Do you believe that alien life forms beside yourselves have already visited earth? Is it true that many UFOs are sighted in Alabama?

A: Alabama is indeed a key entry point for alien immigration, thus explaining one Sun Ra, but Saturn's never really been a stronghold for us. If you ever did indeed have all the factors to input into and solve the 1961 Drake Equation for the probability of alien life then you'd understand how Man or Astro-man? is a harbinger of alien entertainment. Forget NASA's terrestrial planet finder and all this nonsense about faces, canals, and rocks named after cartoon characters on Mars. Your leading scientist should be researching the state of Alabama.

Q: On your Top 10 List, you called Keith Moon the only good live drummer ever. Are you old enough to have seen The Who live?

A: Do you call seeing Pete Townshend play acoustic guitar in a bubble actually "playing"? We crash landed in 1993 so start counting on those prehensile digits of yours. One night, we did rent Quadrophenia.

Q: How much of an inspiration was Devo? Have you worked with them? Did they actually wear flower pots on their heads?

A: Of course, our people have been in touch with their people and there's been vague talk about collaboration, but there again, you should hear some of the things we vaguely talk about.

Q: What is your favorite recreational drug?

A: Electricity of course. Getting that jolt of 220 in Europe really is a big thrill for us. A lot of people just think we have extremely bad hair days, but they just don't know how much electrical juice we hit before our shows. Usually, we request a separate circuit for each individual member. 220v/50hz - that's the good shit; 110 is just like hitting the Saint Ides.

Q: Do you notice any differences between American earthlings and European earthlings?

A: Yes, Americans use a lot more toothpicks than Europeans do. Also, Americans have more nuclear weapons, and Europeans speak more languages. More Americans believe in Big Foot and Europeans smoke more cigarettes. Football means different things depending if you're in Milan or Nebraska. Phil Collins is played more frequently at rest stops in Europe, and I think there are some residual effects of that. Doesn't everybody know this stuff? Anyway, they're all humans to me.

For more info on the bands: - The official Man or Astro-man? website - Zen Guerrilla at Sub Pop Records

The author wishes to thank Birdstuff and the pigeon for their contributions to this first installment of Musik san frontières . All concert photos were provided by Michael "Mookie" Kepler; there are more great Astro-shots at the Astroscience 3000 website - Next time, MSF hopes to chew the fat with The Neckbones, four charming lads from Mississippi who recently traversed Europe on the back of a T-Model Ford.




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