Saturday, September 13, 2008

Grey Skull at Instants Chavirés (Paris): The Sound of Things Falling Apart

On Friday, April 4th, the Western Massachusetts noise trio Grey Skull drive 7 hours from Amsterdam to Paris for a set that would clock in at just under 13 minutes. A bit brief, yes. But quite a feat for a group who use up so much energy live that they can only promise to "play until [they] can't anymore."

Instants Chavirés, Paris, February 4th. Something is not right when George Myers, Dan Cashman and Jeff Hartford of Grey Skull (Breaking World Records) take the stage last Friday at the Instants Chavirés. For one, their instruments aren't tuned—not, at least, in any way that might be expected to produce something deserving of the title of rock and roll. Second, some of the strings on Cashman's guitar and Myers' bass are broken—undoubtedly the fallout from the group's last thrash session in Holland, but a bit unsettling to see at the beginning of a show. Third, and perhaps most disturbingly, Hartford's high-hat looks like it has been run over by a car. Or at least bashed in so many times with a baseball bat that it looks more like a leaf of wilted spinach than an object designed for making sounds.

As the first thick drones ring out from Myers' bass, we witness something that seems more like a pantomime of a concert than a concert itself. Not just any concert, but the sludgiest, beefiest, most ridiculously heavy metal concert imaginable. Myers and Cashman slam their instruments up and down as though in the throes of the most virtuostic of Sabbathian guitar solos—only there are no golden riffs to be heard. Hartford emits a few lusty grunts then enters into his signature full-body head-bang, his long brown hair whipping up and down fast enough to knock out a small child. And yet there is no beat for him, the drummer, to rock out to. Yes, something is definitely wrong with this picture.

The antics that follow on stage constitute less a musical performance per se than a physical performance whose byproduct is sound. Myers fiddles with the tangle of mixers and pedals hooked up to his bass like an evil scientist executing the final operations on a machine designed to destroy the world—to random, and sometimes ear-splitting, acoustical results. Cashman, playing a kind of attention-deprived teenage caveman with a guitar, serenades the audience with his usual wordless blubbering, interrupted by the occasional defamatory punch: "Fuck You!" Before long, Jeff Hartford, a kind of hard rock Barney Flintstone who has lost his sense of humor, breaks up the dissonant wall of sound with his distinctive symmetrical pounding. As the sounds coming of Cashman's guitar and Myers' bass threaten to swerve out of control, Hartford's thrashing provides some order to the madness. All things considered it is only element of Greyskull's music that comes anywhere close to a melody.

There is something strikingly Paleolithic about Greyskull's music, something pre-verbal, pre-musical, almost. A group of three cavemen friends receive a gift of a guitar, a bass and a drum set, along with a letter describing what rock music is and what a rock concert generally consists of. Suspecting that this might be a way to sway the gods in their favor, they attempt to recreate "rock and roll" without ever having experienced it for themselves. Except that they never made it through to the end of the letter, where the writer describes the basic tenants of melody and rhythm. Nor to the stipulation in bold explaining that even though this thing called rock and roll might make them feel very excited—uncontrollably so, even—and that while they might be tempted to throw some punches over the course of the performance, they should probably refrain from throwing their equipment. But don’t tell that to Myers, who tosses his bass guitar off the stage towards the end of the set and breaks it in half. He would probably just shrug you off with a grunt, crank up the gain and hurl his amplifier on top.

Grand finale à la Grey Skull: Dan Cashman hurls himself off the stage, detonating an explosion of animal howling in the audience before climbing back up and collapsing in exhaustion. As the final feedback fades out, a voice from the rear of the bar pipes up: "Enough of this crap. Why not a little Beatles for a change?" A blaspheme to match Greyskull's 13 minute blaspheme, but also kind of the group's point all along. You will not hear anything like the Beatles at a Greyskull show, but you will certainly get an idea of what they might of sounded like if the group had been founded at Stonehenge in 2200 bc. Oogachaka.

Words: Emilie Friedlander, 2008

French version available on, a Nantes-based online cultural magazine. Link to original article here.

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