"Music is a higher revelation than philosophy."
-- composer Ludwig van Beethoven
On February 13, 1996, the Pensacola, Florida Civic Center was temporarily transformed into a throbbing, neopagan audiovisual orgy of devil-worshipping, nose-pierced teenagers. The occasion for the festival was the arrival of psychedelic metal band White Zombie.
It started unpromisingly enough, with a mediocre, distortion-heavy nonperformance by Filter, some band that has a couple of songs on the radio. That was just to clear the palate -- fresh Zombie was on the way.
In the intermission between the Filter and Zombie sets, about half of the audience in the stands decided to rush the floor. In the interest of fair reporting, I joined them. It seemed too easy, and it was. The management sent security guards to scour the floor sending anyone without a hand stamp back to the seats. They got a lot of people, but not everyone. Heh heh. The secret is to keep moving and never make eye contact.
By the time the lights dimmed for White Zombie's show, the floor was really riled up. The seat crowd was pretty tame the whole show, but the floor was electric the whole night long. And only a couple of people got hurt.
The devilworshipping theme in rock music goes quite a ways back. Religion was one of the first opponents of rock'n'roll, so it was only natural that rock would retaliate. Besides, rock is a rebellion against organized anything and, at its essence, is a way for teenagers to piss off their elders. Whatever shocks works.
Black Sabbath -- named after an old B-movie horror flick -- probably started it all, bringing in Aleister Crowley overtones and long, drawn-out guitar fuzz. Ozzy perhaps was the peak of this genre when he bit the head off a bat and otherwise killed little furry creatures on stage.
In the 1980s, various heavy metal bands took the theme to cinematic proportions. Dressed in leather and chains, and wearing almost as much makeup as Tammy Faye Baker, Motley Crue and their ilk shouted at the devil whenever they got the chance. Speed and death metal bands probably took this as far as it could go.
In the 1990s, White Zombie -- named after an old B-movie horror flick -- revived the tradition on a grand scale. Abandoning pure metal for a gumbo of psychedelic, funk, house and other influences, Zombie thrives on the devil-worshipper image. Their first album, Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, set the tone. Their stage act, replete with skeletons, fire, dead bodies, and the like, completes the picture.
Zombie's audience was definitely the too-young-to-drink crowd. Flannel, pierced noses and floppy hairdos were the uniform of choice. The floor was a writhing mass of jumping, headbanging and moshing. When at various times throughout the show, Zombie's lead singer (Mr. Zombie) yelled "Jump! Jump! Jump!", the floor was only happy to oblige, with hordes of teenagers bouncing up and down like a pogo-stick convention. (I'm getting too old for this shit. My legs still hurt.)
About halfway through the performance, the singer tried to get the stands to rush the floor again, but no one did. Wimps. Oh well, the floor was happy.
The most intense part of the show was the tight connection between the music and the giant projection screen behind the band. Despite the headbanging, mock-satanist approach, the show was intelligent, with subtle interplay between onscreen images and the blizzard of sound.
Zombie started with some of their best songs from the first album, "Psychoholic Slag" and "Black Sunshine." "Sunshine" ripped through the air as the video screen played images of indy car race wrecks. Cars sped by, spun out, and slammed into walls as Zombie's incredible bassist (female by the way) laid down the steady rolling bass line.
The video screen melted through series of unconnected images -- Charles Manson's arrest for one song, sci-fi porn anime for another, horror B-movie scenes for another.
At one point, the screen showed a short video clip of a news broadcast (unaccompanied by music) giving a sensational warning of an upcoming Zombie concert. The television "personality" interviewed a local pastor and mouthed almost-sincere-sounding platitudes about teens not being able to differentiate between stage acts and reality.
As the clip ended, a bunch of sparklers floated down above the band, rotating around and showering sparks as circus organ music played laughingly in the background. Then, in the most spectacular part of the show, four brightly dressed, crucified clowns dropped from the ceiling, hanging in midair as the band launched into a little more devil music.
The band played for nearly two hours, spanning their best songs from their two recent albums (1992's Sexorcisto and 1995's Astro Creep 2000). "Thunder Kiss '65," the Beavis-and-Butthead hit that might have started it all, rocked, as did the more recent "Super Charger Heaven" and "Electric Head."
The teenage years might not last very long, but they sure are fun to watch.
Yeah I want it ... yeah I need it ... yeah I love it ... electric head in your head in your head ...