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Butthole Surfers at the Commodore Ballroom

Butthole Surfers at the Commodore Ballroom, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

Butthole Surfers at the Commodore Ballroom, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

Review and photos – Butthole Surfers at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Oct 12 2009

– review by Jason Conway/photos by Leigh Eldridge

Sometime in the late ’80s my brother brought home a copy of the Butthole Surfers album Locust Abortion Technician. All it took was listening to the opening “Daddy What Does Regret Mean?” sample and I was hooked.

That said, I was 16 and the name of the band and the album would have been enough to hook me. Since then I’ve always wanted to see the Buttholes live but never had the chance. Their tours in the ’80s were things of legend, featuring naked women, fire, graphic films and other craziness. Alas, I never managed to make a show until now.

A good portion of the band’s history seems to be self-fabricated during acid-laced interviews, but here are few facts: the Butthole Surfers were formed by vocalist Gibby Haynes and guitar player Paul Leary, who met while attending Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in the late ’70s.

Gibby was taking accounting and eventually graduated with honours, and Paul was working on his MBA. At some point not long after graduation they decided that driving around the country doing acid to stay awake and trying to shock audiences was more amusing than working in an office.

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The Butthole Surfers at the Commodore, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

They toured a lot throughout the ‘8os and developed a cult following. During the next decade the Butthole Surfers even had a couple of big alternative hits. Probably the most well known are “Whatever (I Had a Dream)” from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, and “Pepper”, from Electric Larryland, which was their bestselling song and a dance club hit.

The band hasn’t released a new album since 2001’s Weird Revolution, but like a number of the “alternative” bands of their time who still have enough living members (and some who don’t, like Alice in Chains) Haynes and co. have begun touring again with the original lineup.

The crowd at last night’s Commodore Ballroom show, which comes mid-tour, was pretty much what I expected – that is, mainly male and over 30 with a good smattering of male pattern baldness and greying hair.

From the time the Butthole Surfers took the stage, the noise was continuous, with only a few breaks between songs. Behind the band were three separate video streams: naked genital surgery clips juxtaposed with a naked woman, various exploding head movie scenes, cartoons, eye surgery, and other random imagery.

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The Butthole Surfers at the Commodore, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

Gibby did a mixture of singing, mainly through his trademark “Gibbytronic” vocal effects box or a bullhorn, and blowing into a sax. He also played guitar for a few songs, giving the disclaimer, “I’m not a guitarist but I play one on stage.”

Leary’s guitar was psychedelic and loud with lots of feedback (how the hell do you describe a guitar player without sounding cliched these days?) and he appeared to be having the most fun of all of the band members. The only thing missing was the naked dancer – I think a gyrating naked woman in her fifties would have seemed perfectly in place on stage with the rest of the chaos.

I can’t name or remember every song in the set, but I was very pleased. They played a lot of their more popular older material, mainly from Independent Worm Saloon (1993) and previous records. I heard “I Saw an X-Ray of a Woman Passing Gas” and at least one more I can’t name from Hairway to Steven, an album which featured little pictures rather than song titles.

From Locust Abortion Technician came “Graveyard” and  “22 going on 23”, complete with the original samples. It was great to hear Leary belt out the hilarious lyrics to “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave”,  off their debut EP: “There’s a time to live and a time to die and I smoke Elvis Presley’s toenails when I want to get high.” In terms of their more popular material they played “Who was in My Room Last Night”, from Independent Worm Saloon, but those hoping for “Pepper” probably left annoyed and disappointed.

I was slightly worried that I’d be missing something by not dropping a few tabs of acid before the show, and I’m sure that if I had had the chance to see them way back when I would have indulged. Of course if I had done the acid before the show there’d be an 80 per cent chance I would have been overwhelmed and quivering in the corner by the end of the first song.

I guess if I’d been high I may have enjoyed the opening band Psychic Ills a bit more, but with a clear head their sound was unremarkable. I don’t think they were bad as much as just missing something. On the way home a friend compared them to a handjob that just goes on and never gets you to where you want to go.

Psychic Ills at the Commodore, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

Psychic Ills at the Commodore, Oct 12 2009. Leigh Eldridge photo

More Butthole Surfers Vancouver photos

One response to “Butthole Surfers at the Commodore Ballroom

  1. 7 years ago  

    It’s amazing how the Surfers can make you to change the ways of seeing things. I remember the first time I heard them. I was having some drinks with my friends, and suddenly one guys change the disc… we were listening The Accused, and this guy came and put the Locust abortion… At first I pretty confused by all the noise, and nonsense lyrics. I had some weed… I roll a big one, and then it started to sound Human cannonball. By the time I was pretty high… it sound Kuntz…

    My life changed forever… I thought this is my cornerstone, if someone maked this music… No one can tell what to play…
    It’s probably stupid… but this is stoners music… I one of them……

    cHEERS!!

    (“On the way home a friend compared them to a handjob that just goes on and never gets you to where you want to go”) TRUEEEEE!!

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