Back in the mid-90s i wound up at a Legendary Pink Dots show. They were playing at The Masquerade, and i went in completely unfamiliar with their work. I was blown away by their intense and strange performance. Since then i have accumulated a few of their releases. And let me tell you, these people release a TON of stuff -- each musician in the band also has a thriving solo career. The end result is that there are probably close to 100 Legendary Pink Dots and related CDs out there. That is just insane, and i know that i have barely scratched the surface.
As to their CDs -- well, honestly i have to be in the mood. On record, Legendary Pink Dots are dark and purposely mysterious. What came across live as a vibrant intensity on record sounds like someone trying to be deep, and not always succeeding.
In late 2004 i was at The Echo Lounge to see if Legendary Pink Dots could recapture that magic i remembered. I was really looking forward to that show. Sadly, that was the night that the Echo Lounge was closed down by the police for "liquor license irregularities".
As i headed out to The EARL on this chilly November evening, i wondered if i would get to see the show. The chances of the police closing down another club during a performance by the same band seemed ridiculously unlikely. Then again, Legendary Pink Dots create "fun", which the theocrats in charge of this state dislike, so who knows. More importantly, if they did play would they come across as well as they did that one time, or had my memory turned the performance more rosy than it otherwise would have been?
I got to The EARL at 10:15, and wandered in to a respectable sized crowd. The club was perhaps half-full. Many of the attendees were dressed in goth regalia, but there was actually a fairly wide spectrum of sub-cultures gathered. I guess this is to be expected for a long-running cult act.
They also had an impressive merch table. There were dozens of CDs, a few DVDs of performances, many t-shirts, and even a book of poetry by lead-Dot Edward Ka-Spel. And the fans were eating it up -- shelling out money for rarities that they band had thoughtfully brought on tour with them. Legendary Pink Dots may not rake in the cash like, say, U2, but from what i saw they are easily making a decent living.
After being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of merchandising available, i wandered over to the stage to see the setup. It was very minimal, with no drums, one guitar and one bass on stands, one stand of horns, one small synth, and one large keyboard set up. I guess that what the LPD perform is a type of synth pop.
LPD keep their wiring color-coded for eeasy assembly.
At about 10:40 the four members of the band took the stage. Edward Ka-Spel was barefoot in a long black robe (with jeans sticking out underneath), looking like some ancient druid. Actually, i would be willing to bet that was the look he was going for.
Ka-Spel the druid.
Keyboardist The Silverman was just in jeans and a few layers of shirts, his long silver hair pulled back in a ponytail.
The Silverman has to program on the fly to keep the show going.
Hornist Neils van Hoorn (seriously -- is that his real name or a stage name? i could never figure that out) was in an impressive suit that looked made by M.C.Escher.
The horn selection for the evening.
Check out the awesome suit!
Finally, guitarist Martijn De Kleer was dressed as a humble indie rocker.
De Kleer, as the newest Dot, doesn't get a neat name, or an interesting costume.
And with out any fuss, The Legendary Pink Dots tore into it. And the music was all over the place. They played some intensely psychedelic tracks, with Ka-Spel's voice echoed and ranting.
Ka-Spel watches the Silverman in action.
They played a wonderful tune that started with The Silver Man creating some sort of Middle Eastern drone on his keyboards, then Van Hoorn joined in blowing a clarinet to add to the vibe, and then the song just grew and grew. Very impressive.
At times what they played could only be called dub, with echo and distortion and strange sounds wandering in and out. Some tunes were folkish, and some of them were spacey blues a la early Pink Floyd.
The Silverman on the theremin.
The crowd loved it. People were dancing, singing along, reacting strongly to tunes as they started. Based on the reactions, i would guess that Legendary Pink Dots played from all over their massive catalog. I am nowhere near familiar with their body of work, and i recognized nothing from the handful of releases i have picked up. I guess that is to be expected with such a prolific act.
Van Hoorn on the flute.
However, i must say that i enjoyed it tremendously. What i remember from that mid-90s show was an intensity, a vibrancy of performance. When they are on stage making music, it seems to be the most real thing in all of the universe. They make everything else seem irrelevant. That is how i felt the last time i saw them, and that is how i felt now, a decade later.
Legendary Pink Dots in action. Note the suspicous lack of pink...
I was, again, very impressed with their live performance. It seemed that it was over almost immediately. As the band left the stage i looked at my phone and realized that they had played for 70 minutes. It certainly didn't seem that way, which i take as a good sign.
The band came back out shortly and played a few more tunes. These were well received by the crowd and fell into the English folk genre. That is, they had an almost nursery rhyme feel to them, an innocence that English folk music projects. Not my favorite part of the evening, but the rest of the fans seemed to be getting into it.
And at just over midnight, they were done and i was free to head home. And since tonight was Time Change Night i was home before midnight. Not bad.
My verdict is this: Legendary Pink Dots are something to see. Even if you are not normally a fan of gothic psychedelic synth pop, you should check them out. The band is doing its own thing, and they are very convincing in doing it.