Incongruity is always good, and Pre have more of it than most. A bunch of heads-down musos stir up some freaky, spiky avant-rock, the kind of stuff that would normally slot in somewhere to the left of Sonic Youth, while up front a manic Japanese punk girl goes crazy. Yes, I think we can definitely say 'incongruous' here, don't you? And yet, it works.
The musos give it their frowny-concentratey best, churning out the angles and the tangents, like Captain Beefheart and the Diagram Brothers playing speed chess, while the one-woman whirlwind of a singer thrashes and flails, leaping from the drum kit and trying to burrow under the monitors. Watching Pre is like gymnastics for the brain: even if you've spent the entire set standing still (no easy task - those angles have a way of getting to your feet) the sheer spectacle makes you feel like you've just had a marathon workout.
To look at Skeletons And The Kings Of All Cities, you'd think we were in the presence of a post-Zappa acid-prog band from California. But not so. In fact, we're in the presence of a post-Zappa acid-prog band from New York.
The singer - long haired, denim-clad, laid back and toting a saxophone - presides benignly over a tangle of musical tangents that run the gamut from hippy noodling to bizarre off-planet avant-funk workouts, displaced krautrock and shameless progressive rock mantras. Somehow, it all seems entirely natural, and the singer's somewhat Robert Wyatt-ish vocals - reflective, off-hand and strangely mellow, even when the music gets downright awkward - give us a curiously reassuring element to hang on to amid the weirdness.
Rat Scabies of The Damned once remarked that the key element of the band's live shows was that the musicians didn't even try to play together. Instead, they tried to outdo each other. Health - another band with a sense of Californian experimento-weirdoism about them, and this time they really do come from California - might have a certain sympathy with that view.
There's certainly a strange feeling of competition in the way that the two guitarists face off and run at each other, avoiding a collision by a mere fragment of a riff. The drummer is like a film running at double speed, a one-man frenzy of rhythmic mash-ups, at once the bedrock of the band and the quantum force that pulls the music forward. Add some glorious electronic discords to the melee (I particularly like the way certain keys on the keyboard are taped down, to create maximum polyphonic noise) and some quality bass guitar thrashing, and the result is an unholy collision between Devo, Can, and Cozy Powell. Now there's three artists who I bet you've never seen mentioned in the same sentence, but somehow Health pull it all together and tie their disparate musical strands into an awkward, but surprisingly sturdy, knot. Crazy but cool. I'll drink their health any time.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.