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Lydia Lunch
Fueling The Rose Of Fire:
Live in Barcelona 1989 - 2005 (Self release)

Willing Victim:
The Audience As Whipping Boy (Atavistic)

Here we have two retrospective DVD compilations of live material from Lydia Lunch, and although they're entirely separate releases, together they provide an intriguing (if slightly haphazard) overview of the last fifteen years or so of her career. From set-the-world-to-rights spoken word polemics to stints at the head of wayward jazz-punk bands, all manner of Lydia's performance personae are represented on these discs.

Fueling The Rose Of Fire assembles footage from four live shows in Barcelona between 1989 and 2005, while Willing Victim documents a full rock 'n' roll show in Austria in 2003, when Lydia was touring with her retrospective music revue. In a way, the earliest material seems distinctly of its time now. To see Lydia in 1989, giving the audience her best basilisk stare through her ragged fringe as she delivers a full-throttle rant entitled 'Fucking Christmas' while an avant-jazz pianist plangs and thrums, and the camera lingers a little too frequently and too long on her high heels, is a strangely nostalgic experience. Slamming out the words in a machine-gun stream, employing her trademark trick of repeating, repeating, repeating a phrase with a slightly varying infection every time, and culminating in a frenzy of scattered, scatted vocalisations, this is Lydia Lunch as a drummer with words, every utterance a percussive hit.

As we move through the years, we can see Lydia's on-stage demeanour change. The 100mph rants give way to pointed and carefully paced dissertations - the 1991 show, 'Blood Is A Memory Without Language', is almost conversational, as Lydia shimmys in slo-mo at the mic while treated brass keens in the background. Trippy and hypnotic, it's a distinct shift from her old-skool verbal firefights, and while she can still carpet-bomb her targets any time she likes, the approach here is engaging and mesmeric, shot through with oblique wit. At one point, as someone in the audience chuckles as Lydia recounts a tall tale, she remarkes in an aside, 'At least one person gets the humour'. A few years later, 'Orwell's Memory Hole', a performance from 1996, sees Lydia Lunch going gothic. Well, sort of. She's certainly rocking the Clara Bow look, and with lines like 'I know you can hear the rattle of skeletons as they try on new bodies' you could make a case for saying that she was making a play for the dark side.

Lydia Lunch DVDBut it's Lydia's musical forays from the days of the New York no wave scene - a brief but heady period in the early 80s when the Lower East Side was stuffed with ill-nourished post-punks making 'orrible noises in the name of art - plus her collaborations and excursions with the likes of Jim Thirlwell in later years, that are still the main event for many Lydia Lunch fans. In 2003 she gave them what they'd been waiting for, in the form of an international tour with a full rock band - paradoxically quite a departure for an artist who, while maintaining a high profile in left-field rock circles, has never been primarily a rock vocalist. The Willing Victim DVD records the gig in Graz, Austria, on June 21 2003. It's a fairly respectable show - the London date on the tour was far more feisty, and featured much entertaining heckling from the crowd, and suitably acerbic put-downs from Lydia herself. That one would perhaps have made for a more entertaining video. Here, the audience knows its place, and the band keep it all low-key and introspective, but the bump 'n' grind of the music is splendidly moody and angular, while the back projections (which we didn't get in London) give the show an extra dimension. The downhome blues of 'Gospel Singer', the spooked-out croon of 'Psychic Anthropology', and the urban tribalism of 'Need To Feed' cut through like blunt carving knives in the New York subway, while Lydia sways and snarls as if whatever side of the bed she got out of that morning was the wrong side.

We return to Barcelona, and come (almost) up to date with the 2005 Apolo Club show documented on Fueling The Rose Of Fire. This is another music performance, but now we're in for some modern weirdnoise from an experimental jazz trio featuring our own Terry Edwards on horns. This time, Lydia adopts the persona of a supper club diva consumed by divine discontent. 'So happy to be here,' she remarks, sounding as if she'd rather be at the opposite end of the earth. But the show is a classic, from the opening take on the Was (Not Was) tune 'Spy In The House Of Love' to the Lounge Lizards-style guitar-freaking on 'Touch My Evil'. To wrap up, Lydia and her trio give us a sprawling, minimalist extemporisation on The Doors' 'The End', and I suddenly realise this is where we came in. For back in 1989, amid the roaring tirade captured on this very DVD, Lydia threw in a snatch of lyric from the song. Now she's performing the whole thing, as if some master plan had suddenly come to fruition.


Essential links:

Lydia Lunch : Website | MySpace

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