LONG BEACH — "So many songs about (copulation)," singer Pat Dubar mused at one point during Mind Funk's show at Bogart's Thursday night, as he introduced "Bring It On," one of the band's frequent explorations of the libido.
Mind Funk's version of sex had nothing to do with the puerile fantasy you get from the airhead wing of heavy metal--the Kisses, Poisons, Warrants and Motley Crues. At a time when some thinking metal bands have abandoned sex as a subject, as if the airhead wing had tainted it for good, the New York-based Mind Funk is singing about lust meaningfully.
Mind Funk's idea of sex is like D.H. Lawrence's, or Jim Morrison's: a primal, animal drive, but also one of the few paths to transcendence available to earthbound flesh. For Mind Funk, sex is the ultimate vital sign.
At Bogart's, Lady Chatterley's rockers excelled during a fiercely played hour that was much taken with, but not fixated upon, the idea of sexual release. In the absence of sex, Mind Funk dealt with alienation (the themes of lust and alienation being connected by the band's portrayal of sex as a lifeline out of isolation).
Also, Mind Funk ended its show with a strong reworking of Buffalo Springfield's politicized "For What It's Worth," in which slow, baleful verses suddenly gave way to fiery, staccato choruses played at the speed of light--or at least at the speed of Led Zeppelin barreling through "Communication Breakdown." Those somber verses suggested little hope of overcoming the oppressive forces and paranoia detailed in Stephen Stills' '60s-protest chestnut. But the blitzing choruses implied that Mind Funk wasn't about to surrender quietly, even in the face of defeat.
Back to the sex. Mind Funk's selection included a sexual-obsession number by Iggy Pop, one of rock's most intelligent satyrs. But the show's libidinal peak came on an original number, "Touch You," the only song that actually had a funk groove.
"Been down so long, I need something to move me," began Dubar, a gale-force howler and screamer who was part of the Orange County-Long Beach rock scene before heading east to join Mind Funk. (Dubar founded a custom record label, Massive Sound, with the progressive Orange County metal band Mind Over 4.) Then he went on to detail just what it was that might move him. It's safe to say that the crew taping the show from a gigantic Westwood One sound truck parked outside Bogart's will have to use the bleep button on "Touch You" before it is suitable for airplay.
Dubar's subject may have been sex, but his performance was not salacious. He didn't go in for hip grinds, crotch clutches and pelvic thrusts. Instead, as if to underscore the idea that sex takes place most vividly in the mind, his showmanship was largely directed toward the head, which he shook and swung so as to create comet-like arcs with his long, dark hair.
He recalled Soundgarden's charismatic Chris Cornell, who also sings about sex in a way that is blunt, but not banal--except that Dubar's accomplices in Mind Funk are more versatile and exciting by far than Soundgarden's Seattle sludge dealers.
Lead guitarist Louis Svitek was an impressive player, a candidate for a metal guitar hero's medal. Svitek was flashy but controlled, able to alternate between speeding but well-articulated solo flights and lean, edgy riffs. Sometimes he would hook up with the band's strong second guitarist, Jason Coppola, for minor-key harmony passages out of the Metallica handbook. More often, Jimi Hendrix turned up as a prime influence.
Melody was Mind Funk's weak point. Dubar showed that he can carry a tune on "Sister Blue," a mysterious, shuffling song about obsession (whether the lyric's "sister" is a woman or sister morphine isn't clear).
Still, Dubar was most effective as a trenchant screamer; by the end of "Sister Blue," his stab at melodic singing had tailed off and Svitek and bassist John Monte had taken over the song with a fine interweave of instrumental parts, including some fleet excursions on a 12-string acoustic guitar.
Mind Funk also needs to look at love from both sides now: not just as a carnal release, but in its more tender and emotional aspects. A little lyricism wouldn't hurt. For now, these powerful newcomers are worthy contenders for recognition, and a welcome reminder to intelligent metal bands that sex need not be a dirty word.
Tribe After Tribe, which opened with an hourlong set, is a trio of white South African expatriates who moved to Los Angeles a few years ago after being hounded in their homeland for taking an anti-apartheid stance. Their concert was founded on some intelligent, hard-hitting basics. Exploitation of the environment and unjust colonial domination of native peoples were prominent themes, echoing some of what Midnight Oil has done while singing about Australia (although Midnight Oil has done it with much more developed song craft).
Tribal rhythms abounded, recalling some of Peter Gabriel's work. There were flashes of Hendrix in Robbi Robb's guitar playing, as well as a U2 edge. Dynamic shifts within songs allowed the band to build tension repeatedly.
But Tribe By Tribe's songs were almost all stormy and portentous, as if U2 were to step up and play nothing but "Bullet the Blue Sky" and several slight variations on it.
Robb was an energetic front man, sometimes flying into a leg-churning dance as he played. But much of his passion was directed inward and failed to reach out and embrace the crowd. Showing a lighter musical side might have helped him establish that connection.