SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Trying to figure out Life, Sex & Death is like trying to figure out life, sex and death. You either resolve to have fun with it all, or you decide that such speculation is a waste of time and move on to more clear-cut concerns.
Life, Sex & Death, the band from Los Angeles, came to the Coach House Thursday night and played a 50-minute show that positively reeked with contradictions. Like the group's namesakes, the music was indeterminate and very messy, but it would take the most jaded sort of person to find it dull.
On one hand, the band served up so many varieties of calculated show-biz buncombe and baloney that David Lee Roth would be hard put to match it. On the other, it also tossed out sincere messages, a few serious ideas, and provided some moments of wild spontaneity.
LSD's core contradiction is Stanley, a singer who poses all sorts of questions. Is he really the pathetic, addled homeless man he seems to be? With his grimy suit, rotted or missing footwear, hunched posture, contorted facial expressions, slurred speech and devastating body odor, if Stanley's persona is just an act, he's taking it to impressive extremes.
According to club personnel, Stanley went AWOL before the show, delaying its start about 45 minutes. One staffer said he saw Stanley knocking on a large, antique water cask outside the Coach House, inquiring whether anybody was inside. Witnesses said Stanley also defecated into a trash can in the band's dressing room before going on stage.
If one takes all the evidence at face value, one can only conclude that Stanley's faculties are not all intact. But on stage, he is fully coherent and in command. His act, like Roth's, works a heavy streak of old-time vaudeville into hard-rock performance. Stanley moved like someone brought up with greasepaint, spats and cane. He danced leg-waggling shuffles and soft-shoes (well, absent the left shoe, and with only a small remnant of the right) all over the stage.
He decorated the air with intricate, herky-jerky hand-dances. His between-songs talk was inspired by the tradition of the street preacher, in which artifice figures heavily--either in driving home a sincere message, or in giving the mere illusion of sincerity.
For all that obvious calculation, Stanley resembled a wild man like Iggy Pop during the rambunctious "Tank." First he acted out the song's refrain, howling "I'm a tank, I'm a tank" as he grabbed a chair and held it up as armor for his imagined tankness. Then he headed out on a search-and-destroy mission, using his wireless mike to smash the bulbs out of a lighting fixture. That brought club security scurrying, figuring that maybe this wasn't an act, and that a truly out-of-control Stanley was about to target the bar glass and mirrors next.
Stanley's band mates, guitarist Alex Kayne, bassist Bill E. Gar, and drummer Brian Horak, mainly stayed out of the way while he did his thing--but they also didn't miss any cues. They laid down crude, brutal, riff metal with the occasional whinnying guitar solo, while jumping around a lot themselves.
The band's consistently catchy material included such songs as "School's for Fools," one of several dopey, jokingly rebellious LSD songs steeped in metal's most cartoonish impulses. But there were more personal songs, such as the moody, anguished "Telephone Call," as well as moments when Stanley displayed affecting warmth and vulnerability. His last declaration to the sparse house was: "You are my friends. I'm not above you, I'm not below you, either. I'm right beside you all the way."
It was all too contradictory for some to take. The audience contained a few hecklers, though none nasty enough to match the reviewer for Music Express magazine who found so much fault with LSD's debut album, "The Silent Majority," that he sentenced the band to "a fiery bus crash to claim the lives of these losers."
You can make a case (though surely not a capital one) against LSD's mixed messages, possible manipulations, and inclination to balance outlandish appearance with well-tested musical and lyrical formulas. But Stanley's one-of-a-kind character and showmanship sway the verdict the other way. Not guilty--possibly by reason of insanity, but mainly because the band is a lot of fun.
Second-billed Uniform Choice was a hard-core punk band in the 1980s. Original drummer Pat Longrie recently re-formed it with three new players and a new, speed-metal approach a la Megadeth. The band, from Orange County, rumbled and wailed impressively through a 35-minute set although the new members, especially leathery-voiced singer Jim Viviano, need to help the active Longrie a bit more with the visuals. It's hard to carry a show from the drummer's chair.