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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Ethyl Meatplow, Thrill Kill Kult: Sizzle and Steam


FULLERTON — My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and Ethyl Meatplow are computer-driven, dance-rock bands whose primary objective is to make a listener hot, hot, hot with songs preoccupied with sex, sex, sex.

The hot, hot, hot part was hardly a challenge Friday night at the Ice House, an old brick warehouse that--packed as it was with about 600 bobbing, sweating bodies--might on this occasion have been more accurately dubbed the Steam Bath.

Thrill Kill Kult and Ethyl both met one basic criterion for success: Their hammering, techno-industrial beats kept most of the audience moving, and only a few in the hardy crowd left early to escape the sauna.

Ethyl Meatplow, the newer band, was also the more interesting.

The Los Angeles trio approached its single subject, eros, from more angles and created more psychological shadings. The real-time drumming of Biff Barefoot Sanders lent an immediacy to songs that otherwise relied on sheets of canned industrial noise to accompany the tandem howlers, blond-banged Carla Bozulich and the shaven-headed John Napier.

For much of the show, Ethyl intertwined eros with fear and loathing--an apt combination in the age of AIDS. Bozulich cussed and growled her way through dark songs like "Queenie" and "Car," calling to mind the cracked-voiced persona Marianne Faithfull established in the '70s as a woman not merely sexually experienced but sexually harrowed. Though her vocals were not so much sung as vomited, Bozulich was still too young and fresh to be as convincing as Faithfull in the role of scarred veteran of the sexual wars.

Still, in the shadow of AIDS, any hard-edged linkage between sex and fear-and-loathing carries a certain weight.

Melody isn't this band's forte, although many songs had nonmelodic hooks created by the vocal cadences and the way the two singers combined voices.

Napier, also a dynamic performer, spent most of the show yelling his lines like a cross between Alice Cooper and punk icon Henry Rollins; for a change of pace between, and sometimes during songs, he'd raise his voice to a thin, crone's shriek borrowed from Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.

With its hollered, sarcasm-dripping take on the Carpenters' "Close to You" (perhaps a too-obvious target), Ethyl Meatplow clearly showed what it thought about any linkage of sex and old-fashioned romance. The band did find room, however, for a slow number, delivered by Bozulich in a sing-song voice, that, if not quite romantic, at least suggested a sweet and dreamy variety of lust.

A group of scantily clad dancers, representing both sexes and enacting at least three sexual orientations, helped Bozulich and Napier get across the message by dancing cheek to cheek and miscellaneous other part to miscellaneous other part.

The set hammered to a close with "Suck," whose lyrics celebrate sex as an escape from the "cold outside." The stage was crowded with dancers whose groping and gyrating resembled either a medieval vision of the concupiscent burning in hell without release, or a typical Prince concert.

Having noted the presence of a couple of Fullerton police officers who were in the house as part of the night's routine security detail, Napier announced that this was a "PG version" of Ethyl Meatplow's act. Without more melody in the mix, 35 minutes of it was quite enough, but the band succeeded in bringing its obsessions to life, self-censored or not.

The Chicago-based Thrill Kill Kult wasn't as driven, or as effective. There's a certain campiness in some of the band's looks at sex-and-satanism and kinky deviations like S & M. (A significant number of fans dressed in black wear suggestive of Victorian-era naughtiness and more up-to-date leather fetishism. In the Ice House heat, the ones in leather and silky bicep-length gloves must have been the masochists).

The band's techno beats took on a sameness over the course of its 55-minute set, as did scruffy but unremarkable front man Groovie Mann's mock-sinister approximation of Vincent Price as a punk screamer.

Jacky Blacque's occasional interjections of disco-diva singing helped somewhat, but she spent most of her time dancing at the back of the dimly lit stage, doing her best impression of Tina Turner as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell's film version of "Tommy" as she flounced and posed in a fringed mini-dress and cape.

On record, Thrill Kill Kult's studio wizardry enables it to spice up its sound with touches of old-line funk and rock that complement its dominant disco and techno styles. The six-member, no-guitars ensemble saved its best for the encore. It slowed the pace for "Blue Buddha," from its new album, "13 Above the Night," creating steamy sultriness that had nothing to do with the relative humidity in the Ice House.


The show also was significant for what it might mean to the Orange County concert market. It was promoted by Avalon Attractions, one of the four major Southland rock promoters along with Nederlander, Goldenvoice and Bill Silva Presents.

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