Written by Alex Warme & Photos by Katrina Wong Shue
The scene at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on Tuesday night was almost as ridiculous as the absurd soundtrack that accompanied it. Such a sweaty, filthy, chaotic, uncontrolled mess of an evening could have only occurred on a Tuesday at the hands of New York’s Mindless Self Indulgence, whose music alarmingly fits a similar description.
The group set the Phoenix ablaze for 90 minutes with their notoriously bizarre brand of rock n’ roll. It was the group’s first Toronto date in several years, and as the sound check drew to a teasing close the anticipation and energy in the crowd was thick, adding weight to the already hot and humid atmosphere inside the downtown concert venue.
Active since the mid 90s, MSI offer a sound that is definitively unique. Consisting of a traditional punk rock instrumental section and supported by interesting, well-programmed backing tracks, the music is irregular and surprisingly astute. Computer generated jungle-influenced drum tracks are the only thing keeping the band in check, requiring the help of a live drum kit to reinforce the lightning-quick tempos and adding a dynamic punch to the songs. Heavily distorted guitars provide basic punk rock chord structures to the songs, but generously give way to wild participation of various synthesizers. The centerpiece is longtime front man Jimmy Urine’s unorthodox vocal delivery, which includes finely executed transitions from double-time rap to quirky, high-pitched falsetto, among other techniques.
As a functional unit, Mindless Self Indulgence serves up highly energetic, aggressive, and infectious music packed into songs that top out around 3 minutes in length. Thanks to well placed synthesized melodies and up-tempo drum tracks, the songs feature catchy hooks to compliment gritty punk sections, resulting in a product that is both highly mosh-able and danceable. The band once famously labeled their music “Industrial Jungle Pussy Punk”, which is in many ways an appropriate definition.
So on Tuesday night in Toronto, MSI played their industrial jungle pussy punk rock dance music mess, or whatever it is, to the audience’s enthusiastic delight. An incredibly crowded mosh/dance pit occupied the centre of the floor throughout the entire set as the band played a selection of songs highlighted by an a cappela cover of Method Man’s “Bring the Pain”, which was performed by Jimmy Urine with the help of a healthy portion of the audience that knew the lyrics.
Sporting a lacy pair of women’s panties over top his skin tight pants, Urine covered every square inch of the stage with manic energy, constantly dancing, gesturing and twitching during the performance. He playfully teased the crowd about Canada, Tim Horton’s, and even Geddy Lee of Rush, providing hilarious and often politically incorrect introductions to many of the songs. A mock séance was performed with the intention of contacting Whitney Houston, for example.
In truth, the instrumentals aren’t an entirely necessary part of the music due to the quality of the pre-programmed backing tracks, but in a live setting they do provide a satisfying amount of heaviness to the overall sound. It appeared that several cues were missed by guitarist Steve Righ? and bassist LynZ (how could members of this band not have ridiculous monikers?) as they took turns crowd surfing and throwing objects at each other in the middle of songs.
The spectacle came to a close after Jimmy Urine announced that the band would be performing an encore, which consisted of fan-favourite ‘I Hate Jimmy Page’ and a solo rendition of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’. It was during ‘Puppets’ that Urine revealed for the first time his surprisingly strong ability to sing in a straightforward, traditional manner.
Ultimately, it was an excellent show by a band that is undeniably strange, but also undeniably talented. Their willingness to embrace humor and to show off their quirky personalities both in their music and their performance make them an impressive force.
This circus is worth attending, but do proceed with caution.