Tobacco’s strange sounds hit Northampton

By Garth Brody

Thursday night, Tom Fec a.k.a. Tobacco brought his brand of scary dance music to the Iron Horse in Northampton.

The Iron Horse Music Hall, with its old-fashioned, hardwood pub decor, may not necessarily be the ideal location for electronic nightmare sounds. Thus, Tobacco adapted to his environment with the well-tested method of projected visuals on a white sheet.

The use of the projector and white sheet seems to have been the only connecting thread between the three performers that night. Also performing that night were ethereal rockers Dreamend and childlike beat-smiths Junk Culture.

Dreamend’s guitarist and principal songwriter is Ryan Graveface, the guitarist for Tobacco’s band, Black Moth Super Rainbow. During the entirety of his set, Graveface sang through an eight-eyed spider mask.

Something about the combination of Dreamend’s sparse, two-man post-rock and cut up reels from an old educational film about the greenhouse effect evoked a desolate, post-apocalyptic Great Plains. With just a guitarist and a drummer, it sounded as though a good portion of the band had died just before the performance. Clearly, the music was written for a more filled out guitar instrumentation, and the sparseness of their actual sound ended up leaving something to be desired.

Dreamend easily got the most mileage out of their chaotic noise jams, but the closer they got to normal-people music, the less convincing they sounded.

Junk Culture, a rookie artist on Girl Talk’s Illegal Art label, drew from slightly more eclectic visual sources. At a certain moment of dramatic beat dropping, the projection cut jarringly to over-saturated color footage of a football game.

Junk Culture is mainly comprised of sample-crafter Deepak Mantena, though he was joined on stage Thursday night by a drummer. Together, they looked suspiciously like Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Mantena’s Animal Collective-inspired toddler screams balanced well with the playfully repetitive samples bouncing alongside. The samples were buoyant and catchy, but became stale too quickly as Mantena attempted to rouse the audience’s energy in less musical ways by taking a few aggressive dance laps amongst the audience.

When Tobacco finally took the stage, the first thing he did was pass up the opportunity to wear a mask fashioned to look like a basketball with sunglasses and bad teeth. It lay neglected atop his equipment for the duration of the set. Luckily, it reappeared within seconds of his first song, which was accompanied with the infamous visuals of the “pterodactyl porn” video clip.

A poorly cropped image of Tobacco’s basketball mask hovered menacingly over at least one set of dinosaur genitalia. The surreal smut theme continued throughout his performance, with raunchy appearances by E.T. and a screaming, bloody-faced woman.

Aside from murder-porn, Tobacco also played music Thursday night. That is to say, he spoke into his vocoder, played an occasional note on the guitar (which was connected to the vocoder, Frampton-style), and carefully monitored his Macbook, which played music.

He also managed to twiddle out a few synthesizer lines ably and effectively. Most of the instrumental work being done on stage, however, was carried out by his Black Moth Super Rainbow band-mate – The Seven Fields of Aphelion – on keyboards. They were also joined by Dreamend for a few songs later in the set.

The performance was relatively sterile, but the music was sufficiently danceable, dripping with Tobacco’s signature funky garbage juice. That, coupled with some incredibly distracting images on display and a healthy dose of MDMA pumping through much of the audience, made Tobacco and Aphelion’s lack of movement mostly forgivable.

The set included songs from both “F***ed Up Friends” and “Maniac Meat,” but since the albums are nearly indistinguishable from one another, it all flowed smoothly together. Standout tracks included a big, fat, stomping rendition of “Lick the Witch,” the meandering “Backwoods Altar,” and the anthemic “Heavy Makeup.”

The bass was a little underwhelming for an electronic music concert, and the epic synth-siren hook from “Constellation Dirtbike Head” was almost inaudible, but for the most part, Tobacco translated his obsessive, heavily effected studio sound to the stage with (very disinterested) grace and ease.

If he were only wearing the basketball face, it might have been everything we could have hoped for.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected].