Voltaire-ing It Up

Acoustic comedy set caps off night of goth/industrial rock

By: Kris Kotlarik

COLUMBUS, OH – Throughout the last 30 years, goths have been satirized on shows like South Park and across multiple media platforms as being constantly angry and depressed with no sense of humor. Everyone who was at The Shrunken Head on May 10 got a first-hand look at the joy of darkness and macabre.

Aurelio Voltaire (Voltaire) closed the evening show with an acoustic set and a quick wit, firing off a series of zingers in between (and often during) songs. Ego Likeness, an industrial rock group from Baltimore, played direct support to Voltaire with an intense, yet light-hearted set featuring an all-electronic drum kit and a projector displaying psychedelic imagery. Dead On TV came in from Chicago to start off the show with their unique brand of industrial-influenced punk rock.

Each group has been to Columbus several times in one capacity or another, with some band members playing in or presenting various projects of multiple platforms. This was Dead On TV’s second time playing in Columbus, according to lead singer Dan Evans, who has played in Columbus with other groups. Evans said the crowds in Columbus are “all over the place” because of the variety of bands they find themselves playing with during shows.

“The crowds have always been responsive even when we don’t think they’re going to,” Evans said. Guitarist Corey Devlin added that they played with bands that played dance-oriented music last time they came to Columbus and the crowd still responded by moshing during their faster songs.

While the moshing was absent this time around, the stage was still buzzing with activity; Evans could often be seen moving across the stage, singing while lying on the ground, or standing on various stage items. Evans’ antics were fitting given the pace of some of the songs they played, including “I’m Easy,” “Last Chance for Love,” and especially “Dead on TV.”

Ego Likeness followed with an energetic set of their own. The band, consisting of Donna Lynch (vocals), Steven Archer (guitar), and Mike K. Johnson (drums) mesh well together with their unique stage personalities. Archer frequently paced around his corner of the stage; Lynch was locked in; and Johnson seemed to be having more fun than any drummer I have seen in quite some time.

From my perspective, Ego Likeness’ set started well and only got better from there, especially towards the ends with the title track from their 2010 album Breedless, as well as “You Better Leave The Stars Alone,” “Seance,” and “Aviary.” Another highlight from earlier in the set was “The Queen of all Things,” also from Breedless.

Archer said that, in part because of Lynch’s pursuits as an author, it’s important for their albums to have real content to their songs. “We could do the last album again,” Archer said. “But it would suck because we wouldn’t mean it.”

Given the emotional connections within their lyrics, the humor between songs was refreshing. Most notably, on several occasions, one of Johnson’s cymbals became unscrewed and fell out of playing position. The group fixed any technical difficulties quickly, and on one occasion Archer said “We’re Ego Likeness, and sometimes our [stuff] falls apart.”

Voltaire’s performance, in many ways, reminded me of Devin Townsend’s acoustic performances. Much of their sets are essentially (often explicit) banter between the artist and the crowd, and the setlist is more of a guideline than something etched in stone. Both performers are excellent at their craft, engaging their audiences in ways that are both funny and quite excellent from a music standpoint.

Aside from the fact that Townsend is known as a metal musician, the only major difference between him and Voltaire’s acoustic shows are their stances on alcohol; whereas Townsend has been sober since 2006, whenever Voltaire forgot a line during a song, he stopped singing and took a drink of rum. This turned into a running gag as Voltaire would frequently pause for “dramatic effect,” and someone in the audience would yell “drink up!,” to which Voltaire would respond: “It’s called a dramatic pause, you [smart-alecks].”

“There’s a lot of mistakes in my show,” Voltaire said. “The mistakes are usually the best part, I always say. If you’re going to get up on stage and play the album, and it’s going to sound exactly like it does on the album, then what’s the point in playing at all? I think a live performance has to be different than what you would experience by simply buying the album, sitting at home and listening to it.”

Voltaire began the set with “Music of the Night,” and dedicated his next song, “To The Bottom of the Sea,” to all lovers of rum. He then sang a bilingual version of “Day of the Dead,” which he said went out to a fan named Brandi that he met at a Steampunk convention in Cincinnati.”

The next song, “Brains,” was added onto his set when fans started asking him about it after hearing the song on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, a children’s cartoon that aired between 2003 and 2008. He followed this up with the delightfully morbid “Happy Birthday (My Olde Friend),” before playing the title track to his latest album, Raised By Bats,” which he said would hopefully resonate with those in the crowd who have felt like they were weird. He made a strong point in saying that if two weird people find each other, they’re no longer weird; they are a group. Many groups of “weird” people, ranging from metalheads to goths and those in between, actively participated in singing along.

The second half of the set became increasingly silly in a highly entertaining way. “The Dirtiest Song That Ain’t,” for example, is a crowd favorite in which they yell back swear words in the context of the song. Voltaire said he loves playing this song at all-ages shows because he never actually says any swear words in the song, relying entirely on the audience to fill in the blanks.

Next came “USS Make [Stuff] Up,” a song about how the heroes of Star Trek would often improvise in order to get out of tricky situations. “Bigger On The Inside” was inspired by a fan of Dr. Who at a convention when Voltaire said that Dr. Who “meant nothing to him” despite putting in extensive research in order to write a song about it.

Following a cover from the Flash Gordon soundtrack, the night ended with “When You’re Evil,” which Voltaire said is a song that he will always play “until [he’s] 80” because it was the first song to be released by him back in 1998.

“I’m not allowed to leave the stage without playing it,” Voltaire said. “There’s something about the first song you release that captures peoples’ interests. But I have not fallen victim to it becoming boring by playing it night after night because I always change it up a bit.”

In this particular case, Voltaire invited anyone who knew all or most of the chorus and those who could fake it to the stage to sing it along with him, and as he predicted, the ending was “bombastic,” a fitting end to a night of goth grandeur.

“I jokingly call my show ‘come watch a middle-aged man get drunk,’” Voltaire said. “I ultimately feel like the solo (acoustic) shows are more fun, for me and the audience as well. There’s more opportunities for audience participation. I can decide to tear up the setlist and play what the audience wants them to hear … you can’t really do that when you’re playing with a full band, because you’ve rehearsed ‘X’ amount of songs.”

Arguably the best aspect of this lineup is the respect the bands have for each other. Dead On TV featured Lynch from Ego Likeness one on of their songs. Lynch said Voltaire got in contact with Ego Likeness to join them on the billing for this tour, and they agreed to tour with him because they knew it would be a lot of fun to tour with him again. From an observer’s standpoint, it’s difficult to determine who had more fun during this show: The bands, or the fans. Either way, everyone was a winner.

Dead On TV is working on a new album, tentatively titled “Creeper,” which will be released in three or four months according to Evans. He added that the album is full of “radical, super-sleazy creepy songs.” Added Devlin: “Write about what you know!”

Ego Likeness is in the initial writing process of writing a new album, titled “Know Thine Enemy,” with a concept based on the band members’ experiences with mental illness.

“It’s shocking when you do get diagnosed and you look back and say ‘wow, I didn’t have to be that way,’” Archer said. “You have to look back at those times and deal with the consequences of almost watching yourself be this horrible person, completely beyond your control, then getting back and making it work. It’s about seeing yourself as the enemy sometimes, and then dealing with it.” Lynch said she is hoping the album is released by the end of the year. She added that Ego Likeness will be performing on the 20th anniversary of Gothic Cruise in September.

Voltaire, currently touring in support of Raised By Bats, is also involved in animation and authoring, which sometimes goes hand-in-hand with his music. “My most recent book is a novel called Call of the Jersey Devil,” Voltaire said. “It’s about some goth kids who find themselves stranded in the pine barrens of New Jersey, where they discover that the Jersey Devil is real. The album Raised By Bats is the album that the fictitious lead character, Villie Bats, releases in the book.” Voltaire said he is also frequently involved in social media, keeping close tabs on those who follow him on Facebook and Twitter or his website, www.voltaire.net. In addition to social media, another key aspect to this show was the interaction the bands had with the fans before and after their set and were often seen in the audience during other bands’ sets, watching them play and talking to other fans. Seeing bands interact this closely with their fans is almost as memorable as the show itself, as it leaves a lasting impression that goes beyond the music.

Photos from the show by the author can be seen here:




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