The Brisbane-based band have joined forces with Seja Vogel (a familiar voice from their album Love and Paranoia) and classically trained guzheng virtuoso Mindy Meng Wang to perform iconic proto-punk album The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Over the years, Regurgitator frontmen Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely have channelled a motley crew of chart-topping popsters – from Aqua, on “Polyester Girl”, to Prince on “! (The Song Formerly Known As” – to create an eclectic mix of indie hits. This latest channelling of the legendary Undergrounds is less tongue-in-cheek influence, more hand-on-heart cover, with mixed results.
When the musicians use their avant-garde smarts to add their own special kind of crazy to the Velvet Underground tracks, the result is ear-popping magic. In “The Black Angel’s Death Song”, for example, Lou Reed’s vocals are supplanted by a Stephen Hawking-style computer voice-over, Peter Kostic is criminally insane (in a good way) on drums, and Wang’s unorthodox guzheng manipulations add freaky twists to Vogel’s synth sounds, the pair perfectly reinterpreting the discordant chaos of John Cale’s detuned viola distortions.
Less effective are straight-up renditions, such as “Sunday Morning”, which falls flat as an opener. Let’s face it, Lou Reed’s throaty monotone is hard to carry off unless you’re… well… Lou Reed, and Ely’s airier vocals don’t quite cut it.
“Waiting for the Man” also falls short. Although Yeomans’ vocals are strong enough to carry the track and the grunged-up guitar and bass give it punky clout, the guzheng, traditionally plucked in an effort to mimic Morrison’s sinewy guitar line, instead adds a plinky, percussive background, that sits uncomfortably with the track’s subject matter.
“Heroin”, however, is a total winner, Ely’s vocals finessed with reverb and Kostic bigging up the thump. “Run Run Run” is equally good, with Yeomans masterful on vocals and guitar and Wang rattling and sawing guzheng strings with a stick.
And the band totally smash it with the “European Son” finale, Ely giving his own vocal interpretation to Reed’s Dylan-esque lyrics and Vogel and Kostic cramming in the chaos, while Wang and Yeomans have a whole lotta fun thrashing out the final mash-up of sounds.
Kudos to the collective for taking on the leviathan legend of “the banana album” and (for the most part) making it work. A great way to mark the 50th anniversary of this avant-garde pop-punk classic.
This was a one-off show at the Space Theatre as part of the OzAsia Festival, which continues until October 8. Read more OzAsia interview and reviews here.
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