FRONT 242; in concert at the Utah State Fairpark Coliseum; April 16; one performance only.And still the debate rages on - was it live or was it Memorex?
Every time a synthesizer pop group comes to town - even purveyors of the synthesized industrial pop movement - there's a certain faction that claims the show was recorded, that the performance was no more live than a Milli Vanilli show. Tuesday night's Front 242 concert was no exception to the rule.Happily to say, after closer inspection by me and my cohorts, it was decided that vocalist Jean Luc DeMeyer did do his thing. The only question was how well he and his cohorts did it.
Though the lip-syncing tag doesn't hold, there's another ethical matter to discuss with concerts like this one. Much like awful synth-pop stars Depeche Mode, the band tapes much of its synthesized effects or has them stored in computer programs. Though this doesn't quite qualify as Milli Vanilli-osis, it does bring up questions as to what a live show really means.
Maybe I'm wrong, but it does strike me as a bit dishonest that bands like these can make a reputation as being "musicians," though their live performances consist of little more than pressing the right button to get the right effect.
To get back to the matter at hand, the more hard-core industrial bands - those who took inspiration from the aptly titled Throbbing Gristle, such as Ministry and Skinny Puppy - are more to my liking. However, some of the later period groups - who take inspiration from the Euro-disco hard-core combo Cabaret Voltaire, like Nine-Inch Nails - are actually tolerable.
Some would lump European trio Front 242 in that latter category, but I wouldn't. Instead, much of the band's material on vinyl sounds very derivative of synth-disco bands such as Blancmange and Erasure. Live, the material sounds the same but sloppier.
It really could have been a good show. The band had one of the most innovative sets around, including a canvas backdrop, eerie and glowing lighting effects, well-done smoke effects (as compared to last week's smog-filled Sisters of Mercy show) and television screens galore.
But the band just didn't have what it takes to match such a spectacular stage show. Instead, band co-founder and percussionist Daniel Bressanutti tried to inject some sort of life into the performance by prancing along the stage, arms pumping and exhorting patrons to dance.
Some material at the beginning of the set, including numbers from the band's "No Comment" and "Official Version" LPs, sounded promising, but the band's intent - and that of most industrial bands - "to disturb people individually," as Bressanutti stated in a recent interview, is well-nigh impossible when you can't understand what the band is saying.
Also, the band's later material, including songs from the band's inexplicably popular "Tyranny for You" release, sounds like a cross betweenCabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode on vinyl. Live, it sounds worse, especially considering DeMeyer's vocal shortcomings (did I detect some Ethel Merman in his ghastly falsetto?)
Additionally, though there was a decent-size crowd bobbing along with each number, the show failed to generate the excitement that promotions promised - most of which was that the band would blow away the much-famed Ministry show at the Speedway. In fact, it didn't even make a ripple on this year's Nine-Inch Nails soiree.
Perhaps the lack of an opening act to either spark some interest or give the audience someone to vent their spleen on made the crowd lethargic, but even the crowd wasn't into this one too much. And when the crowd isn't, neither is the critic, sorry to say.