Michael and Spider: Red Wedding CD 2007
I’ve recently bowed to the impression, as naive as it may sound, that people consumed by one of those two titans of emotion, be it love or hate, are really not feeling much of anything at all. This is supposed to be a bit of fun, so I’ll skirt the political examples (not literally, that might be too much fun) but I just don’t feel a person who lives his life through actions of hate alone is suffering from a build-up of that base emotion; he suffers from a deficiency of love. The same goes for the type of person who cheapens a kiss by passing it to lovers and strangers alike; it’s not so much that his cup overfloweth with love (possibly champagne) but that he hasn’t felt enough of the other stuff to prioritize. As I’ve said, it’s naive, but I’ve also yet to see proof that it’s not true. They may disagree, but one cursory glance into their eyes on the icily elegant sleeve for Red Wedding: 1981-1985 has me believing that Michael Ely and James “Spider” Taylor are the head boys for this school of thought.
The opener, “Red Wedding March” barricades any hope I have of avoiding personal information as Michael’s sincere introductory vocalization of the classic “Going to the Chapel” has so much more impact when we consider that his relationship with Spider is one of those rare, true testaments of modern love. It’s difficult to place where and why, but at some point the melody becomes haunted, possessed by something that Michael could only tell us and I doubt he’d trust us this early on. We’re treated to a different sort of impact when the stormtroopers in drag that Gary Numan tried to warn us about crash the ceremony, but without the firepower to prevent Spider from saying “I do” like a ventriloquist…and you won’t need me to tell you that’s no dummy in his hands. John Tagliavia’s bass stomps that distinct brand of Californian cool all over “All Dressed Up” while Michael puts the champagne flute down to speak seriously with us. Marc O’s keyboards are a kitsch middle-finger-twitch handshake, disorienting us enough to fall right under the Red Wedding veil.
And thus our world is rose tinted, but these roses are red and the thorns haven’t been cut. No, this is perfectly natural. But as the songs pass by fluidly, cleansing us with round after round of love/hate cocktails, it’s hard to ignore an almost science fiction quality to it. Is this our future, or an imagining of our present from the past that’s hilariously inaccurate? Well, inaccurate except for the most important, sobering points. With a subtle nod to The Velvet Underground, the previously unreleased “Fiction Theater” finds Michael holding down a careening synth, establishing himself as the captain of this voyage with his confident, cooly commanding vocals, while Spider’s precise, but compliant guitars easily cement him as first mate. But Spider goes maverick on the glam grinding of “Capsules of Love”…possibly the best Red Wedding song you’ve never heard. Michael’s lyrics take a much more obvious futuristic leaning, but this doesn’t damage the atmosphere, rather it makes the adventure that much more endearing. It’s absolute glittering magic when Michael calmly takes two steps back to allow Spider to close out the song with a manic black hole of a guitar solo that seems to have swallowed Mars and its entire spider population, a couple of galaxies, and all of Los Angeles.
Marc O and Spider ricochet off of each other like malformed clones trying to meet each other halfway but instead creating a discordant odd display that can only be rationalized through Michael’s sneered explanations resulting in the addictive and odd “Under the Veil.” With our heads spinning and the vertigo showing no signs of reprieve, we’re ambushed by one of Red Wedding’s most violent juggernauts, the ultra-dynamic “Drums.” With every descent of the keyboard and ascent of the guitars, we see Los Angeles rising and falling like a ballerina on speed. Michael tries to keep his head together, but the desperation in the melody seems to even have a cracking effect on him as he confesses, “The drums are pounding in my head.” This is the sound of Burrough’s Wild Boys in West Hollywood.
“Sleeping on the Airplane” relies on rhythmic fun as an anchor, as Spider’s guitars are so refreshingly pure and aerial that they threaten to whisk us away over twilit cityscapes and into the pulsating stars. But under that same setting sun, “Somewhere” seems to approach the saying “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” with skepticism. It’s difficult to read Michael under his icy mask, a man who has fallen in so far with the actor that he may not even be able to tell us where reality and fantasy meet, but he seems to be sustaining on memory alone as Spider dares to murder the sun with his guitar.
Perhaps the track most exemplary of Red Wedding’s malignant tendencies, “Think About It” has the elegant reserve of Bryan Ferry with a hissed dynamic resentment that doesn’t quite cross into villainous terrain, but strongly alludes to it. For a split second, we meet eyes with the demons behind Michael’s mask as he spits “pick up your face” to the punch of Brian Ford’s drums.
Choosing to end the compilation with one of their most beautiful tracks, Red Wedding grace their catalog with a rarity among rarities, the aqueous love song “Swimming.” Marc O’s synths and Spider’s guitars radiate beneath the tumultuous surface of John’s bass, like the phosphorescent glow of the Nautilus, while Michael plays Captain Nemo. But as he promises “we will dive into a whirlpool of hungry sharks and pin-ups” over bioluminescent romance that illuminates the darkest recesses of the sea, we catch a glimmer of something violent, like Maldoror making love to the shark, and we’re brought back to that even solution of extreme adoration and contempt prevalent in Red Wedding’s career.
Of course, this isn’t the whole story, as the astute fan will notice the sad absence of “So We Make History”, a cybernetic thrashing valentine to dystopias known only to exist through their 1982 appearance on New Wave Theatre but this is a fanatic for you: give me the world and I’ll ask why the moon wasn’t included. The fact that Red Wedding: 1981-1985 exists at all is a tangible miracle of the music world in itself.
Craig Lee – L.A. Weekly, June 1981
After a period of original punk bands getting bigger or breaking up or left in holding patterns, it now seems that L.A. is creating a new generation of post-punk modern music groups. Possibly spurred on by the success of Wall Of Voodoo, or hoping to ride on the crest of New Romantic faddism, there are definitely more original bands happening around town. Some names to watch for: Interpol, Kommunity FK, Red Wedding, Aphotic Culture…. whether I like these bands or not, I respect them for having the courage to find their own direction instead of being apes or sheep.
Paul Kibble – L.A. Reader, October 1981
The Brave Dog, October, 1981. Black walls, steel plating along the bar and stage, dining-room chairs upholstered in leopard skin. I’m talking with a petit-guignol punkette named Kristina. Eyes saucered like a lemur’s in heat, angular to the point of anorexia, Ritt Plum Dye #12 dandelion-going-to-seed ‘do like a nimbus around her Ensor-expressive face, she looks like the prima screema in some pop-corn schlock shock-o-rama, Attack of the Zombie Nymphettes, say, or something equally bizarre.
Someone catches her attention. “Oh, Miiiichaeeellll,” she banshees, the syllables sliding off her miniature oil slick of a voice. “Hey,” she urges, “just look at that guy move!” The l’homme fatale in question is one Michael Ely, lead singer for the Romantidelic quartet Red Wedding. Michael’s backside is currently twitching its uppity way toward the Dog’s rear exit.
“See that,” says Kristina. “That’s the walk of a star!” “Don’t you mean Superstar?” I wonder, invoking the famous Warhol label. Kristina laughs. “Yeah, the atmosphere’s like that, like the Factory, isn’t it? All these intense creative types coming out from under the rocks and asking us to pay attention.
Colin Gardner – Music Connection, April 1982
Red Wedding comes across as an imaginative, intelligent Rimbaud-goes-techno band, taking influences from the British new romantic sense of the fatale, Eno’s mastery of rhythm and technique, and a gutsy rock ‘n’ roll energy that steers the band clear of pretentiousness. The songs are tightly constructed with abrupt changes of tempo and strong dramatic tensions.
New drummer Ford has given the band a needed rhythmic cutting edge, integrating nicely with the dense textures of Marc O’s keyboards and Tagliavia’s bass. Taylor’s guitar is the high point, spinning back and forth between rhythm and melodic lead, counterpointing Ely’s intoned vocals and giving the material its hooks. The band is more than the simple sum of it’s parts and the overall blend has character and originality.
Ely is the center of attention, a lanky, nervous type playing the doomed romantic. Deliberately affected, his ingrained ennui is interesting for a couple of songs, but becomes a little tiresome, particularly as he is so detached from the audience. More emotional involvement rather than icy aloofness with the material would draw the spectator into the music. Given the brevity of their set, Red Wedding was very impressive, both in terms of material and arrangements.
Read more about Red Wedding at www.theoretical2.com/redwedhome.html