In Lieu of Closure

by Mark Benedetti

They take the stage like a breath of, well, stale urine, a lumbering, 5- (or 4-, or 6-) armed behemoth, projecting all the disillusioned, angst-ridden teenisms of a Neil Diamond record played at 78 rpm. Their vicious stage presence quickly gives way to an equally vicious sonic assault unknown this side of Throbbing Gristle, with twice the danceability and infinitely more melody. They plow through favorites and covers, always adding new material, never succumbing to trendy poses or attitudes. They rip off a blistering set and leave the stage and audience wounded, reeling, and writhing for more. Another incomparable statement from the loudest band in Pasadena, CA.

But what to say about the inexplicably overdue Stale Urine live album now proudly displayed in your cassette crate? The key to its greatness is its innovation on old material. Unlike so much product in the Live Album Hall of Fame, it functions as neither a wimpy, de-facto greatest hits (the VU's Live At Max's Kansas City, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!) nor a quickie let's-fulfill-our-contract-and-get-the-hell-out record (the VU's Live At Max's Kansas City, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!). Instead, it presents itself as a viable contender in the SU oeuvre as an actual album, using its own logic and viewpoint to continue the story of the Urine rather than summarizing it. In this respect, it has few peers in its live album family--perhaps only Bob Dylan and the Band on Before The Flood approach Stale Urine in reinterpreting their own and other's material on Original Zydequarium I.

The major Stale Urine influences spring up even more noticeably here than on the original LPs. However, unlike the studio recordings of the songs, which sometimes acknowledge their forefathers without going beyond them, the versions here refine the originals with new ideas, both musically and conceptually. The studio take of ``Crevasse'' rewrites Einstürzende Neubauten's ``Prolog'' with new words and little else. The version here twists and contorts the guitar sound into uncharted territory while somehow redefining the bourgeois life depicted in the lyrics as something altogether novel. The first side's cataclysmic ``The Third Rail'' takes death-metal to entirely new planes of degradation, while grunging it up with Fugs/Godz baseness. The pre-Urine take of ``Things Fall Apart'' (by Parkersburg, West Virginia's art-collective The Sons Of Rahul) tells the tale as a reason for living, opposed to the nihilism of the SU version. Perennial favorites ``Bleed'' and ``You'll Be Alone When I Throw You In Jail'' are given new instrumentation, newfound intensity, and have become unsurpassably passionate expressions of desire and disgust.

Most telling, however, are the covers and new songs. An otherwise novelty concept such as ``La Donna E Mobile'' becomes, spurred by roadside spontaneity, a moving a cappella tribute to music's fundamental beauty. Bon Jovi's ``Livin' On A Prayer'' goes from unbearable sentimentality in its original version to a touching statement of love of one's comrades and their intertwining lives akin to the Minutemen's ``History Lesson-Part Two.'' And what to say about ``1776''? This is perhaps the greatest Stale Urine piece thus far, sounding like the Beasties covering Run-DMC, matching the ability of both bands in its wordplay, musical dynamic, and no-bullshit presentation.

So this album comes to you, gentle listener, not as a compilation of old songs, not as a money-grubbing throwaway, but as essential material by this most essential musical force. Including the first known recorded cover of an SU song (Stirling's turbulent, forceful ``The Third Rail''), this record gives us even more of an all-too-rare commodity: our primal human scream encapsulated by Stale Urine's boundless inventiveness and love.

copyright © 1993-98 Stale Urine