Graded on a Curve: Suicide,
23 Minutes Over Brussels

What exactly does it take to bring the peace-loving and oh so friendly Belgian people to the brink of riot? Rising authoritarianism? A precipitous spike in beer prices? A brussels sprouts famine? How about the NYC synth-punk band Suicide?

If you guessed Suicide you’re right, and 23 Minutes Over Brussels proves it. This 1978 recording of a live show in Brussels, Belgium (initially issued as a flex-disc for a music magazine and subsequently released in 1998 along with the reissue of the band’s self-titled debut) is a comedy record right up there with Iggy and the Stooges Metallic K.O., and fans of rancor, chaos, band-baiting, and mutual crowd-band loathing will eat it up.

Seriously–the assembled throng at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels HATED Suicide. They hated ‘em enough to boo ‘em. They hated ‘em enough to attempt to drown ‘em out by shouting “Elvis! Elvis!” (they were there to see Costello). Hell, one enterprising hater even went so far as to swipe Alan Vegas’ microphone. Oh, and at some point in the evening (coulda been after the riot that followed Elvis’ show) somebody even got around to breaking Vega’s nose!

I can understand disliking Suicide–I’ve never been a big fan myself. Their minimalist approach (Alan Vega provided often unpleasant vocals, Martin Rev provided backing on synthesizer and primitive drum machine) to NYC punk remains an acquired taste and off-putting to many.

And Suicide were an unlikely mating with Costello, to say the least. But who’d have thunk the Belgians would go “Rites of Spring” ballistic on the poor guys? You think New York audiences are hostile? Those damn Europeans REALLY take their art music seriously!

I could talk about the music on 23 Minutes Over Brussels, but it’s rather beside the point. What is documented here is less a rock concert than an extended collaboration between a working band and a hostile audience, with the audience throwing most of the punches. I mean, the crowd hates Suicide so much it’s hilarious.

Part of the irony of the recording lies in the fact that Suicide made provoking the audience an integral part of their act. In this case they got more than they asked for, and mostly for the wrong reasons. Sure, the crowd probably hated their avant-rock drone, but the real onus for its rage and disgust was the fact that they were there to see Elvis Costello.

We’ve all been to concerts where the crowd took out its impatience on a hapless opening act. This is that times 100, and every erstwhile opening act’s worst nightmare. The Belgians do everything but toss bottles of Chimay and rotten brussels sprouts, and Vega was lucky not to have that stolen mike thrown back at him. Never fuck with the Low Countries.

The fun starts early, and things keep getting worse (better). You hear lots of booing and intermittent chants of “Elvis! Elvis!”, and if you think Bob Dylan had it bad at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in May 1965 well, that was NOTHING.

Things come to an ugly head during show closer “Frankie Teardrop.” The mic gets stolen, the show’s promoter throws an onstage fit, the chanting of “Elvis! Elvis!” goes into nonstop mode, and Vega, having decided fuck the microphone the show must go on, launches into an acapella recitation of “Frankie.” Which just pisses off the crowd more.

This goes on until poor Vega finally cracks and screams, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! THIS IS ABOUT FRANKIE!” This never fails to crack me up. I’ve taken to approaching my friends and even random strangers and screaming “Shut the fuck up! This is about Frankie!” They either look at me like I’m insane or ask me what movie it’s from. I’ll tell them nothing. I will take the secret to the grave.

23 Minutes Over Brussels is a lot of things–an interesting document of a moment in time, a just kinda so-so piece of music, and a great work of improvisational comedy in which both band and audience played integral parts. It’s too bad that the crowd put off rioting until after Elvis stiffed ‘em by playing a brief and hostile set. Had they rioted at the end of Suicide’s performance, this would rank as a concert album for the ages.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text