Ascendancy: The Black Eyed Snakes’ Mysterious Mission

The Black Eyed Snakes want you to come somewhere with them. The route is wandering and often precarious, but it’s the only way to get there. Last Friday, a sold-out crowd at The Uptown Bar saw just how precarious the route can be.

The boyish front man, Chicken Bone George, arrived on stage in a camel-colored sweater and with a light-blue scarf tied around his neck. Anyone watching the band set up might think he’d sing soft songs in a high-pitched voice, but he saves that for other nights with another band.

This night, the crowd would see him wracked by seizures onstage. His pained cries and spasms would tell us that in this world where we act in roles at work, at home, in public, in our own minds, maybe it’s also necessary to act a little bit if we want to show off who we really are.

As alienated as we often are from our own dreams and memories, Chicken Bone insists that we force them out of our subconscious and into this world for all to see.

By the time they launched into their set, Chicken Bone was down to a light long-sleeved shirt. The sweater and scarf abandoned along with his quietude. Any image of a sympathetic figure was discarded with their first song, “Don’t come crying (if your daddy don’t treat you no good).”

Leading into the second song of the night — the first song off the band’s first album — called “Chicken Bone George,” it not only introduced the band to the listeners but the enigmatic singer to the world — he was falling off his chair and panting into the microphone.

For being driven by anger and rawness, the Snakes’ music is nonetheless often very catchy. Their sound is driven by heavy beats (with The Doctor, one of two percussionists, devoting almost all his time to pounding on a large tom) and cascading riffs that get the crowd jumping and swinging. Though glimmers of that sound came through Friday night, Chicken Bone didn’t give it a lot of time to develop.

In the middle of “Chicken Bone George,” he stood up in the middle of a feedback-laden jam and with no warning flung himself off the stage. One of these days, some crowd will catch him. On Friday night, as usual, his elbow landed in a girl’s face and he crashed to the ground.

The title song of their second album, “Rise Up,” started off normally. The band roared out, “We’re gonna rise up / We’re gonna rise up.” It was a none-too-subtle warning that Chicken Bone and the guys have a master plan which they are executing against this very moment. Watch out.

Halfway through the song, they faded into a sparse rendition of “Lordy,” a song first recorded by Low and The Dirty Three. I’ve always loved hearing the many various versions of it that have been done from inception through Low’s solo concerts to The Black Eyed Snakes albums and performances. Friday night, Chicken Bone merely cried out a few lines (“Lordy, save my soul, from the darkness, from Satan, from myself”) and the band launched right back into “Rise Up.”

Much later in the night the band played a short instrumental version of “Rise Up” again. They also played “Chicken Bone George” a second time. As the show progressed, the performance dissolved. The musicians didn’t necessarily destroy the formula of a rock concert, but they also didn’t seem interested in adhering to it in any way.

Chicken Bone introduced their last song, said thanks for coming out, and then proceeded to lead his band through five more songs without interruption. Noisy, generally unrecognizable songs that they played through the houselights going up and down, through small fights in the front rows, through the sweat dripping down their faces and soaking their hair and shirts.

One way or another, when they finally said good night, having pre-empted any call for an encore, they were another leg closer to the final destination, as was anybody who had ridden along all night. Through every step of the way, no one on stage or off knew what was going to happen next. If they had, all the pain and thrashing would have been unneeded and we could have traveled the route on our own in peace and quiet.

But it isn’t that kind of path, and it isn’t that kind of destination.
a bunch of photos from scott haraldson are coming soon. please check back.