Doktor John

Skinny Puppy at Irving Plaza / April 21, 2023

This past weekend saw the conclusion of 40 years during which Canadian industrial giants Skinny Puppy both created and exemplified the unique and unprecedented style of music. Their North American “Farewell Tour” touched down in NYC Irving Plaza April 21 and 22. 

Although forever representative of an outsider, cult phenomenon, SP has attained immense, almost sacred status in the world of what used to be called alternative music. Its history and that of its two principals, Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key, are easy to access and form fascinating reading; however no amount of reading can shed light on the mesmerizing and disorienting experience of listening to SP’s supremely crafted tracks or attending its bizarrely entertaining performances.

Opening band, Lead Into Gold – a project of Paul Barker, erstwhile bassist for the industrial metal band, Ministry – prepared the audience with ferociously bombastic, patterned, but hardly rhythmic noise. 

Soon, but never soon enough for the packed crowd of frenzied fans, Skinny Puppy opened on a weirdly incomprehensible stage, featuring a low, almost below-view medical privacy curtain. Ogre, while singing, played around behind the curtain creating a shadow-show with his gestures and with props that might have been interesting if it could be seen by anyone besides the front few spectators. Donning various horrific, sci-fi, cyber-alien costumes (pursued and harassed by a ninja-like figure with a sword or a cudgel), he made a valiant effort to reprise his growling vocals while performing to the iconic SP repertoire, starting with “VX Gas Attack” from the 1988 album Vivisect VI.

Next up came “I’mmortal” from the 2004 album, Greater Wrong of the Right,” with “Rodent” from the spectacularly popular 1989 album Rabies following. Its enigmatic and amusing sample stood out: “What came back to earth was a great rock & roll band.” Then came “Wornin’” from the 2013 Weapon album, “Tormentor” from Too Dark Park, “Love in Vein” from Last Rights, and another from Vivisect VI: “Human Disease.” And on it went; 18 tracks counting the encores, representing songs from all the great albums and going back to their early cassette releases in the mid-eighties, to their final record in 2013.

Sadly. for the eagerly devoted NY/NJ audience, this final look at their revered, iconic idol took place in a venue that was not up to the consecrated task of the monumental presentation. Irving Plaza was, and remains, a flat dance floor with a minimally elevated, low visibility stage – hardly suited for viewing the ingenious, grotesque and creative performance antics for which SP is famous. Even the acoustics of the space fail to convey the boisterous, yet nuanced soundscapes that are the essential experience of a SP performance. 

None of these venue-based shortfalls detracted from the joyous experience of this perfectly horrifying industrial show and their final NYC appearance as the group Skinny Puppy. Ogre, at the conclusion, voiced a bittersweet thanks to audience of fervent and loving fans for their decades of support. Those fans, and the wider world of music, know that Skinny Puppy will always be recalled for their craft, artistry, iconoclasm, creativity, and challenging aesthetics.