February 23, 2003

Nihilist Spasm Band gets 24 No Tributes
By James Reaney, Free Press Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Let us now praise noisy men. London's legendary Nihilist Spasm Band is being paid that ultimate musicbiz compliment -- a tribute album. No Tribute: Music of the Nihilist Spasm Band is a salute to the Forest City's noise musicians from noisemeisters all over the world.

As a fan of the London band and its joyous, grinding clatter since the 1960s, I couldn't be happier that tribute is being paid in 2003.

The 24 bands range from Baku, an excellent outfit comprised of the grownup sons of several Spasm Band members, to Thurston Moore of New York alt-rock band Sonic Youth to some intense Japanese superfans who sound like Godzilla's dentist working over one bad bicuspid.

No tribute should be this much weird fun.

Is it easy to listen to? No.

Is it for everyone? You're asking the wrong guy. I was there the night back in the 1960s when UWO students fired snowballs at a beefed-up Spasm Band lineup, including several drummers. I dunno why they threw those snowballs.  The Spasm Band sounded prime as ever -- or no worse than usual -- that night. Still, those snowballs were no tribute either, come to think of it.

Not many London bands, then or now, have been the subject of tribute albums. Only the 1970s punk-rock Demics come to mind. Was that      well-intentioned effort really called, like, Demics Covers?

No Tribute is sharper than that. The notes are by a British fan/noise musician who calls the Spasm Band "our strange surrogate fathers" and says the tribute CD's music "exists at an equal distance between the music industry and the art world." He talks about animosity, strip-mining and the absurd.

Hmm. I would have said all 24 tribute-bringers are adept at the annoying noise part of the Spasm universe.

That grinding and throbbing noise was part of Dog Face Man on the Spasm Band's 1968 debut album.

It's back, in spades and clubs, in Carlos Giffoni's version of Dog Face Man on No Tribute. Carlos, whoever you are, we salute you, even if you fluffed the boasts in the wiseacre lyrics about the Spasm Band being the greatest band in the world.

Only once does all this No Tribute noise cause me physical pain. Sonic Youth's Moore, performing as Dapper (or Dapper Dan), makes thoughtful, lovely, energetic noise.

Without pause, the next track is by someone called Madam Chao. Madam, you are one sadistic mother. Before hitting the next track button, I almost drove the car, CD player and all, off the road. No lie.

The rest is much easier on the nerves. Baku is one band that catches the wit of the lyrics and makes its dads' noise into its own techno-Baku. American guitarist Alan Licht does a fine job reading the words to What About Me, one of the Spasm Band's best satires on male anxiety.

Some performer known as Del translates another of those satires, I'm A Real Nice Fellow, into a north Norwegian dialect.

Japanese superfans Hijokaidan do an accented number on No Canada, a Spasm Band classic on the band's other great theme, the elusive Canadian identity.

Spasm Band members John Boyle, John Clement, Bill Exley, Murray Favro, Hugh McIntyre, Art Pratten and the late Greg Curnoe, your tribute is here.

There are no words that sound better to me.