Foetus live is an almost entirely different thing than on record. At least for us who appreciate all the levels of sonic perversions involved in the
studio recordings. Live, the emphasis is on crunching, raw power rather than subtleties. This made me consider the first Foetus live show I attended (a double bill shared with Coil at London’s Royal Festival Hall September 2000) a bit of a disappointment. In hindsight, that may have been partly due to the fact that I’d just had my mind fucked for good by Coil’s bedlam-burning, bowel churning, worldoverturning apocalypse of a live show. Music as ritual, ritual as music. Anything would have come short after that.
But I also had a lingering feeling that Foetus live could, and should, be more than a huge rock’n’roll noise fronted by a hip-swivelling maniac dressed up like a kitsch Lucifer. After all, this is the possibly most important artist of the last 20 years we’re talking about.
A year after that, I got to see Foetus live again. That time I managed to stop theorizing, and start appreciating the show for what it was: a great rock spectacle. And that’s exactly what “Male” invites you to take part of. This live DVD, which has previously been available on video, was filmed in different venues in the early nineties, and contains 13 songs of menacing power. Sure, you won’t get any mutated brass sections, and most samples and electronics are either nonexistent or simply drowned out by the rest of the music. What you will get though, is a great live band tearing through bone crunching versions of the songs.
Live performance seems to be an opportunity for Jim Thirlwell to let his inner rock’n’roll demon roam freely. He swaggers behind his microphone with a menacing grin, as the band rips the songs to razorsharp shreds. “Free James Brown” makes Big Black sound like a folk outfit. But there is room for nuances as well. In “I’ll Meet You in Poland, Baby” - WWII reimagined as a lover’s quarrel between Hitler and Stalin - Hahn Rowe's violin adds a desolate beauty to a song that’s genuinely moving despite all its ironic twists. And even in the particularly demonic take on nihilistic anthem “Anything (Viva!)” the violin is allowed to swirl through the debris.
But mostly this Foetus is still a loud and relentless one, as witnessed further in the superb cover of Alex Harvey’s “Faith Healer”, the sordid “Hot Horse” and the waves of noise in “Butterfly Potion”.
The camerawork looks decidedly low budget on “Male”, but it suits the show and the music well. And although the sound quality on this DVD is excellent, the picture sometimes looks like a third generation video copy. Whether this is due to lack of proper master tapes or an aesthetic choice I don’t know. If you’ve got a fetish for technical perfectionism you may find this annoying, but personally I think it rather adds to the experience of this sick rock’n’roll show.