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Savage Republic

Beyond the Pale 2002 show review by Jud Cost

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Savage Republic
San Francisco, CA
November 15, 2002

After more than two hours of excruciating sonic sludge sloshed around the room by a pair of faceless warm-up combos with the dexterity of men draining a septic tank, Savage Republic climbed onto a San Francisco stage for the first time in more than a decade. Suddenly, the DNA Lounge was swept clean of that sewage-treatment-plant vibe. It was like finding crème fraîche in the fridge after opening a couple of mold-infested containers of cottage cheese by mistake. Somehow the revered Los Angeles-based tribal/trance/industrial-rock pioneers—retired since 1989—have been lured into playing a death-metal festival called Beyond The Pale as part of their blitzkrieg, six-date reunion tour: two nights in greater Los Angeles, one show in Portland and the red-eye to New York tonight (then on to Chicago) as a reward for surviving this gloomy gathering, headlined by San Francisco’s genre flag-bearers Neurosis.

“When Ethan (Port, SR’s vocalist/percussionist) attended Beyond The Pale last year, Neurosis played one of our songs through the PA before their show—and it turns out they’re big fans,” explains lanky Savage Republic founder Bruce Licher, hair a little thinner but still looking very much the college kid who started the band 20 years ago, pounding out his musical vision in the maze of utility tunnels underneath the UCLA campus.

“I thirst for knowledge but where the hell do I find that,” bellows Port, enhancing “Mobilization” from SR’s 1982 debut LP Tragic Figures by hammering on a pair of anvils and a hefty garage-door spring placed atop a bulky oil drum, while Licher, Greg Grunke, Thom Fuhrmann and Robert Loveless take turns flailing away on droning guitars. At the Portland show the night before, reveals Licher, Port was inspired to douse the top of his oil drum with rubbing alcohol, then set it ablaze as the band cranked out “Siege” from the 1986 mini-album Trudge. “The fans started throwing dollar bills into the fire,” says Licher. “Pretty strong commentary on the political direction this country has been taking recently.”

One endearing musical aspect of Savage Republic has always been the appearance of vaguely familiar strains—“Exodus,” for example, could be cleaned up and sung by Frankie Laine as his 1951 hit “Jezebel”—twinkling like discarded beer cans in the Sahara Desert of the band’s entrancing live set. The Middle-Eastern allspice aroma of melodic numbers such as “Year Of Exile” from 1985’s Ceremonial are perfect change-ups for more percussive staples like “Tabula Rosa” from 1988’s Jamahiriya Democratique.

The most sincere testament to the staying power of Savage Republic wasn’t the appreciative applause of tonight’s sold-out house of Neurosis worshippers, whose attire—spiked leather jackets, garish Day-Glo face paint and “We Are Coming For Your Babies” tank-tops—would have looked more at home across the bay as part of the Oakland Raiders’ Black Hole endzone crowd. Rather, it came from a couple of guys—one a dead-ringer for Rasputin, the other sporting a rubber skull-mask depicting the arch-villain from 1946 Republic movie serial The Crimson Ghost—both doing the Grateful Dead seaweed dance to SR’s “Love Is The Drug”-like “So It Is Written,” all alone in the club’s stairwell.

Is this brief fling for Savage Republic just a teaser for more live appearances somewhere down the road? Licher—proprietor of a Sedona, Ariz., design firm as well as the creative force behind Scenic, his moody, Morricone-meets-NASA instrumental outfit—shakes his head, making it clear he isn’t about to get back in the van with his old mates on a permanent basis. “We all have lives now,” he chuckles.

—Jud Cost

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