Van Gogh never got his due, while he was alive, at least. Neither did William Blake. Poe died penniless. There was a time when it seemed that one John D Morton was destined to follow in such tragic footsteps. Following his muse for the last forty-odd years has led Morton down some dark alleys, but score one for the freaks (and maybe the internet and some cool reissue labels) because, against all odds, Morton, professional artist and shit-stirrer, is finally getting his due. The man hasn’t met a convention he hasn’t mocked or a rule he hasn’t kicked in the ribs til it broke. If they handed out MacArthur Genius grants for misanthropy, Morton would be short-listed.
Morton’s main claim to fame is his mid-’70s Cleveland band of nihilistic rock ‘n’ roll lowlifes,electric eels. The eels plied their trade surrounded by post-industrial strife, the crumbling landscape providing inspiration and a reason to get the hell out. But before Morton pulled up stakes for New York City, he made one more attempt to give Cleveland the soundtrack it deserved. X__X terrorized the city’s punk scene with a smart and muscular take on no wave, which Morton had already prefigured with the eels. X__X were more “musical” than the eels, as evidenced by their two singles, recently collected, along with unreleased and live material, on this year’s essential XStickyFingersX (Ektro). This past Thursday, X__X played the Cake Shop in lower Manhattan and proved, beyond a doubt, that you’re never too old to smash yer art into yer punk and vice versa.
The set started off a bit shaky, but after a too-quiet run-through of “You’re Full of Shit”, guitars were turned up to their proper volume and the band roared to life. Grinding versions of art-puke classics like “No Nonsense”, “A”. and “No No” followed, hammered out with conviction by Morton’s cohorts: original member Andrew Klimek, Rocket From the Tombs’ Craig Bell on bass and drummer Matt Harris. At one point, Morton whipped out an electric saw and used it to systematically sever a length of bamboo. Why? Why the hell not? The band crashed back into their set as if it had been a tuning break.
Speaking of tuning, Morton’s other obscuro Clevo outfit, Johnny & The Dicks, didn’t bother, as they posed in rock-out freeze-frames while a friend snapped photos. Prescient as ever, it seems Morton invented “vogue-ing” years before Madonna. A reprise of “No Non ¢s” had the crowd howling for more. And during the set-ending anti-anthem “Cleveland Sucks”, even Morton, high priest of fuck you, couldn’t suppress a smile.
Due to a rip in the time/space continuum, your correspondent missed the first two acts of an all-around excellent bill which included regional squawkers, Sediment Club, and improv rockers, the Anderson, Chase, Hoffman trio, featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase. But we did manage to catch spazz experts Cellular Chaos. Conducted by the tireless, irrepressible Weasel Walter on guitar and finding a voice within the charismatic Admiral Grey, Cellular Chaos flirts with no wave shred, but just as often reaches an MX-80 Sound level of density. Invigorating stuff.
Words by Erick Bradshaw.
Originally posted in CMJ