Tuxe­do­moon rise again

Ex­per­i­men­tal cult favourites play their first Scot­tish gig af­ter 40 years

The Herald - Arts - - MUSIC - NEIL COOPER Tuxe­do­moon play Sum­mer­hall, Ed­in­burgh, tomorrow.

BLAINE L Reininger was on a solo tour with for­mer Josef K singer Paul Haig when he was in­tro­duced to ex-el­vet Un­der­ground chanteuse, Nico. “Nico looked at me,” Reininger re­mem­bers, “and says, do I know you? I said no, and Nico said, I didn’t think so. That was that, and that’s the way it’s al­ways been.”

As one third of San Fran­cisco-sired post-punk elec­tronic trio Tuxe­do­moon, Reininger had helped cause a quiet sen­sa­tion in 1980 with the re­lease of the band’s de­but al­bum, Half-Mute. The record’s low-slung mix of noirish sax­o­phone and vi­o­lin pulsed in­stru­men­tals com­bined with abra­sive vo­cal-led tracks were an af­ter-hours cock­tail of post-mod­ern cabaret sleaze, avant-garde aus­ter­ity and multi-me­dia poise.

Given a record that sounded so alien and so stud­iedly Euro­pean, mov­ing to Bel­gium seemed like a nat­u­ral move. Here Tuxe­do­moon be­came part of an in­ter­na­tional avant-garde based around record la­bels, Crammed and Les Disques du Crepes­cule. They re­leased al­bums of the­atre and film sound­tracks, some as Tuxe­do­moon, some solo ven­tures, and toured with Cabaret Voltaire, The Pale Foun­tains and Richard Job­son.

Three and a half decades on, Reininger, Steven Brown and Peter Prin­ci­ple, plus trum­peter Luc van Lieshout, have re­con­vened as Tuxe­do­moon in a Brus­sels re­hearsal room. The quar­tet have trav­elled from their re­spec­tive homes in Mex­ico City, Athens and New York to revisit HalfMute for a tour to co­in­cide with the al­bum’s re-re­lease, and which tomorrow night ar­rives in Ed­in­burgh for the band’s first ever Scot­tish show.

“These songs for me are time­less,” drawls vo­cal­ist and violinist Reininger on a break from the fi­nal day of re­hearsals prior to the tour’s open­ing dates. “They have epic, mythic pro­por­tions, and live large in my sense of nos­tal­gia. We didn’t re­ally for­get this mu­sic, and I have to be sub­jec­tive about it. I don’t feel un­com­fort­able about play­ing it. These songs still stand up, and it’s a lot of fun and pretty re­ward­ing to play them, but we try to avoid re­vi­sion­ism. If a writer goes back to re­write their po­etry and prose, then it be­comes some­thing else. We have to hon­our the peo­ple we were and re­spect our past.”

That past be­gan in mid 1970s San Fran­cisco, when Reininger met Brown while they were both study­ing elec­tronic mu­sic.

“There was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing syn­the­siser lab,” Reininger dead­pans. “It was a re­ally pow­er­ful pe­riod, with Terry Ri­ley play­ing across the Bay, where lots of other in­ter­est­ing things were go­ing on, and we plunged our­selves into the emerg­ing punk rock scene.”

With much of Tuxe­do­moon’s early ac­tion re­volv­ing around Filipino res­tau­rant turned key Bay Area punk venue, the Mahubay Gar­dens, Reininger, Brown and bass player Prin­ci­ple, who joined in 1979, took ad­van­tage of the era’s “any­thing goes” at­ti­tude.

“We played gal­leries and sa­lons, and were more associated with the per­for­mance art and the­atre thing. A lot of the styling was in the tra­di­tion of Roxy Mu­sic. We were very aware of how to ma­nip­u­late per­sonae.”

Such aware­ness came in part from Brown’s in­volve­ment in An­gels of Light, a drag-based al­ter­na­tive the­atre troupe which had evolved out of another group steeped in un­der­ground cul­ture, The Cock­ettes.

“There were grad­u­ates and refugees from Broad­way around,” Reininger re­mem­bers, “but we’d had this in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary thing go­ing on from the foun­da­tion of Tuxe­do­moon. I’d been in bands since I was twelve, so I knew what it was like play­ing cov­ers in bog-stan­dard bar bands, and I knew I wanted to do some­thing more than that.”

In per­for­mance, Tuxe­do­moon de­vel­oped a multi-me­dia ap­proach that in­cor­po­rated work by per­for­mance artist Win­ston Tong and film-maker Bruce Geduldig. The lat­ter sadly died ear­lier this year, ne­ces­si­tat­ing fel­low film-maker David Han­neke to step in for the tour.

As well as re­vis­it­ing Half-Mute, the cur­rent spate of Tuxe­do­moon ac­tiv­ity has seen the re­lease of a ten CD box set, and a sound­track to a doc­u­men­tary on David Lynch’s film, Blue Vel­vet. All of which sug­gests that Tuxe­do­moon have be­come some­thing more than cult fig­ures, even if Nico didn’t know who they were.

“We’ve man­aged to sur­vive,” says Reininger, “and are still do­ing mu­sic and cul­ture, and for that alone we have em­i­nence grise sta­tus. It’s like Gen­e­sis P Or­ridge or the guys in The Fall. One way or another they came through lives of ob­scu­rity and poverty and man­aged to sur­vive, and through that ac­quire el­der states­man sta­tus. That’s fairly ironic and amus­ing.”

“It’s the same with la­bels. The scenes they rep­re­sent in the late seven­ties and early eight­ies, they put a gloss on them, so peo­ple now think, oh, I wish I was hang­ing out at the Ha­cienda, or I wish I was hang­ing out in Brus­sels.”

Some of this new wave of ad­mi­ra­tion for Tuxe­do­moon can be heard on Give Me New Noise – Half-Mute Re­flected, a bonus disc that comes with the HalfMute re-re­lease, and which sees artists such as Si­mon Fisher Turner, Jim Thirl­well of Foe­tus and Ge­or­gio “The Dove” Valentino cover the orig­i­nal al­bum in full.

“These peo­ple are like our co-work­ers,” Reininger says. “They’re like our dis­ci­ples or stu­dents, younger guys we’ve had a lot of in­volve­ment with.”

Be­yond Half-Mute, Tuxe­do­moon will con­tinue to op­er­ate in the mar­gins.

“We’ll fin­ish this tour and see what comes up,” says Reininger. “We have var­i­ous re­leases and re-re­leases hap­pen­ing. Af­ter that we’ll see. Once we get a spark, we can see what that yields.”

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