Infamous Bay Area innovators Idiot Flesh used to open shows with a lively processional ironically dubbed "Dead Like Us." A madcap act of guerrilla theater, the group and its entourage of colorfully clad dancers, prancers, and anything-goes noisemakers would wend its way from the street to the stage, provoking audience members to submit to a dada-derived vision of "Rock Against Rock." For the next hour or three, courageous concertgoers would be regaled with absurd cabaret-style skits, psychotic puppet shows, stunning pyrotechnics, and best of all, bone-chilling grooves that blended hard rock and performance art.
After the decade-old band imploded in 1998, frontman/multi-instrumentalist Nils Frykdahl combed the wreckage to continue the saga with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. A collaborative effort with longtime Idiot partner Dan Rathbun (bass), along with Carla Kihlstedt (violin, vocals), Frank Grau (drums), and the exclamatory Moe! Staiano (percussion), SGM takes the Idiot Flesh model to even more illogical extremes. The group is allegedly inspired by publications from the Sleepytime Gorilla Press, midcentury purveyors of the enigmatic works of philosopher/mathematician John Kane, the original band's fabricated hero, who is said to have founded the "Wrong Way" theories of "Black Math" (e.g., 1 + 1 = 0). Elaborating on the Idiot concept of upending expectations and creating its own mythology, SGM claims to have debuted in the summer of '99 to a live audience consisting of a single slug.
The group has since expanded its efforts to confound public notions of the real-unreal nexus, music for the masses, and the true merit of slumber with sprawling, complex arranged compositions like "Sleepytime," an arty-art meditation for multiple dulcimers and waiflike vocals, and "Sleep Is Wrong," an outsized bludgeoning that explores high drama. Though SGM employs a far less outrageous stage show than that of the Idiots, its ninja-master coifs, nighty-night attire, black-toothed grimaces, and arsenal of Rathbun's homemade instruments (including percussion guitar and a mega-bass strung with low-register piano wire) add eccentric visuals to the thorny aural feast.
The Sleepytime Gorilla Museum ethos of sensory subversion via meticulously crafted, mad-music mayhem can be traced directly to the so-called prog rock explorations of the late '70s by the Art Bears, a notoriously daring U.K. trio, which included Chris Cutler (drums, electronics, et al.) and Fred Frith (guitar, violin, et al.), both of whom currently enjoy considerable renown as avant-garde improviser/composers. Monday night's concert features a rare double bill of these multigenerational experimentalists hellbent on razing the wall between head-banging and pure-head songcraft.