COIL – Colour Sound Oblivion (Advance Patron’s Edition)
Colour Sound Oblivion is Coil’s exhaustive 16-disc live DVD box set, amassing 14 performances plus a slew of goodies in a beautiful hand-made package.
The shows captured here present a timeline of how the group’s performances began and changed over time – from the harsh, noisy assaults of the first to the slower, melancholic vibes of the last. As the only definitive visual source of live Coil, everything worth watching is here, including their only U.S. performance at New York’s Irving Plaza in 2001.
Electronic music performances for good reason tend to go heavy on the visuals, and Coil created images often as disturbing as their music. Eerie costumes, warped video projections, naked men in head-to-toe makeup regurgitating blood and nearly molesting the audience – all pair comfortably with John Balance’s possessed performances, which often make up for his sometimes limited vocal abilities.
There are few moments as electrifying as those during the death-by-audio Armageddon of “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil” (New York / Moscow), during which Balance repeatedly throws himself headlong into a hanging metal sheet for percussive effect, while a fiery projection flashes slogans like “GOD PLEASE FUCK MY MIND FOR GOOD,” “COLOUR SOUND OBLIVION,” and “RESIST THE THINGS YOU CAN FIND EVERYWHERE.”
Most of the material at these shows (which date from 2000 to 2004 – Coil didn’t tour before then) focuses on then-newer music, though some classics from albums like Horse Rotorvator and Love’s Secret Domain appear (some in re-worked form). Several shows have nearly identical set lists, but redundancy is avoided since nothing is performed exactly the same way twice.
The Paris, Prague, Amsterdam and Moscow gigs are fantastic, and each has beautiful images and excellent sound, though another Dutch gig in the box demonstrates how even some rough picture quality can’t defeat a primal, intense performance.
Many of the shows were amateur filmed, and as such the video quality can vary (at worst, one or two are single-camera, bootleg quality), but all generally look great, and the sound is usually very good, despite some less-than-ideal sources.
Let’s not forget the package itself – the hand-made wooden box (numbered if you scored an advance edition) features four cloth DVD wallets, each made of the band’s different stage costume materials. The DVDs, each in a notated cardboard sleeve, are grouped accordingly.
The included “Coil Reconstruction Kit” features all the video projections with their accompanying instrumental backing tracks. Also included are more than 100 photos, an insightful 15-page booklet, the program to John Balance’s funeral ceremony, and in my case, a personalized dedication card and special totemic gift.
Coil’s final concert unfortunately wasn’t the best captured (none of the cameras filmed the entire show all the way through, and the sound is at times a wash), but it’s by far the most unique.
The droney, somewhat free-form set features songs not performed anywhere else, and carries a grim and haunted vibe, culminating with the funereal
“Going Up.” With Balance’s death just three weeks away, the performance, particularly his final words, “Are you ready to go now?” and “It just is” (in addition to several other epitaph-baiting phrases), is all the more prophetic.
The last thing you see before the disc spins out is a simple written message: “What Coil did for you, you can do for others…”
For any devoted fan, this set is indispensable, and it’s a credit to surviving member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson for getting it all together. But for those that don’t want to shell out for the whole lot, don’t worry: there are plans to release individual DVDs sometime in 2011.
My box is number 56 out of the first 200; these were the Patron’s Edition boxes, the sales of which funded production. After high demand, an additional run of “Advance Editions” was made available. Contents are generally the same, but the numbered tag on the inside of the lid is red for the first 200, and blue for numbers 201 and higher. Once released, the standard edition boxes will not be numbered.
And now a breakdown of each disc. The DVDs are grouped into the different wallets, each labeled with a different “feeling:” Fluffy, Glowing, Reflective, and Shrouded.
This disc is separated from the rest – it’s not a concert, but a performance art piece at a gallery in London in which John Balance and a guy named John Gosling engage in a ritualistic performance that includes cutting, syringes, urination, wrapping themselves in wire, etc. Sleazy provided the background sounds, while Marc Almond recites spoken word off-camera. The whole thing ends with Balance flapping around in the filth on the floor like a fish out of water. Provided more for the sake of the record, it’s interesting to watch for historical reasons but that’s about it. Maybe there’s a greater artistic message here, but it’s not my cup of tea.
Everything Keeps Dissolving / Amethyst Deceivers / Queens of the Circulating Library / The Universe Is A Haunted House / Elves
One of Coil’s first shows after deciding to play live. A noisy feast of dissonance. Not too much to watch – the band wears fluffy costumes and walks around turning knobs most of the time, but some interesting camera filters make for a psychedelic viewing experience. The ending of “Elves” is pure mania, as Balance screams “God Please Fuck My Mind For Good” while a mostly naked woman gyrates and dances behind them. Very good sound, as it was originally released on the Live One album.
3./4.: New York / Moscow
Something + Higher Beings Command / Amethyst Deceivers / What Kind of Animal Are You? / Blood From the Air / I Am The Green Child / Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil
Two shows with the same set list, but vastly different performances. The New York show is shot with one camera – great view, great sound, and unique in that you get to see Coil playing in a small club. Intense in its own right (mostly dark so you get to see those costumes GLOW), though a few technical glitches and general uneasiness make it the lesser when compared to the atmospheric and flawless Moscow show. The climactic “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil” is not to be missed, and “What Kind of Animal Are You?” actually comes close to what most people think of as industrial music, thanks mostly to the frantic sequenced bass line. Balances dances around like a demented boy during “I Am the Green Child,” set to strange marimba figures and synth sounds. These shows are also notable for featuring Horse Rotorvator’s “Blood From the Air.” “Amethyst Deceivers” performed here is a rhythmic, pulsating early version. One also notices how the band conducts itself on stage – except Balance, all other members move slowly from place to place with a somber calmness. The Moscow performance was filmed with several cameras, so plenty of good angles and close-ups, and the sound is superb (the audio was originally released on the Live Two album). The hanging light bulbs across the front of the stage are a nice touch. The New York show marks the only appearance (in the box, at least) of a guitar.
The New York disc features a brief backstage moment after the concert, while the Moscow disc features candid on-the-street and sound check footage (including the band watching the New York 9/11 attacks on the news from their hotel room).
Anarcadia: All Horned Animals / Amethyst Deceivers / Slur / A Cold Cell / Broccoli / Paranoid Inlay / Sick Mirrors / AYOR / Backwards
An excellent show with a varied set list (the audio was originally released on the Live Three album) – the only place in the box where you’ll see some of these songs. “AYOR” and “A Cold Cell” would later emerge in altered form on The Ape of Naples. Also the first show to feature Pierce and Massimo of Black Sun Productions; their job is mostly to stand naked on either side of the stage painted in head-to-toe makeup and do whatever they’re moved to do. Balance’s voice can at times seem to lag (unfortunately on “Slur”), and while it may be in a widescreen format, it’s also mostly split-screen with performance on one side and video projections on the other. There are also some unfortunate sound/video sync issues, but there aren’t that many close-ups either, so this is actually not too distracting (n.b. Sleazy has said some of these sound sync issues were often unavoidable in the editing process). The version of “Amethyst Deceivers” here is more like the studio recording on the Autumn Equinox EP.
Some backstage footage follows the concert.
6. Den Haag
Anarcadia + Sometimes / Amethyst Deceivers / Broccoli / Backwards
Short set-list but still nearly an hour’s length. Again, a slight sound sync lag and some slightly rough video quality, but this is actually not distracting as things go on. It’s a raw, energetic performance, especially the closing “Backwards,” in which Pierce and Massimo, covered in regurgitated blood, writhe about frantically and attach themselves to Balance’s legs, dragging him to the ground.
I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves) / Are You Shivering? / Amethyst Deceivers / A Warning From the Sun / The Universe Is A Haunted House (Drip Drop) / Ostia / I Don’t Want to Be the One / Bang Bang / An Unearthly Red
One of the best filmed and performed in the bunch, and a terrific set list with great new songs and even a slow, eerie version of “Ostia.” Pierce and Massimo enter in eerie, devilish costumes before being stripped by the band members. “The Universe Is A Haunted House” eventually breaks into what sounds like a revision of “Windowpane,” and the version of “I Don’t Want to Be the One” is intense, with some of Balance’s best manic screams; better than the recorded version. “Amethyst Deceivers” here takes the form of the version that would end up on The Ape of Naples. And yes, “Bang Bang” is a cover of the Sonny & Cher song made famous by Nancy Sinatra… The frenetic rhythms and electronics of “An Unearthly Red” close the until-then mostly slow and plodding set while an animated sequence of an airplane on a doomed voyage plays in the background.
Audio was originally released on the Live Four album. A lengthy interview with Sleazy and Ossian Brown follows the performance (Sleazy remarks that Balance was “past the point of discussion” at the time of the interview; a hint at his growing alcohol problems).
Sine Waves / The Last Rites of Spring / Are You Shivering? / Amethyst Deceivers / A Warning From the Sun / The Universe Is A Haunted House / Ostia / I Don’t Want to Be the One / Bang Bang / An Unearthly Red
A nearly identical show to the one before, with lesser camera work and sound, but here “The Last Rites of Spring” is included. The Prague show is ultimately more worth watching, but songs like “Ostia” and “Universe” go off in different places and thusly are interesting to watch. Still good in a supplemental sense.
I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves) / The Last Rites of Spring / Are You Shivering? / Amethyst Deceivers / A Warning From the Sun / The Universe Is A Haunted House / Ostia / I Don’t Want to Be the One / Bang Bang / An Unearthly Red
Probably the worst video quality in the bunch, and to boot, a set list identical to the previous show. Sleazy’s note at the start of the disc indicates it was only included because a 24-track recording of the show was available. So if you can excuse the very rough video, you’ll enjoy the sound. A completely different “Universe” appears on this one, and again there are variations throughout the set, making it interesting in a supplemental sense.
Blue Rats / Drip Drop / Triple Sun / Radio Westin / The First Five Minutes After Death
Another one included for the historical purposes. This is an example of one of the few times in which Balance bailed on a gig, so it was performed by Sleazy and Thighpaulsandra as a duo, with no vocals. Well shot and sounds perfect, but it is just the two of them standing at their stations in fluffy costumes while projections play overhead. The music itself is thumbs-up, but this disc probably won’t get too many repeated viewings. It starts to become apparent that the amount of music actually “performed” at a Coil concert is up for debate. But as indicated by Sleazy in the box’s pamphlet, much of the pre-recorded sources were looped, arranged or played “live” with special sequencing software; essentially his laptop was his instrument. Not a far cry from his days playing a self-constructed arsenal of tape decks in Throbbing Gristle. In the context of electronic music, that’s about as live as anything else!
Most notably, the disc features a great interview with the two of them after the show, conducted by Jon Whitney of Brainwashed.com.
The Gimp (Sometimes) / Sex with Sun Ra / Broccoli / All the Pretty Little Horses / Tattooed Man / Teenage Lightning / Wraiths and Strays / Black Antlers
The first show of the “final sequence” of concerts, this one is heavy on material from the Black Antlers album. Probably the most beautifully filmed concert in the box. Balance appears wearing a thick shaman’s beard and a gaudy costume that partially exposes his backside. Sleazy and Thighpaulsandra man their respective stations shrouded with curtains, while a hurdy gurdy and marimba player occupy the rear of the stage.
Theatrical and eerie, you also get an early performance of “Tattooed Man,” which would later appear on The Ape of Naples, and a slowed down, melancholy re-working of “Teenage Lightning.”
The disc features backstage and sound-check footage after the performance.
The Gimp (Sometimes) / Sex with Sun Ra / Broccoli / All the Pretty Little Horses / (I Can’t Get a Word In) Edgeways / Tattooed Man / Teenage Lightning / Wraiths and Strays
A nearly identical set list to the Paris show, but an equally good performance (especially Balance’s more intense rendering of “Sometimes”), made all the more interesting to watch thanks to some very colorful and psychedelic video effects.
The Gimp (Sometimes) / Sex with Sun Ra / All the Pretty Little Horses / Tattooed Man / Teenage Lightning / Wraiths and Strays / Black Antlers
Another similar set list. As it was shot with one camera from the audience, video quality is fine by bootleg standards, and the audio isn’t bad either, but after watching the previous shows in the sequence, this one is less than essential. A good performance though, and each song is performed in slightly truncated form – Balance states during the set that they were under time constraints. Originally featured on the recording Selvaggina Go Back Into the Woods.
A White Rainbow / Unhappy Rabbits / Stranded with Gifts / I Want the Bells to Whistle / Tom’s Radio Weston / Going Up
Coil’s final performance. The set list above is mostly for reference, as I’m basing most of the song titles off the names given to the projections in the Coil Reconstruction Kit (there are no track listings anywhere in the box set). Sleazy notes that none of the cameras filmed all the way through, and there was no official audio recording made, so the sound is from the camera microphones. Since the show was performed in a large stone hall, the sound can be a bit of a wash sometimes, and the video is somewhat dark, but quite clear, and still very watchable; a good quality bootleg.
It’s a very different show from the others. The band are no longer wearing costumes, and after opening with an altered version of “A White Rainbow,” the songs are mostly free-form, with Balance allowed to lyrically run off in any direction his voice takes him. Most of what was played here never appeared anywhere else, which is a shame, but it also makes the performance more unique. For those that have the endurance, the rewards are great; this music is incredibly moving, and Balance’s performance is possessed and otherworldly. With his death just three weeks away, it’s also startlingly ominous and poignant.
By the time “Going Up” starts, one can’t help but feel they’ve been taken on a strange journey. Excerpts from this performance appear on the studio version found on The Ape of Naples, notably Balance’s few spoken parts, “Are you ready to go now?” and his final words: “It just is.”
The somewhat drowned-out quality of the video and sound add to the haunted nature of the performance, leaving the viewer disoriented and emotionally exhausted.
This final disc is one of the best. I may not want to watch it all the time, but it’s the one I’m always thinking about.
Colour Sound Oblivion is available only from www.thresholdhouse.com. A regular edition with a more pared down package (but with the same DVDs) will be available shortly.