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When the words “let’s wrap up” are spoken at a rock show, they usually signify the end of the performing band’s set. For Canadian theatrical rock music legend Nash the Slash, however, it’s a call to arms. It’s time to obscure his visage with white surgical bandages, don his tux and top hat, shoulder his electric violin and deliver an unmistakable message by way of an urgent sonic assault: “You Are Not Safe Here”.
Nash opened a 2 band benefit show this past Friday, November 19th, where I bore witness to this most welcome attack in a large hall in St Catherines, Ontario, packed to capacity with a notably mature crowd (Nash's primary fan base came of age in the mid 80's) watching with rapt attention, unable and/or unwilling to look away once he fired his first volley.
Visually, Nash cuts a striking and mysterious figure. Bandaged, bow tied, and bespectacled, it begs speculation: Is he a steam punk violinist? The Invisible Man? A disfigured mad scientist? The survivor of a nuclear incident? (For those of you playing at home, the answer is actually ‘D’)
With feet firmly rooted in vintage horror, Nash created this enigmatic manifestation 30 years ago for a Three Mile Island themed show using bandages that enabled him to glow in the dark once treated with phosphorescent makeup. Nash never played without them again, resulting in one of Toronto’s, and the world's (he commands a rabid cult following in Europe), most enduring icons, musical or otherwise.
I first caught word of the St Catherines show when my good friend, Brenden, told me that he’d heard a radio blurb mentioning the appearance of the mummified gentleman on my oft worn t-shirt (yes I am a shameless Nash the Slash fanboy). St Catherines is a traffic laden two–to-three hour drive from my Toronto home signifying for me, for the first time in decades, a ROCK & ROLL ROAD TRIP. I’d seen Nash live a couple of times before, in both cases playing accompaniment to classic silent films (THE LOST WORLD, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI), but I’d never had the pleasure of experiencing a Nash rock show. Feeling 17 again, I grabbed my Nikons, piled into the family van (reality check) and motored down the highway for one of the most rewarding aural experiences I’ve had in decades.
Nash opened the show with an attention demanding intro (“Psychlone”) that immediately galvanized the throng and challenged anyone with a weak ticker to ‘get out now or take your chances’. Punctuating each heavy beat with a downward slash of his bow and a burst of stage light, Nash proceeded to punish his violin and set a number of unbreakable rules for the rest of his show. You will not talk, you will not look away, and you will not leave to purchase your next beverage until I’m finished with you.
Nash performs his art on electric violin or mandolin, wrenching lush rock sounds from both, and an energetic live layer of music played over pre-recorded tracks (all instrumentation by Nash) controlled on a panel to his left (the coordination of which is no small feat in itself for one man on stage alone). The sound is unique, very difficult to describe. Electronica, punk, new wave, rock and roll, classical, and metal, all inclusive or in combinations depending on the piece, served up with a sense of the surreal. Familiar songs tweaked by the Twilight Zone, played by a faceless madman, or original instrumental dream-scapes created by the breathing shadow under the bed.
On stage, the following bands’ equipment was set up behind Nash confining him to a smallish portion of the boards but he works efficiently in the allotted space, and although there was no room for the usual accompanying screen show - a Nash event is a multimedia event - the light show was effective and appropriately dramatic, often highlighting him from the back creating a dapper but ominous dark green silhouette gifting those who brought cameras with rich opportunities for shooting (during the entire set, camera phones were seen everywhere, raised arm high like a forest of lighters during a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show). He mined his more recent studio album, THRASH and reached back as far as THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (1980) for its title track, before lulling the audience into a false sense of security with two wildly unexpected Carol King pieces (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Loco-Motion”) alternating from violin to the notorious skull body mandolin as the songs demanded.
Next, “Robots” was sternly delivered with thematically modified vocals and a back beat that would be right at home on an Alien Sex Fiend LP, followed by his alternative universe version of “Dead Mans Curve”, an early cover from 1980 that conjures up nostalgic flashes of hot cars, surfboards, and drive in diners serviced by undead waitresses on roller-skates.
Finally, Nash threw down the two aces left up his sleeve, mercilessly thrusting mediocrity by comparison upon the band that would follow. First played was the Canadian classic rock staple “Phasors On Stun”, a 1978 space anthem by the band FM, a collaboration between Nash, Cameron Hawkins and Martin Deller. The second Nash’s signature electrifying mandolin intro began a collective intake of breath was heard drawn throughout the hall when it suddenly dawned on the previously uninitiated in attendance: “I know this! I love this song! That’s him??” There was a palpable soaring of energy in the crowd that continued to build throughout the piece and when finished, whilst the crowd still had their necks proffered, the killing stroke was dealt with Baba O’Riley, formally the property of The Who, now a crown jewel in the estate of one Nash the Slash and the perfect last offering for this energetic and far too brief set.
After the lights dimmed Nash joined his fans just outside the hall, graciously posing for photos and autographing the rapidly dwindling CDs at the merchandise table. One of Nash’s trademark signatures is the mistakenly comfortable “Listen in Safety”. It wasn’t until after this show that I realized the true meaning of these words. Find a place of safety to listen to this album, because there be dragons here.
The set list included:Intro/PsychloneTensionChildren of the NightSomething Weird on My TVWe Will Be the LeadersWill You Still Love Me TomorrowThe Loco-MotionRobotsDead Man’s CurvePhasors on StunBaba O’Riley
For more on Nash be sure to visit Nash at his home for sound samples and other tidbits.And keep reading upcoming issues of FANGORIA for more on the NASH"s internationally lauded "alternate scores" for classic silent horror films like NOSFERATU and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI as well as his macabre musical marriage to the genre, full stop.
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