The most important thing you need to know about Minneapolis trio Gay Beast is: Do not attempt to look them up on Google Images. My laptop feels so contaminated that incineration may be the only option for its disposal. Learn from my mistake. Beyond this, however, you should know that Gay Beast are a math-rock band who play rigorous nonsense you can dance to.
Their first full-length CD, released last week, is called Disrobics. (Eighties kitsch culture buffs may be familiar with that era's Disrobics, which was a nude disco-dancing men's aerobics video. I personally prize the Gay Beast version of Disrobics for the exuberance of its design. The heavily inked chocolate paper CD case is abloom with fuchsia lotuses, golden petals, and the three faces of a monstrous flower god. I may redecorate my bedroom to coordinate with it.)
The band started in on its set at the Hexagon Bar last Thursday night without a word of introduction. Singer Dan Luedtke leaned over his keyboards in a spine-straining slouch, his spectacles slightly off-kilter, his voice a muffled squall as heard through a damaged P.A. Drummer Angela Gerend's dark eyes tracked Luedtke on and off during the set, watching him with deep concentration as she created a Frankenstein's monster of rhythm, with mismatched tempos surgically patched onto wounded beats. The panicky drum fills and Luedtke's shrill metallic chords scrambled over each other like an invading army of clockwork ants. Meanwhile, guitarist Isaac Rotto was a lanky giant working his instrument like a machine-tool, grinding holes through the chaos around him.
If you have a heart condition, do not set your pacemaker to keep time with the music of Gay Beast. The songs are filled with hiccups, fits, seizures and sneezes. If the group used more bass, its complicated sound might feel threatening; but as it is, the high-pitched barks and yips of the vocals make mischief, not menace. As the vibrations on stage reached some crucial tipping point of robotic bounce, the audience responded by balancing the "dance" part of the math-rock equation. Angular riffs attract angular boys, it seems, stick figures who are sharp of shoulder and skinny of shin. They didn't so much dance as physically interpret a case of bad nerves. Like tin soldiers shaken around in a bucket, they jostled and lurched with little care for grace. The moves looked like they'd be beastly on the spine, but after a mere half an hour, the exhilarating set ended without breaking any necks.
You know what would be an excellent, Google-friendly name for a band whose rhythm section makes cute with the quadratic equation? Synchrocyclotron. But the only strenuous thing about Synchrocyclotron is their spelling-bee stumper of a name.
Last Friday, the oddball trio found itself marooned on an island of a stage that straddled lanes 15 through 20 in the Seward neighborhood bowling alley Memory Lanes. Behind the band, a psychedelic-in-the-'70s background mural of sea-submerged pins and balls glowed underneath the alley's party-atmosphere blacklight. On either side of them, bowling balls whizzed down the polished lanes. Say goodbye to trucker's caps; say hello to PBA chic.
Synchrocyclotron's three members trade off instruments to create jokey striptease funk and teasing funhouse jams. That night, Scott Watson played I'm-sneaking-up-behind-you bass ascensions, and Faggot's Jon Nielsen hopped between drums and guitar. With her brass slung around her neck, saxophonist Erin Smith minded the keyboards, as well.
Sychcro-etc's songs have the tarnished mellow groove of old TV-show instrumentals, so it seemed fitting when, toward the end of the set, Nielsen announced, "We were watching America's Next Tiny Island last night, and we figured out the theme song—here it is."
"This bowl's for you," replied an audience member on lucky lane 13—a sentiment that would have meant more if he had managed to pick up the spare.