Skeleton Key / Ambulance / Mercury Lounge / December 4, 2002

Prior to delivering a startling, long-forgotten ’96 six-song EP, I had missed the menacing Skeleton Key set at now-defunct Manhattan club, Tramps, but was tipped off by dearly departed Billboard editor, Timothy White, as to how ‘fucking great’ these dissonantly detached Soho dissidents were.

Antecedents of arty boho minimalists (Liars/ Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and no wave freaks (Ex-Models/ Seconds) now overtaking New York City post-Strokes exposure, vocalist-bassist Erick Sanko’s revolving troupe strtled awestruck underground dweller with rhythmically abstruse concoctions. Moving beyond the quaint seclusion of Tribeca’s tucked away Knitting Factory confines with ‘97s under-recognized Fantastic Spike Through Balloon, Skeleton Key’s delectably dysfunctional deconstructed dysphoria began to inconspicuously slither past the periphery of our great metropolis.

Dressed in color-coordinated coveralls, tall blonde frontman Sanko, guitarist/ backup vocalist Craig Le Blang, standing ‘junk’ percussionist Tim Keiper, and seated conventional drummer Matthias Bossi kept the medium-sized Mercury Lounge crowd awestruck with faves from excellent new release, Obtanium. Clanging percussion punched up the alarming “One Way, My Way,” a cacophonous corruption evoking the slanted swamp Blues of Captain Beefheart. Just as intensely immediate, “Kerosene” went ablaze with scree guitars and rumpled bass riffs. When they pulled out the explosively eruptive live staple, “The World’s Most Famous Undertaker,” its punchy volatility reverberated through our collective skulls, creating a wickedly disturbing sense of unease like everything’s gonna fall apart.

Beforehand, transplanted New York quintet, Ambulance, offered intricately multi-layerd Jazz-informed post-rock confections. Swerved echo-drenched keyboard swells underscored the lucid vibrancy consuming each moderately daring piece. Oft times eloquently understated dual guitar melodies and subtly complex bass-drum rhythms built up from sparse dirge-y auspices before swarthy lyrical gloom unfurled exhilarating cinematic emotional release. (Editors note: Ambulance is now Ambulance LTD.)

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