By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Because we have our own aural tradition and need for congregation with like minds . . . because we can’t, not all of us, get our knickers in a twist about the muffler-rock of Testosterostock 2000 (Metallica, Korn and Kid Rock at the Coliseum, July 15, mark your calendars!) . . . because the airwaves are clean and there‘s nobody singing to me . . . Because of all that, I find myself here in London, jet-lagged and double-lagered, listening to Julian Cope.
Yes, that Julian Cope. Ex-leader of the Teardrop Explodes, the early-’80s Liverpudlian post-punk group with a sizable cult following. Solo artist with a minor pre-alternative hit (the anthemic “World Shut Your Mouth”). A petulant, paranoid near--rock star freakoid who in true “VH1 Behind the Music” fashion succeeded in alienating his band, his fans, his record label and, finally, himself before a series of revelations in 1989 shifted him in a newly “aware” direction.
Cope went hypernova and deep-historical -- from town frier to town crier, from “Saint Julian” to “The Arch-Drood,” from Syd Barrett--esque acid-gobbler to full-throttle goddess-worshippin‘ Mystic Brother No. 1, becoming a self-conscious subscriber to Dadaist artist Hugo Ball’s dictum that “Artists are Gnostics, and practice what the priests think is long forgotten.” Now confident in his role as “Shamanic Rock & Rolling Inner-Space Cadet,” Cope released an extraordinary series of artistically ambitious albums on Island (and, later, American) that, in the music-industry scheme of things, were underperforming commercial failures, and he ended up without a major-label recording contract.
Today, Cope spends his days out on Ur--Pagan Patrol near Silbury Hill, raising a family, self-releasing a number of limited-edition mail-order records, overseeing a fantastic Web site (www.headheritage.co.uk) and, in the last six years, laboring over a clutch of obsessive, entertaining books, including two hilarious autobiographies (Head-on in ‘94 and Repossessed in ’99, now out in one convenient $19.95 paperback volume), a crash course in Krautrock (‘95’s essential Krautrocksampler), and ‘98’s The Modern Antiquarian, a scholarly study of Britain‘s pre-Christian megalithic sacred sites, now in its third printing.
Clad in leopard-skin tights and knee-high platform jackboots, Cope ventures into the city rarely and reluctantly to report, bardexplorerlike, his findings to The People. And so “Cornucopea”: two early-spring weekend nights at London’s South Bank Centre of Cope-curated space-rock ambient-glitter bubble-metal protest-blues, starring a host of artists and, of course, Mr. Cope himself. A sounding of the horn of plenty. A celebration of mystery, whimsy, eccentricity -- of Supreme Oddness. A festival for the cuckoos.
SATURDAY, APRIL 1: FOOL‘S DAY
Scene report from the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer: giant blue-and-yellow Cosmic Jokers album-cover banners; the Doctors of Madness’ World‘s Smallest Disco -- a closet space with a DJ, a lit dance floor and a five-person maximum occupancy; a glass case containing Julian’s own vinyl copy of Amon Duul‘s Disaster LP, the grand prize in the evening’s Krautrock Coloring Contest, in which participants take magick marker to the black-and-white psych-op undulations of the Faust Tapes album cover. Young witches in hand-holding covens. Close-shaved black-clad post-cocaine spiritualists. Longhair Eurollectuals. Thirtysomething artheads. It‘s an alchemical underground happening, a Freak-Out(ting). We are here, as Julian puts it in the program, to “re-connect with our rock & roll past whilst propelling ourselves headlong into the mysteries of the twenty hundreds.”
The rooms are abuzzing; it’s as if anyone within 50 yards of Mr. Cope is catching the cumulative zoom! of his thousands of early-‘80s acid trips. Opening the evening with a solo set, Cope is the human contact high, a Star reborn as a post-cynical entertainer for a post-cool crowd, offering shamanic bozo charisma with an arched eyebrow -- a preening card who sneaks a song in between the banter and bar patter, preluding the evening with guitars, Mellotron, exhortations, classic tunes and a running commentary on his own performance. A delight.
Next door in the Purcell Room, Cope cronies Universal Panzies ride their glitter-garage riffs and hallucinatory anti-Roman rants into the silvery-golden dawn. It’s high (-concept) infidelity, with obvious affinities (glam, pre-Christian England) to many of Cope‘s interests. Same goes for guitarist-singer Tony McPhee and his near-blues trio the Groundhogs; McPhee’s unique combination of sarcastic protest songs and outre rock guitar is a clear antecedent for Cope‘s post-’89 eccentrica. Tonight, even if the hired-hands rhythm section aren‘t close to being up to the task of accompanying Mr. McPhee, the old grayhair himself is all galloping, ferocious rawktonics, showing off the inventive instrumental chops that still fall in some weird space between folk blues, Hendrix, Cream, Television and the Minutemen.
Not nearly as impressive are the white-suited New Ageist instrogroup Skyray, led by Teardrop Explodes’ Paul Simpson, whose nap-worthy keyboard cheese doodles fail to transform the Queen Elizabeth Hall into an aquarium, despite some occasionally nifty marine slide projections. The evening‘s other ambient-instro combo is, of course, Queen Elizabeth, Cope’s ongoing collaboration with Spiritualized keyboard sideman Thighpaulsandra. Q.E. battles banks of special-effects-loaded Powerbooks, manned by guys with frizz curls and sleeveless shirts. It‘d work better outdoors, under real stars, at some sort of sacred standing-stone cave rave.