Huffing Paint from a Plastic Bag: Russian Tsarlag Returns

A while back, in September 2015, the elusive Russian Tsarlag returned to Pittsburgh. I guess he was also here sometime between then and now, but I missed that show. When I first saw Russian Tsarlag, I was impressed and intrigued; it was like finding an old toy at an antique shop all scuffed up and worn but strangely appealing, a lure to the heart. I knew I had to go to this show, even if I was feeling kind of worn out from an overabundance of school and work. I went to Romeo Street that evening.

The first band to play that night was Last Supper, Josh Rievel and Michael S. I had seen them a bunch back when I was going to noise shows twice a week or more, and this was along those lines, perhaps more solid. Tapes produced strange oblong horn sounds, industrial freight sorting, squeaks, hisses, pops, and severed voices. Michael also played a little shaker egg. It was a good set.

Next, we went down into the basement to see happenin_drainbo (Ken Painter). Ken played a video and mic'd some static sounds from it. Everything seemed pretty tongue in cheek, and I thought it was funny. The two songs featured some pretty quiet sounds.

After going back up to the first floor, Secret Boyfriend set up. He is from North Carolina, and I was totally unfamiliar with him before this set. First he played some pulsating, textural drones that grew in intensity into sharp phaser sounds. Immediately after, he transfigured himself into a mellow, but sad, folk singer, the kind of musick that might seep out of a dreaming brain. This was following by screeching, burbling noise and the clashing of metallic sounds with a melodic undercurrent. I was impressed with the dynamics of Secret Boyfriend's set.

Finally, we went back to the basement. Russian Tsarlag was sitting motionless, a monster movie villain with a plastic bag for a head. He spraypainted that bag while still wearing it, leaving the room to smell like noxious chemicals. I toughed it out though.

The set was presented like an old time variety show with jostling piano and "the patented mop trick". When he actually got to musick, he unveiled a few ambient compositions, before heading down the dark road I saw last time, speaking with the sandman via quiet and eerie guitar songs. He interspersed the performance with more variety show, interview anecdotes. He closed the set with another eerie vocal tune.

Russian Tsarlag is a strange man who lives in the soft focus caught between daytime TV channels. If you get a chance to see him, definitely do it. Though I didn't love smelling spray paint throughout, it was an amazing set and a good show overall. RIP to Romeo Street.