Although there was nothing wrong with the opening set by locals Wing Defence, they were just not a fitting support for the main act tonight. Their rock’n’roll pop did have supporters in the audience to the extent that it was possible they had brought along their own cheer squad. If anything, their guitarist Paige Court in her guise as MANE would have been more suitable given the postpunk wave of distortion that was to follow.
When Lydia arrives, the stage appears over lit but perhaps this is a practicality of her having to refer to lyric sheets atop a mid stage lectern. The band are all dressed in black against a backdrop of black, with Lydia’s lipstick and guitarist Weasel Walter’s guitar appearing as patches of red reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Apart from a brief greeting it is a couple of songs into the set before Lydia clarifies, unprompted, “It’s called Retrovirus because it’s a retrospective” and “some of these songs were written before half of you were born” subtlety acknowledging her enduring reputation and influence after emerging from New York having been grouped into the No Noise scene and her subsequent numerous collaborations with many postpunk noise artists over the years.
After these first couple of songs during which the band are just warming up, the third, Love Split With Blood is harder and faster and over sooner and the next Mechanical Flattery (dedicated to RCC Artistic Director David Sefton for bringing her here tonight) shows them getting progressively heavier, and gradually you become more immersed into the unholy caterwaul of Weasel’s droning, squealing guitar that threatens to takeoff at any moment but remains anchored by Tim Dahl’s muscular bass and Bob Bert’s primal drums.
Referring to her “notes” on the lectern, it is almost as though we are being given a history lesson with Lydia’s announcements of the musical genres she and her cohorts are taking us through tonight (“Don’t be fooled. That was the original goth blues”). Occasionally Tim Dahl breaks from the regularity of his playing to produce something seemingly less structured and during the physical work out of Dead Me You Beside I am surprised that he doesn’t actually break a string.
The Gospel Singer, a co-write with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, is described as her own version of boogie and afterwards Lydia praises her band mate Weasel, “Those were the best fucking solos I’ve ever heard” and then “We’re doing that song from the beginning” but I can’t tell if what follows is a redo or the song being resumed.
Still Burning is introduced as “a song by my favourite ghost”, the unnamed late Rowland S. Howard, and Tim Dahl’s anchoring bass drowns out Weasel’s guitar and his playing is relegated to being more a visual display than anything else.
The flow of the increasingly intense set is broken by a disturbance down front when an audience member voices his dissatisfaction with the show so far. Understandably, Weasel and Lydia do not take this interruption kindly and they demand he be removed but not before Weasel spits at the miscreant and she throws a drink at him. “Get him the fuck out of here and take his wallet” Lydia calls out then dedicates the next couple of songs to him. The first is a cover of Pere Ubu’s Final Solution which she adds was “written by a fat fucked up freak”. During this apocalyptic onslaught her middle finger salute becomes a thumb and forefinger gun fired into the audience. “Any other complaints?” she asks afterwards, adding, “Shut up I can’t hear you” to calls of praise before the band launch into Afraid Of Your Company. For the final song Forever On The Run, I notice that the lights are now red and smoke machine smoke rises like we are have been transported into some kind of Hell-scape accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack.
Only playing for just over hour, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus did not disappoint and in contrast to her somewhat aggressive onstage persona, later at the merchandise desk for a generous post gig signing session she was quite well mannered and personable. Although promoted as being the last Australian shows ever, Weasel did mention that they would like to come again and I am certainly hoping that they do.
Fringe Review By Jason Leigh