The Agit Reader

The Brightside, Dayton, February 24

March 1st, 2023  |  by Kevin J. Ellliott

Brainiac live at The Brightside

There was no way.

I was very contrarian when this all started up again. Sure, an event celebrating the music upon release of the 2019 documentary Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero was warranted. But a Brainiac tour? A “new” release? Was the ending going to stick?

Those shows, pre-pandemic, were certainly a salve to help suture the wound of Tim Taylor’s death and move along. The archives have been tapped. John Schmersal, Juan Monasterio, and Tyler Trent had lives beyond Brainiac and had lived them.  But the film has had significant legs. The myth was large and the cult it developed is strong. The music has reached a brand new audience of freaks, fairly eager to encounter what they saw on celluloid in the flesh. The number of people that I met on Friday night who had never got to witness seeing Taylor live was actually astounding. I consider myself blessed to have those memories to chew on for the rest of my life. It was formative and oftentimes transcendent, perhaps some of the purest live performances I’ve ever had the chance to experience. The crowd wasn’t going to get that. Taylor was the lightning in the bottle, and then it shattered.

That said, this iteration of Brianiac was absolutely potent. I was 17 again. They held a trance over the crowd that rarely relented. The battery of Monasterio and Trent ruptured the night. The dual threat of Schmersal, on guitar and primary vocals, and local lifer, Tim Krug, who now mans the simulation of Taylor’s sexy robot, only bolstered these songs with a strong sonic ballast. With Taylor, I always thought they gave feelings to the machine, or better, a particular sensuality and groove to the lifeless chug of their more angular, more serious, peers (and those that followed). This was a set that felt more than just a reunion, instead breathing significant verve into songs that have been dormant for a quarter century.

As such, the first act included a big, luminous, rush of catharsis in hits like “Hot Metal Dobermans,” “Hands of the Genius,” and “Pu55yfoot1n’.” A bit later, the tuning nihilism of “This Little Piggy,” the molasses funk of “Flypaper,” and the strobe-lit throb of “Flash Ram” took the set through the many faces of Brainiac. I was always most drawn to their bitmap hieroglyphs and neon aesthetics; they were Prince wrought on second-hand synths and circuit-bent toys found in Dayton’s fortuitous thrifting. They became a band of tightly wound, histrionic electronic punk that could level a room, and apparently, directly influence bands like At the Drive-In and Mogwai, who just hosted the band for a tour of Europe. That they could still inhabit that space of stridency and strangeness was impressive. Again, it wasn’t just the fumes of nostalgia that blindsided me—this was real.

Towards the end, which included a rousing version of “Martian Dance Invasion” with original guitarist Michelle Bodine, there was a chunk from the recently released, and likely last Brainiac record, The Predator Nominate. Recorded, and in demo form, “Smothered Inside” and “Come With Me” only hint at what was next. With Schmersal taking charge, they were fully formed, shards of the poppy noise Brainiac was concocting in 1996 and already years ahead of its time. At that moment, it felt like this version of Brainiac would never need anyone’s blessing to continue this march if they were inclined. They proved it was worth it.

This past summer I saw Zapp in the parking lot of a brewery in the middle of nowhere. Similarly, they too had lost their own lodestar and genius weirdo, Roger Troutman, to a tragic death in 1999. Serendipitously, like many stories from Dayton, Ohio, there’s a connection. Tim Taylor may have never existed without Roger Troutman. And here we are, decades after the death of both, still reveling in the music, the myths, the visceral imprint of live performance. Zapp was incredible on that day, consummate showmen, chocked full of hits, but of course, it wasn’t the same. It was just a different experience, grooving on the same cosmic vibrations. There was a palpable electricity in the room watching Brainiac on Friday, and somewhere the fuzzbot was nodding in approval.

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