Black Moth Super Rainbow Live Show Review (Hawthorne Theatre, Portland)

Black Moth Super Rainbow make music for maniacs; misfits that don’t fit in anywhere but a Black Moth Super Rainbow show. The combination of lo-fi, surreal visuals with muscular funk rhythms and a battery of cosmic sci-fi synths transport listeners to a grainy interzone of abandoned playgrounds, rolling cemeteries, and haunted shopping malls. The music of Tobacco (vocals/vocoder), Seven Fields of Aphelion (synth), Iffernaut (drums), Ryan Graveface (guitar), and Pony Diver (bass) is both nostalgic, romantic & playful, while maintaining an air of menace and danger.

In an insert that came with the album Dandelion Gum, there was talk of “vocoders humming amongst the flowers and synths bubbling under the leaf-strewn ground while flutes whistle in the wind and beats bounce to the soft drizzle of a warm acid rain”. This sure sounds like technopagan nature worship, but then you have track names like “I Think I’m Evil” and “Psychic Love Damage“, and you’re just not sure what to think anymore. In a recent interview with Paste Magazine, Tobacco (real name: Tom Fec) spoke of the apparent contradiction:

“This is not a hippie band. It was never meant to be. I’ve always felt like, whether you can hear it in my music or not — and I’m sure you couldn’t — almost like a punk asshole. People thought I was this gentle weed-smoking kid tripping out in a field somewhere. I think I’m more of like a dickhead prankster.”

He then went on to describe backlash he received for the Sun Lips video from irate fans because the video “wasn’t psychedelic”.

“[All those expectations on what I’m supposed to like] are part of what I call the Black Moth box. You create this thing that’s outside of the box, right? And the second you do that, people build a box for it. And it becomes an even smaller box than any box you were trying to not be in. And I feel like that happened to Black Moth.”


May 21st, 2013 @ Hawthorne Theatre, Portland

Tom Fec records almost all of the parts on BMSR’s records himself, but he also records solo under the name Tobacco. For years, he’s been on the verge of breaking up Black Moth Super Rainbow, out of frustration with people’s boundaries and labels. He had recorded an entire album’s worth of material, Psychic Love Damage, that was scrapped at the last minute for sounding too boring and expectable. But Tobacco decided to salvage what he could, to go back to doing whatever he felt like doing, to bet back to BMSR’s anarchic and humorous roots, with the release of their new album Cobra Juicy.

There is no reason for Tobacco and Co. to make music under the Black Moth name other than because they love doing it. This return to form was well-received at the Hawthorne Theater in Portland, where they played to a full house, despite it being a weeknight. It was a breath of fresh spring air, to be in a packed wriggling dancefloor with a bunch of BMSR freaks; there were blue wigs and sequined cloaks in full attendance, with not the vaguest whiff of cynicism or ennui anywhere.

From the very first strains of the first opener, “Oscillator Bug”, I de-activated my critical brain and decided to go along with the ride, to hang on for dear life. Like a seance, so much electronic music depends on your belief. You can make any gig into a Holy Temple, or just another night at the club. It’s up to you. What I noticed, from the get-go, is simply this: Do you like to dance to drums and synth? If so, you will most likely have a sublime experience at a BMSR show.

Tobacco might play all the parts on the record, but I was really struck by how they translated their material live. Iffernaut, Graveface, and Pony Diver proved to be a fierce rhythm section, creating a solid wall of funk for Tobacco and Seven Fields Of Aphelion to create their ambient electronic soundworlds over. Once you’re hooked, you begin to notice the songwriting and musicianship. Black Moth Super Rainbow have their shit together; they know exactly what they’re doing, and executed it flawlessly. The spell was never broken, and I think everyone in attendance was fully transported into BMSR’s grainy ’70s infomercial universe. They played against a backdrop of blurry kodachrome projections, and all in all, it was a relief to be at a fully realized, high production show, after millions of ghetto-rigged basement shows.

They played most of the new songs from Cobra Juicy, as well as old favorites like “Sun Lips” and “Iron Lemonade”, but the overall performance was of a whole, with Tobacco’s lyrics obscured beneath his trademarked vocoder. It was like an Outer Space soap opera, full of car chases and elicit romance. The band had stripped away a lot of the masks and crazy performance art, and played a set that was still blurry and mysterious, but seemed oddly personal and heartfelt, buried beneath the grit. The audience ate it up! First of all, thank Christ for all-ages shows, and for the Hawhtorne Theater for providing the service. It was a relief to see an enthusiastic crowd, that appreciated the rare occasion to see BMSR fly beneath that banner. No one was holding back, sitting back in judgment; everybody was IN, and something wild and wonderful was able to get off the ground.

Seeing these songs live, for the first time, as well as listening to the new record, to get amped up, has given me a newfound appreciation of this band, and I hope they release another five records before hanging up their ninja masks.


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