Skinny Puppy’s farewell to Vancouver was a dystopian fever dream

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      Only in Vancouver do people respond with a confused, “What?” when you announce that you’re going to a Skinny Puppy concert.

      The godfathers of industrial punk, who cut their teeth in dark Vancouver venues, never reached the heights of Nine Inch Nails—but they should have.

      To prepare for the plunge back into Skinny Puppy’s sonic onslaught—more than 35 years since my last one—I pored over my colleague Mike Usinger’s insightful take on the band during a 2009 stop.

      Back to the present, though: the evening kicked off with opening band Lead into Gold, featuring former Ministry bassist Paul Barker. After their set, I happened upon Barker at the Commodore’s upper bar, where we reflected on our first Skinny Puppy shows.

      He described his first attempt to see the iconic band in 1992: a harrowing tale that went sideways due to “a pocket full of acid” and a “trip to the hospital.” I didn’t ask for details.

      As the crowd gathered on the floor, the first beats of Skinny Puppy shattered the din of conversation. Gone were the pointy boots, but the sea of leather and pleather pulsed with enthusiasm. There was as much gray as black scattered on the heads throughout the crowd.

      A Skinny Puppy show, much like your first jazz album, is an overwhelming experience in which you are likely to miss 95 per cent of what’s happening. I chose to absorb the experience from the edge of the stage, embracing the gonzo nature of it all, rooted in the understanding that my ears would never forgive me.

      The stage dynamics were set as Nivek Ogre, shrouded in character, engaged in Spy vs. Spy combat against a masked Nemesis. So it goes.

      The dystopian setting unfolded as glimpses of an Ogre’s alien persona, complete with fiendish head and piercing eyes, was subjected to numerous horrors at the hands of his dreadlocked Nemesis. Skinny Puppy dialled up the fascist-state fear as Ogre’s character was repeatedly subjected to acts of torture with knives, cattle prods, and injections. Apparently, the band's music was used in torture at Guantanamo Bay.

      The spectacle was revealed deliberately, Ogre’s physical stamina on full display as he navigated the intricate performance, powered by keyboards of cEvin Key. 

      A curious and conspicuous lab-coated conspirator lurked onstage throughout the show, documenting the drama as it unfolded. Events took a dire turn as Ogre was subjected to a conscious lobotomy, gore and green ooze pouring from his head adding a visceral layer to the pageantry.

      As the narrative unfolded, it appeared as if Ogre’s offspring emerged, and was not spared from the drama—a prescient image of our pending bleak future. Amidst the chaos, lyrics screamed by, and clarity was struck with “Seize the Time”.

      Strapped to a chair and then hidden behind a hospital partition, Ogre faced more terrors, punctuated by the pounding assault of Justin Bennet’s drums and Matthew Seltzer’s raging guitars. “The Future is Black” echoes in my ears. It’s a dark journey into the abyss.

      The encore was no path to salvation, but rather an absorption into “Assimilate” and a nostalgic launch-pad to the past.

      The crowd, in full frenzy, moshed with unrelenting energy, ensuring sore bodies in the morning. Ogre, shedding his alien character, broke the barrier and connected with the crowd, reminiscing about his favourite local haunts. The climax came with a massive ovation—a fitting tribute to these icons of the Vancouver industrial scene. 

      In the end, Skinny Puppy’s final Vancouver stop was a journey into the depths of their dystopian imagination and a relative critique of our dark future.