Contortions, The


Band members                 Related acts

  line up 1 (1977)

- James Chance (aka James Siegfried) -- vocals, sax, keyboards

- Chiko Hige -- drums

- James Nares -- guitar

- Pat Place -- slide guitar

- Reck -- bass

 

  line up 2 (1977-78)

- James Chance (aka James Siegfried) -- vocals, sax, keyboards

NEW - Don Christensen -- drums, percussion (replaced Chiko Hige)

- James Nares -- guitar

- Pat Place -- slide guitar

NEW - George Scott III (RIP 1980) -- bass (replaced Reck)

 

  line up 3 (1978)

NEW - Adele Berei -- keyboards

- James Chance (aka James Siegfried) -- vocals, sax, keyboards

- Don Christensen -- drums, percussion

NEW - Jody Harris -- guitar (replaced James Nares)

- Pat Place -- slide guitar

- George Scott III (RIP 1980) -- bass

 

  line up 4 (1978-79)

- James Chance (aka James Siegfried) -- vocals, sax, keyboards

- Don Christensen -- drums, percussion

- Jody Harris -- guitar

NEW - David Hofstra -- bass (replaced Jody Harris)

- Pat Place -- slide guitar

 

  line up 5 (1979)

- James Chance (aka James Siegfried) -- vocals, sax, keyboards

NEW - Bradley Field -- percussion

NEW - Kristina Hoffman -- slide guitar (replaced Pat Place)

 

 

 

 

- 8 Eyed Spy (George Scott III)

- Adele Berei  (solo efforts)

- Bush Tetra (Pat Place)

- James Chance

- James Chance and the Contortions

- Defunkt

- False Prophets 

- Jody Harris (solo efforts)

- ImpLOG (Don Christensen)

- Loose Screws (David Hofstra)

- Peter and the Wolves (Adele Berei)

- The Raybeats (Don Christensen, Jody Harris and George Scott)

- Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (James Chance)

- James White

- James White and the Blacks

- James White and the Contortions

 




 

Genre: punk

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Buy Contortions

Company: Ze

Catalog: ZEA 33-002
Year: 1979

Country/State: Milwaukee, Minnesota

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6351

Price: $25.00

 

Born in Milwaukee, by the mid-1970s James Chance had decided music was his future, having attended Michigan State University (go ) and the Milwaukee Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.  Dropping out of the school in 1976 he briefly played in a local outfit with the catchy name Death before relocating to New York City, where his wild saxophone made him a darling in the city's happenin' art and music scenes.  Once in New York Chance decided to form his own band.  Flaming Youth was a short-lived instrumental quartet.  That was followed by an equally brief stint in the band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.  Next up was James Chance and the Contortions.  By 1978 the band's line-up consisted of keyboardist Adele Berei, drummer  Don Christensen, guitarist Jody Harris, slide guitarist Pat Place, and bassist George Scott III.  They began to make some noise opening up for the likes of The Cramps, Mars, and Suicide at various New York clubs, including CBGB's.  They scored their first break when they were selected to play a benefits show at Soho's Artist's Space.  A four day underground music festival, Brian Eno saw several of the shows and decided he'd like to document the city's so called 'no wave' musical movement, somehow convincing Island Records that the project was viable.   

 

Antilles catalog number AN 7067

 

Along with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (featuring Lydia Lunch), Mars, and D.N.A. (featuring Arto Lindsay), Chance and the Contortions were one of four acts featured on 1978's  Eno produced  "No New York".  Chance and the Contortions were represented by four tracks:

 

1.) Dish It Out - 3:17

2.) Flip Your Face - 3:13

3.) Jaded - 3:49

4.) I Can't Stand My Self - 4:52   

 

The latter song was surprisingly impressive.  For anyone interested, YouTube has a live performance at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPb18CzG2gg

 

live at CBGB's left to right: 

on sax ??? - James Chance - Don Christensen - George Scott III - Pat Place - Jody Harris

 

The LP didn't do a great deal commercially (try listening to one of the Teenage Jesus and the Jerks songs if you want to understand why), but the resulting publicity, including Chance's penchant for throwing drinks and getting into fights with audience members (not a particularly smart thing to do for a little guy), was enough to get The Contractions signed by Michael Zilkha's small ZE label which promptly turned the band loose in the studio.  Produced by Chance under the moniker James Black, 1979's "Buy Contortions" continued the band's trying brand of avant-garde music-as-pain,  Yeah, this material was challenging, loud, harsh, and not exactly top-40 friendly.  Some folks absolutely loved it, though I suspect a lot of the people who claim admiration  probably didn't play it all that frequently.  I will admit it is a great LP to play if you want to clear out a late night party, though really drunk folks don't seem to be impacted much by the collection's sharp edges.  Moreover, if you're one of those folks into Journey, Beyonce, etc., don't even bother going on ...   So let me also mention that I suspect that Chance and company were actually far more accomplished musicians than this album would have you believe.  I'm not sure anyone could play some of this atonal stuff without knowing what they were doing and Chance himself seems to have had an interest in hardcore jazz.  That said, at least on the surface Chance and company seemed to have had more enthusiasm than talent.  Chance's sax playing was shrill and tuneless, frequently sounding like a dying animal.  His singing wasn't much better with his standard vocal attack being to shriek and yelp out lyrics at maximum volume with no attempt to introduce concepts such as rhythm or melody into the proceedings.  Similarly lead guitarist Harris normally sounded like a three year old screwing around with an instrument, while slide guitarist Place sounded like her main playing style consisted of running a bottle neck up and down his guitar neck in random, spasmodic patterns.  Giving credit where due, drummer Christensen and bassist Scott actually served as a decent rhythm section, though it occasionally sounded as if they were working on a totally different song than the rest of the band - check out 'I Don' Want To Be Happy'.  By any definition, this was music, but it wasn't so much music for the sake of joy and happiness, as it was music being used as a sharp weapon.  This was avant-garde with a nasty edge; the kind of soundtrack that could have been used to break Taliban members during military interrogations.  Having the band literally implode during the recording sessions probably didn't help the situation.  Apparently feeling he was the true star of the show Chance effectively relegated the other members to sidemen status.  Berei and Scott walked out (the latter reappearing as a member of John Cale's touring band, before reuniting with Christensen and Harris in The Raybeats ).  Bassist David Hofstra came in as a late-inning replacement while Chance took over keyboards.

 

- I guess you could call the opener 'Design To Kill' funky ...  Opening up with an extended instrumental section that showcased Chance's wild, discordant sax, Jody Harris' skitterish guitar, and Pat Place slide guitar, the song took an even more disconcerting turn when Chance began singing.  Was it just me, or did he sound like he'd slammed his fingers in a car door ...   No wave with punk aggression !!   The Harris guitar solo simply had to be heard to believe it.   An amazing display.   rating: **** stars

- Kicked along by Don Christensen's tribal drumming, Place's totally bizarre slide guitar, and Chance's honking sax (imagine a duck dying of rabies), 'My Infatuation' reminds me of a major pissed off third grade music class trying to do a James Brown cover.  Yeah, it was funky, but in a total discordant, almost tone-deaf fashion.   rating: *** stars

- 'I Don't Want To Be Happy' was fascinating in that it sounded like the band members were all playing different songs simultaneously.  I guess Chance was sincere in his lyrics, but the highlight came via Adele Berei's keyboard sound effects which sounded something like a traffic jam on I-95.  Curiously, bassist George Scott III actually sounded like he had a basic understanding of melody and rhythm, though those concepts were largely wasted here.   rating: *** stars

- 'Anesthetic' demonstrated Chance could actually play the sax well enough to coax a recognizable melody out of the instrument.  Yeah, it didn't last long, but that melody fragment was there ...  After a promising start the song degenerated in a sound collage that sounded like a piece of metal rusting away.  The soundtrack for someone locked away in a home for the criminally insane ...   Harris deserved special notice for those sophisticated chords he hammered out - NOT.   rating: ** stars

- Scott's thunderous bass line gave 'Contort Yourself' a surprisingly enjoyable edge.  You could actually imagine folks dancing to this one, though hey were probably hacking away at themselves with broken beer bottles.  Yeah, they probably weren't smiling except for the goofy chorus "contort yourself four times, contort yourself five times ..."     rating: **** stars

- Ever wondered what a snotty white kid from Milwaukee who wanted to be James Brown would sound like ?  Probably not, but if you did, then check out 'Throw Me Away'.  I'm not sure there's such a thing as discordant funk, but this one would seem to fit the description with Chance and company literally ripping their way through the song, complete with Brown styled vamps.   Fascinating and weird ...  rating: *** stars

- 'Roving Eye' found the band getting even funkier - seriously, this was actually funky (with the exception of the mid-song sax meltdown).   Hard to pick a favorite track on this one, but I guess this would get the nod.  rating: **** stars

- Built on another neat Scott bass pattern, 'Twice Removed' occasionally came close to a recognizable song structure.  Perhaps the biggest surprise; Chance showed that he could sing.  Nah, you weren't gonna confuse him with Michael Bolton, but he could actually belt out a melody.   rating: *** stars

- Opening up with a literal explosion of discordant Chance sax, 'Bedroom Athlete' ended the album with another slice of no-wave-meets-funk.  This one was actually kind of fun once it got going.    rating: *** stars

 

Yeah, this one attracts raves from the critics who seemingly admire Chance's anti-music, avant-garde, free-form mix of jazz, funk, and gawd knows what else.  Good for them.  Does it make for a fun album to listen to ?  Not particularly.  I've tried and every time I give it a go I'm left with the strange feeling that this was a joke and I'm one of the people being laughed at.   Still, it is way different and they'll be a cadre of folks that truly enjoy it.

 

"Buy Contortions" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Design To Kill   (James Chance) - 2:47

2.) My Infatuation   (James Chance) - 2:20

3.) I Don't Want To Be Happy   (James Chance) - 3:21

4.) Anesthetic   (James Chance) - 3:52

5.) Contort Yourself   (James Chance) - 4:23

 

(side 2)
1.) Throw Me Away   (James Chance) - 2:43

2.) Roving Eye   (James Chance) - 3:09

3.) Twice Removed   (James Chance) - 3:03

4.) Bedroom Athlete   (James Chance) - 4:15

 

The revamped band actually toured the Midwest (wonder what kind of receptions they got) and then headed to Paris where they played a last concert, calling it quits in 1979.  Chance subsequently reappeared as leader of James Black and the Whites

 

 

In 1994 the Infinite Zero label reissued the collection (catalog number 9 14503-2) with the addition of three tracks recorded at a 1978 performance at New York's CBGB's:

 

1.) Throw Me Away   (James Chance) - 3:04

2.) Twice Removed   (James Chance) - 3:12

3.) Jailhouse rock   (Jerry Leiber - Mike Stoller) - 3:23

 

 

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