If you're the kind of person who slows down to gawk at car accidents, enjoys telling Michael Jackson jokes a little too much, or owns more than three books about Charles Manson, you might find space in your heart for Sky Burial's straightforwardly titled and instantly catchy Freak at the End of the Rainbow - it's about freaks and how we can't help but stare at them. For their first studio album, Sky Burial summons up a rowdy punked out flavor of hard rock infused with a country twang here, a prog rock riff there, to treat subjects normally reserved for Rob Zombie songs or the psychobilly genre.
The album - which was mastered by Matt Howe, who won a Grammy for The Miseducation of Lauren Hill - has been ready for a while, but for sentimental reasons the group is holding their release party tomorrow night at the Living Room, where entrance fees get you a copy of the new CD and the privilege of seeing a band that puts great stock in showmanship and is as tight live as it is in its recordings. With a repertoire of 30 original songs and several covers, they plan to play two-and-a-half sets, for at least two hours or until they're asked to leave.
Sky Burial is so named because lead singer Lance Gura, stage name Jimmy Vulture, witnessed one while traveling through a Tibetan village in Sichuan, China. He says the ritual blew him away because it combined the gritty violence of vultures descending on a corpse like piranhas with the deep spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism, an image that basically sums up the band's philosophy. Not that they take themselves too seriously. Like Gura, the other musicians adopt bird-of-prey nicknames: There's guitarist Brian Kleinsmith, aka Chuck Buzzard, drummer Paul Routledge, aka Alfie Kite, and bass player John Ring, aka Jack Hawk. Their influences are diverse but complimentary: Gura likes Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and rockabilly, Kleinsmith is more into the virtuosity of Rush and early prog rock, Ring likes the Grateful Dead, and Routledge is a David Bowie fan.
The band started as a goof with Kleinsmith and Gura recording several albums for fun in Gura's bathroom (the acoustics were better there). Then they got serious about the project and after a few changes the lineup has remained stable for two years. They play about one or two shows per month, mostly in Taipei clubs like Bliss, The Living Room, Sappho and Velvet Underground. Freak at the End of the Raindbow was recorded at RMS studios in Taipei County, with the final adjustments done by Howe in England, who is a friend of a friend.
One entertaining aspect of a Sky Burial show is that half of the audience probably doesn't get the lyrics. At the Daniel Pearl Day music festival in Treasure Hill, for example, Gura, who paints his face white and applies mascara (for performances only, of course) was singing a song called Filthy Sanchez. Gura uses a long mic chord so he can move into the audience, which on this day included families with young children, some of whom were grabbing hold of Gura's legs as he sang We go sailing every Sunday on our glass-bottom boat ... You know my baby likes the Filthy Sanchez. "I had people coming up to me weeks later" who obviously did not understand that the lyrics were a long string of names for sexual positions "saying my children really enjoyed your show," says Gura.