Christian Death: Still trying to breathe life into gloom

Christian Death at the Whisky
Christian Death at the Whisky

Many moons ago there was a gloriously sullen goth scene in the perpetually sunny city of Los Angeles.

While the ’80s glam metal genre got much of the notoriety, there was dark sultry sister living next door. Yours truly took part with a lust for life, excelling in the backcomb, AguaNet, blow dryer (with diffuser) regimen that resulted in a beautifully coiffed mess that would have made Robert Smith envious. And let us not forget the guyliner and fashionable accoutrements, obtainable along Melrose at Lip Service among the various other boutiques that supplied the children of the night.

One could argue that such bands as Kommunity FK, Human Drama and 45 Grave were every bit as popular as their shiny drunken siblings up the strip. In fact it wasn’t odd to find them in the very same clubs and bills (notably Scream) as Guns ‘n’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And then ’90s arrived and all that was fabulous, dark and brooding was replaced by thrift store flannel, smelly feet and even more brooding.

The band credited with kicking off death rock and goth in Los Angeles was none other Christian Death, led by a fierce, colorful lapsed Southern Baptist who went by the nom de guerre of Rozz Williams. Tragically and true to form, in that he went out the only way a real goth does, Williams cemented his legendary status when he hung himself in his West Hollywood apartment in 1998. By then he had long left Christian Death’s legacy in the hands of guitarist/vocalist Valor Kand, who has led a revolving door of members since 1985. Perhaps “revolving” is an understatement. An exercise in artistic dysfunction, there have been 31 musicians (ballpark number) through the ranks of Christian Death since the band’s inception in 1979.

Playing songs off their latest release, “The Root of All Evilution” (their first album in eight years), Kand’s latest incarnation of Christian Death took the stage at the Whiskey A Go Go on Friday night. It was, to be gentle, a wildly uneven performance. That said, it was before an adoring crowd, many of whom were mere twinkles in their father’s eyes when Christian Death were in their heyday. Kand certainly looked the part, clad in a flowing cape the dark lord bashed the Catholic church whilst preaching to a devoted flock in the midst of a religious experience. No irony in that. On the whole the band was an entertaining but disappointing trip through nostalgia. They played the hits.

It’s not that they weren’t visually riveting, for in goth, fashion has always had a front row seat. It’s that they were sloppy. Not smacked out Johnny Thunders-can’t-look-away-trainwreck sloppy, but unrehearsed-staring at your fingers while you play simple single-line leads and sing off-key sloppy. This is rather inexcusable for artists this far along into their careers. It was frustrating to observe a band that had the potential to be terrific arrive at a level that at times bordered upon amateurism. Redemption came in the form of bassist Maitri, who glowed with a sensual Viking goddess stage presence. It was her throbbing groove that gave the set its much-needed structure.

Christian Death has been derided in the past for overwrought histrionics and silly pseudo-philosophical romantic prose that could have been penned by a 16-year-old girl who cuts herself to get attention. However, it’s those very factors that make Christian Death a guilty and endearing pleasure. As for Kand’s politics, however pointed and truthful the statements, his delivery came across as ham-fisted and childishly conspiratorial in nature. It is regrettable when a performer rests upon a band’s name instead of upholding a legacy. It comes across as flogging a brand instead of honoring it.