Ono – Ennui: A really good reason to love the 80’s (Music Review)

Ok, so here is a better reason to love the 80’s than even the Eurythmics.  The impossible to underestimate importance of Ono and particularly the powerhouse front man Travis P. (or simply Travis – check his website here) who adds the spiritual angst to the bands tempered electronics, is evident in their influence (I discovered them off the Nurse With Wound List) and in the timeless avant rock nature of the band. It’s almost as if you can feel in the music, this is a band to direct and influence others. Their special brand of music has been labeled “art Damage” and it makes sense when you think Travis has been, and remains and integral powerhouse in the Chicago arts scene and incorporated performance art in all Ono’s stage visitations – which continue to this day.

Here is a nice little quote from The Chicago Reader that speaks about an 80’s concert that featured Ono:

In July ’83, writer Scott Michaelsen wrote a full article on ONO, featuring a hysterical photo of the band (at that point, Travis, P. Michael, and Ric Graham) in choir robes That year, they released the first of two albums on the SST-distributed Thermidor label, “Machines That Kill People” (soon followed by another, “Nyenui”). And as diverse as the punk/new wave scene claimed to be, the guys in ONO really tested the crowd’s patience, mixing and matching formulas like scientists gone mad. Travis was especially a sight to see and a sound to hear, going onstage in a full-on, triple-tiered wedding dress, crooning like Paul Robeson raised up from the dead. Reigning gospel queen Mahalia Jackson was a major influence – “Nyenui” included a jawdropping half-acapella version of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” where Travis manages to sound halfway between Robeson and Bono (Sonny Bono, that is). And if you think it’s shocking hearing him do this on record in 1984, you should hear him sing along in his own house in 2008. Man hasn’t lost a step. I asked Travis what he thought Mahalia would say if she could hear him, and he figured she’d say “‘MORE POWER TO YA!’ She’s from New Orleans, she’d understand!” Strangely enough, a lot of the scenesters didn’t…

The music is as “out there” as you can imagine – interesting when you think the band was often operating among the Punk scene. The on stage theatrics often clouded over the power of the music, a tour de force in itself. ‘Aloe Cramps’ is a great example of the stunning guitar riffs the band was capable of.  Then Travis’ vocals hit, and the whole thing becomes infused with witchcraft. Honestly, this is like nothing you’ve ever heard, a kind of time travel of a sound, Travis’ vocal moving back and forth through time and the guitar potency keeping us in the glorious 1970’s when the guitar needed to sound good unaided.

For me – not sure about you – Travis’ vocals just make sense. I could sit and listen to that guitar work all day – check out the stunning start to ‘Ashley knight’, but when the vocals come in there, something else happens all together and I’m not allowed to chill to my substance. I’m called upon to engage – this is art, not colonization. I’m not allowed to rest on my bullshit.  I have to move beyond myself and open up to a new style of listening. I’ll leave you with these incredible songs, an interview with the band here at Mutant Sounds if you want more, and these final words from ‘Ashley Knight’:

She is the master of tears

She is intrauterine

but

the semen go to your hungry boy

and war by night.

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