At first, the show seemed doomed to poor attendance (at least by Friday night standards): a small cluster of older patrons huddled by the bar, while a few high school students congregated by the water-cooler. A pair of be-Dockered dads -- undoubtedly the begrudging chaperones of the giggling teenagers -- peered down apprehensively from their seats in the balcony. Their relative calm belied their ignorance of what was to come.
When it was time for the opener to take the stage, things were looking up. Smokers filed in from the patio as Beans, of Anti-Pop Consortium fame, rapped in a rapid stream-of-consciousness style over tracks from his laptop. Though it was apparent the audience was unfamiliar with his music, the minimal-yet-bone-rattling beats paired with the rapper's unstoppable flow turned heads at the bar. Before long, the crowd was rapt and drawn from the bar to dance or nod along enthusiastically. The crooked cadence and spitfire rhymes even incited hollers and chants of "Beans!" at several points in the set, and an a capella encore of sorts was well-received.
The venue had become exponentially more crowded in the refractory time between performances, effectively disproving my theory that Off Broadway couldn't swing a weirder booking. A man donning a chicken suit joined the crowd, casually awaiting Tobacco's performance. Fec's personal setup -- a laptop combined with a series of mysterious knobs and cables -- was augmented by BMSR collaborators Maux Boyle on analogue synth and ski-mask-donning d.kyler on drums. However, the ensemble's fourth member the true show-stopper Friday night: a video projector at center stage.
Nearly eclipsing the acrid bass and abrasive beats that comprise Tobacco's signature sound were bizarre '80s videos (complete with heavy tape distortion) of ladies chewing bubblegum, campy zombie film clips, golf-course ninjas, Japanese poodle aerobics, and old women eating ice cream – all somehow complementing the harsh music Tobacco is known for. After a few songs, Fec strapped on a guitar and vocalized through a talkbox, signaling a shift in tone from campy, catchy retro-futurism to nigh-demonic mania. The mostly lighthearted video clips gave way suddenly to jarring strobe-lights, which in turn gave way to...pterodactyl porn? I think back anxiously to the unwitting fathers in the balcony.
The remainder of the set oscillated between more laid-back, Moog-heavy numbers (including an unexpected performance of "Twin of Myself," a BMSR favorite), the driving panic of songs like "Constellation Dirtbike Head" and the muddy psychosis embodied by "Sweatmother." Through this exercise in controlled sensory overload, Tobacco deftly avoided the monotony of mere on-stage knob-jockeying and laptop-hunching. The unexpected addition of live percussion lent the show a much-needed energy, though the warped video truly clinched the performance. Disgruntled dads aside, Tobacco's success Friday night provides hope that we'll be seeing more eccentric bookings in Off Broadway's future.