May 16, 2014 7:31 PM   Subscribe

“That was the type of feeling you had - you were *in danger* at one of their shows.” The legendary X-rated Butthole Surfers show at Danceteria. (Video is NSFW due to strobelighted, confusing Butthole Surfers fornication.) For a glimpse of the band at their peak — markedly clothed, but no less extreme and noizy — see this full 1986 CBGB's set. If all this is too much, kick back with the comedy stylings of their 1988 Bar-B-Que Movie.
posted by naju (24 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Now That's What I Call Music
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:39 PM on May 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, also 1986 (or maybe 87) ...

The infamous Butthole Surfers gig happened in here somewhere. The one at Graceland where main man Gibby Haynes was murdered onstage amid an hour long firestorm of feedback, strobe lights and film footage of a sex change operation. At least that's what Gibby's dad heard, down in Texas. Which got him on the phone to my friend Jay who was one of the gig's promoters. In fact, Gibby had just fallen over and cut up his arm while very high on some of the local magic mushrooms.

But that show did have a resolutely pagan feel, like something was being conjured from the depths of the hollow earth – something beyond good and evil ... the special beauty of the Butthole Surfers being that they were (finally) the manifestation of everything any decent, god-fearing parent or politician or businessman or teacher or priest or shopkeeper had ever feared about rock and roll.

But if you believed Jay who actually hung out with the Buttholes for a few days, they weren't much different than us. Which is to say, born at the tail end of the baby boom, not from bad homes, just boring ones, raised in ever more crowded and pointless suburbias, force fed banal education and related television. Meanwhile the various extremes of the 1960s were playing out all around. Except by the time they (and we) were old enough to cross the street, the game was over, the playground closed, the revolution a failure, the distant war lost, the President a crook ...

Like one of those 70s movies that still pop up sometimes on late night TV. Disillusioned anti-hero type wakes up with a vicious hangover, drags a hand through greasy, long hair and gazes blankly out the window at the over-exposed world.

"We blew it," he says.

Except we didn't blow it. It was already well blown before our voices had even finished changing, the debris everywhere.

And let's just say the Buttholes, being from Texas, had it (whatever it was) in a more extreme way than we did. Which included how hard they were kicking back now that they had even an ounce power.

The punk spirit of D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) in full effect ... because NOBODY was going to do it for you.

Call them best-and-brightest types doing the perversely noble thing, which was to NOT exploit all the privilege that may have been available via Daddy's or Uncle's fraternities. Fuck That Shit. The noble thing was sex-drugs-rock-and-roll, pile into a converted bus with a ton of PA gear, various projectors and smoke machines ... the greatest apocalypse on earth.

(from the deep archives)
posted by philip-random at 7:41 PM on May 16, 2014 [26 favorites]

One of the first concerts I went to in an actual venue, not a church basement or something, was a New Year's Eve show with the Butthole Surfers, the Cramps and (weirdly) the Dead Milkmen. I think the Butthole Surfers showed a movie of penis reconstruction surgery while they played. I was 15, and the main thing I remember about that night was that while I was waiting for my friends, some guy mistook me for a prostitute and tried to pick me up. It's kind of amazing that I ever went to another show again!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:57 PM on May 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

posted by Brian B. at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2014

I worked at one of their shows, in 1989 I think, maybe 1990. By then they were already performing themselves -- the crowd knew the stories from the earlier events and was expecting a very specific act. The night I saw them they seemed mostly kind of bored. All the elements were there, including the sex change video and assorted nudity, but their hearts were visibly not in it. I love their music and had a great time, but it was clear from the first moment that it was not going to be a famous show discussed on metafilter 25 years later.

Also there were like fifteen fights because the metalheads who had come for one of the opening bands were not feeling the magic.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:06 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming that everyone in this thread, especially those of you who did not grow up in DFW, know that this is Gibby Haynes's dad?
posted by mudpuppie at 8:19 PM on May 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

I was at that Graceland gig. There was a wonderful aura of weirdness to it, even before the show started, the city's fun-loving odd came out for a show. And that smiling goth guy with the massive teeth.
Um, acid. and stuff.
The bassist kept rolling his eyes back into his head before the music started. My promoter/room-mate claimed their rider margin required a bowl of LSD, a bowl of mushrooms, 2 pounds of meat and 4 pounds of cheese. I might have the cheese-meat ratio reversed, but what freaked him out was that the type of meat wasn't specific.
So right after opening with "American Woman" a beautiful African-American woman burst out of the stage and started dancing, she was painted green. She also had enormous teeth.
Um, acid. I'm sure about that now.
So this wee goth girl climbed onto the stage with her rum and coke, and sat down, it looked like a rum and coke. She set it beside her and waved.
Gibby was messing with some kind of voice effect box and didn't notice her sitting right behind him. Then he tripped and fell over her.
The strobe lights were very bright and I'm pretty sure I was watching his arm rising and falling as he punched her a bunch of times. He stood up and shook his arm at us.
Blood. Lot's of blood.
Gibby left the stage.
After a while the band stopped playing. The bassist said that Gibby was at the hospital and they weren't going to play anymore.
We all agreed that it was a pretty cool gig.
But I might be wrong about that.
posted by qinn at 12:11 AM on May 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

I've seen them a number of times, but my favorite show, by far, was at the 9:30 Club in DC in 1986--same year as the Danceteria show. I do remember the sex-change film, and the naked dancing girl, and the dangerous fire-in-the-cymbal bit.

But my favorite memory: My brother was in another band in Austin at the time, and he knew the Buttholes well, so we hung out underneath the club in the band's "dressing room", fucking around with the band before the show.

My all-time favorite album at the time was "Psychic, Powerless -- Another Man's Sack". So naturally, my naive teenage self had to ask Gibby: "You guys are gonna play a bunch of tracks off Another Man's Sack, right?"

He immediately blurted out, without hesitation, "What? Have I ever touched Another Man's Sack??" and reached down to grab my balls--which he did.

I've never had another man grab my balls. I'm glad it was Gibby.
posted by mikeand1 at 1:43 AM on May 17, 2014 [24 favorites]

Great, chaotic band!

As an aside, their name is one of my go-to phrases when people ask me what to call something. "What should we name that thing?"... "Butthole surfers". Always ends in puzzled silence.
posted by greenhornet at 3:44 AM on May 17, 2014

Great, interesting band.
posted by caddis at 4:25 AM on May 17, 2014

I'm a man yes I am and I can't help but love you so
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:50 AM on May 17, 2014

I know I should have expected this, but Gibby's interview in The Devil and Daniel Johnston gave me nightmares. D:
posted by pxe2000 at 6:09 AM on May 17, 2014

Months now I've been racking my brains for the name of the club where I saw Butthole Surfers in 1988? It was a little punk/jazz/whatever club on Ponce in Atlanta (near across the street from the Krispy Kreme, in the same building as a kind-of art/photojournalism school)

But yeah, it was fairly uninspired like what Dip Flash said. Like "aw crap, do I have to play guitar? nobody else want to play?" But still -- got a T shirt!
posted by surplus at 6:39 AM on May 17, 2014

Surplus, I feel your pain. I too, attended a Butthole show sometime in the late 80's in NYC. I may never know for sure where that was. I've been slowly coming to grips with that for a long time.
posted by Area Control at 8:18 AM on May 17, 2014

I saw them mid-90s and they seemed super out of it. I had heard the stories of live show craziness and kinda just wanted to check it out. Gibby still did the burning cymbal thing, which was legitimately scary in a tiny club. Overall though, they got outperformed by the opener, which was Cibo Matto.
posted by dogwalker at 11:16 AM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I saw them on that 1986 tour. They warped my fragile little mind.
posted by spilon at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2014

Naked dancing girl hugged me in the bathroom at St. Andrews Hall (Detroit) once for like two or three minutes. It was weird but very nice.
posted by heyho at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good times.
posted by homunculus at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2014

I guess I saw this show, and while I'm pretty sure Gibby neither died nor got laid during the actual show, it was... certainly something to see. We'd driven over from Madison, so that was a long ride home during which we could not stop talking about it, trying to process it somehow, all the overload... and we were just maybe a little stoned is all, certainly not on psychedelics, tho we might as well have been.

It was a cool experience and all but my favorite of their songs was and still is Wichita Cathedral and I was sorry they didn't play it. setlist.fm says they only ever played it 15 times between '83 and '85 and never afterwards. Dang! I was already too late!

But then again I saw them again for the first time since '86, here in Austin, a couple of years ago and they were fucking tight, inasmuch as the term can apply to what they do...
posted by hap_hazard at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2014

I really, really love what that band has done. The idea of how bizarre they were and are, and completely intentional, continually pushing themselves into the envelope as hard as anyone has ever done, and they've survived it, mostly. I've never seen them, read about them just here lately, these past few years, and not read about them much. I know a guy that was close to the band, he told me what he could, not like we spent hours on it, not like I was pumping him, just interested. But they are just something else, maybe I'll get a chance to see them yet.

I could *never* do drugs like they did. LSD was a very bad thing for me, I only ever could handle mushrooms and not much of them, a much gentler ride, seemed to me. Yet these people shoved as much of everything they could find into their mouths and got up on stage and celebrated it. Very, very cool.

I've got this celebrity-crush on Teresa Nervosa since Slacker and who knows why -- I know nothing about her, which is I guess what celebrity crushes are about. I've heard she's had some hard times, and not just the neurological stuff that forced her to leave the band, just that she found a hard trail. I hope that's not accurate, or if it was accurate at one time that it isn't accurate for today.

Fun post, thanx for putting it up.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:25 PM on May 17, 2014

Mudpuppie: I'm assuming that everyone in this thread, especially those of you who did not grow up in DFW, know that this is Gibby Haynes's dad?

No, I didn't, and that explains a lot.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:23 PM on May 17, 2014

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