HORRORPOPS: Live At The Wiltern
Release year: 2021
Label: Cleopatra Records
Back in the 00’s, some fifteen-odd years ago, there were a few bands who dragged psychobilly from the deep recesses of the rockin’ underground to something approximating mainstream exposure. For sure, it never crossed over to the mainstream proper, but at least for a while it was less in the deep underground than usually, and some bands even managed to get exposure in the more general music press. The likes of Tiger Army, Nekromantix (who share a member with HorrorPops) and Mad Sin put the style on the alternative music map for a while. And then there was HorrorPops, who may not have been absolutely top-tier in terms of popularity, but they were close.
Worth to note, the band themselves don’t call their music psychobilly – they call it “horror pop”. But undeniably, with their double bass, punked-up rockin’ riffs and imagery that mixed vintage, punk and trashy horror, they were a close enough fit to be called psychobilly. With an infectiously catchy pop edge to their brand of slap bassin’ rock music, HorrorPops managed to reach many hitherto unfamiliar with psychobilly – of course to the chagrin of some, who’d rather see psychobilly languish in the underground as their own cozy playground.
Yeah, I don’t like gatekeepers much.
Anyhow, so much for the 00’s. Fast forward to the rip-roarin’ 20’s… basically, that’s what HorrorPops did: after their third studio album Kiss Kiss Kill Kill in 2008, the band fell silent. I guess I wasn’t the only one who figured the band were pretty much dead, which is why I was pretty damn surprised when this live album came out. They’re back? They’re back!
A live album might strike one as a slightly odd comeback album, but popping Live At The Wiltern into the CD player, the choice becomes justified in no time: this is a great album. It’s a great live album, it’s a great HorrorPops album. For old fans, this is a worthy new purchase because it’s a good live album, and for newbies it works as a “best of” -style release presenting the best of the band’s previous three albums in killer renditions. Nobody need feel cheated.
The first thing one notices is the sound. For a live album, the sound is exceptionally good. The balance between the instruments and the vocals is great, and the clarity of the sound is impressive to say the least. Singer-bass player Patricia Day’s slapping bass sounds loud and clear, but doesn’t step on the toes of Kim Nekroman’s guitar. Niedermeyer’s drumming is sharp but not tinny, and overall there’s nothing muffled, muddled or washed-out about the sound. Sometimes you can almost forget you’re listening to a live album, so good is the sound. The only thing one might want a bit more of is the audience – but that’s a trivial matter.
The band is in top form, too. Their joy of being back on stage after all this time, after the COVID-19 lockdowns, is obvious. They blast into the 19-song set with gusto, giving fine renditions with that amped up live feel. Unless a particular favourite of yours is left out from the set, the album really doesn’t leave much to wish for.
Sure, it’s not up there with the iconic classics of the live album era – you know, Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous, Kiss’ Alive and all those – but it’s a hell of a good live album.
The CD version of the album also comes with video footage of the show in both Blu-Ray and DVD formats. Sadly, where the live album is impressive to the point of exceeding any expectations, some things on these leave one wanting.
The image quality is good, as is the sound (duh – it’s the same as one the CD), as is the camerawork. What lets it all down is the editing. Basically the entire one-hour set is filled with constant fast cuts, never allowing the viewer to concentrate on anything. The camera changes constantly; I doubt there are more than one or two moments where the viewer is allowed to take in any scene for even five seconds. No, it’s cut – cut – cut – cut – cut with rapid fire.
When used in moderation, fast cuts can be effective. But when they’re used all the time, the entire time, they’re godawful. And that’s pretty much the case here: too much. Far too much. It’s just way too chaotic and random.
Still, even if the Blu-Ray/DVD leave things to be desired, Live At The Wiltern is a magnificent sign of life from the Danish-turned-American psychobilly, I mean horror pop trio. At least for me, in packages like this the CD is always the main attraction, the one I return to most frequently, and here is one worth returning to. That the video leaves something to be desired doesn’t ruin the package.
Live albums are rarely anything more than collector’s items for fans. Few are the live albums that are worthwhile purchases to casual listeners or newcomers. However, truly, Live At The Wiltern is one of them. With great sound and energetic performances, this just might rank as my favourite HorrorPops CD to date.
Summary: superb live album, not spoiled by the somewhat less superb Blu-Ray/DVD.
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