At a recent show in Dallas, Texas, Legendary Pink Dots front man Edward Ka-Spel (a.k.a. the Prophet Qa'Sepel) was chased around by an unstable votary who hollered, "I know you've got the key to the tower!" This makes one wonder: Has anyone burrowed their way into his home, like David Letterman's late stalker, claiming to be Mrs. Ka-Spel? Sitting downstairs at New York's Wetlands, eyes behind tinted eyeglasses, a smile across his mug, he says, "We have a few loons like that, indeed—but they haven't gone that far!
Legendary Pink Dots
Showbox, Wednesday, November 25
The Dots themselves are finally arriving, so to speak, from even recent days as an import-only, $3,000-a-year band to become a domestically distributed, reasonable-income-earning, successful tour phenomenon. Laughing, Ka-Spel acknowledges that the Dots have been "a band that went so long without having any success—that's dogged persistence for you."
Formed in 1980 in London, the Dots (of which the only remaining founding members are Ka-Spel and Phil "the Silverman" Knight) released a slew of mostly difficult-to-procure albums, spawned side projects aplenty (the Tear Garden most famously), relocated to Holland by 1985, and continue today with a decent American label (Soleilmoon) and an assortment of revolving members.
Sometimes abruptly detouring into completely different musical territory, Ka-Spel's peculiar ditties aren't traditional musical fodder. For one, his voice is more distinctive than Sporty Spice's any day. A gentle, softly slurred affair (think a flattering version of Elmer Fudd), it glides from therapist-worthy serenade into strained, tortured croon.
As for the Legendary Pink Dots' recorded catalog—circa 40 albums—songs vary from grating electronic jaunts laced with psychedelic, irreverent lyrics ("Jello man cuts corners/creeps unseen between the sheets/he's laying eggs . . . you should see him play the organ") to accessible pop tunes. "They're not drug-induced rants," Ka-Spel says of the noisier efforts, "because I really don't touch the old chemicals anymore. They're absolutely serious to me. I mean, some of them are rants off the top of my head, something I really like to do night by night—songs which are just open and go where they go."
With their latest record, Nemesis Online (Soleilmoon), a well-produced menu, the Dots maintain enough typical Dots style to satisfy old-schoolers and create enough non-irritating numbers to ensnare newbies. Opener "Dissonance," for instance, is a dubby trip, "Abracadabra" boasts nightmarish chanting over break beats, while "Zoo" ranks as a danceable zinger. And "Fate's Faithful Punchline," with its mellow horn solo, is damn beauteous.
"It's a genre of our own," insists Ka-Spel of the Dots' hard-to-categorize work. "We're trying to create our own all-encompassing little Pink Dots universe, which rather like the complexity of a human being is a very complex thing in itself. . . . I want people to laugh, cry, feel the little tingle of fear with it. Release with it, it should all be there. You say genre-hopping, but I think the Pink Dots is its own genre: 'unclassifiable.'"
"The new album is very much fixated on this time we live in," he explains, "and the significance of the computer on this planet. It seems a kind of analogy. Man's relationship with the computer is little bit analogous to man's relationship with the sun in that the computer is our big friend and the more it develops, the more we rely upon it, and it seems to almost run our lives. Then there's this millennium bug. . . . What it could mean is technically a collapse on such an enormous scale it's hard to conceive it. Like the nemesis behind the sun."
As for his own relationship with online existence, Ka-Spel confesses: "To be honest, I have a real love/hate relationship with the computer. I tend to use it more for e-mail—my computer is very primitive. But I do notice that it can spark a kind of addictive tendency within me which I don't like. . . . The actual title of the album came from an e-mail from a guy who called himself 'firstname.lastname@example.org,' or something. I thought, whoa, I've got Nemesis online here!"
Considering that Seattle was the first US city Ka-Spel played (solo, in 1986), it's close to his heart, and the Dots' "Pre-Millennial Spectacular" tour should be a bit legendary itself. Dots bassist Ryan Moore's solo offshoot, the Twilight Circus Dub System, kicks things off. Moore, whose infatuation with Jamaican dub is as subtle as, say, napalm, contorts his face into zany configurations while hopping from instrument to instrument.
During select shows, Ka-Spel follows with an hour of solo material, after which the entire band takes the stage for more than two hours of trippy delights. As Ka-Spel points out: "That's almost three and a half hours, and that's quite a ride."