One of the most obvious casualties of the digital music age is the declining visibility of album artwork. Sure, a miniaturized version of the Knife's cover art for Deep Cuts pops up on my iPod quite frequently (courtesy of my endless obsession with the song "Heartbeats"), but if you put a gun to my head, I probably couldn't describe it for you.
Even more important than simple scale is the importance cover art had when it was the primary gateway to visualizing an artist. Most children of the '70s and '80s can remember getting lost in record covers, theorizing about the meaning behind the imagery or just marveling at its strangeness. The first that captured my imagination was probably the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, with its inexplicable, multi-tiered tower involving a slab of vinyl, a reel of recording tape, a clock face, a pizza, a bicycle tire, and a cake (I'm still trying to decipher that one). Then there was the cover of Ozzy Osbourne's Speak of the Devil, on which Ozzy appeared to be spitting out a mouthful of regurgitated black cherries, a low-budget effect that is hilarious now, but was terrifying when I was 12 and only further cemented his satanic status in my young mind.
However, none of those could compare to the way I was entranced by the cover of Heart's Little Queen. Though it came out in 1977, I didn't come across it till several years later, via a very influential, morally suspect baby-sitter. I thought Ann and Nancy Wilson were the most beautiful women I had ever seen. They were both clad in glamorous, velvet-and-lace-trimmed gypsy garb, with Nancy clutching an ornate silver mirror, and Ann looking sternly sensual. Staring at that cover, I imagined them seducing and discarding their medieval men, dining on wild boar, and generally kicking complete ass in a rock 'n' roll renaissance sort of way. The fact that the opening track on the record was the breakneck single "Barracuda" only reinforced this notion.
But that was more than 20 years ago, so when I walked into WaMu Theater last Thursday to watch their homecoming concert, my expectations were low. I was primarily interested in treating my father to the experience (a mysteriously late-blooming Heart fan, he had called me recently with "Magic Man" blaring in the background, marveling at how he previously overlooked Ann Wilson's majestic, sweeping vocal range). It was quite a treat when their 90-minute set turned out to be an utter delight. The sound was excellent (the last thing I expected inside the concrete bunker that is WaMu Theater), the back-catalog-heavy set list entirely satisfying, and the collective energy level of the sisters thoroughly euphoric, with Nancy smiling broadly and high-kicking her way along with the chorus of "Crazy On You," while Ann wailed flawlessly through "Mistral Wind" and a wickedly impressive cover of the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." Apparently the Wilson sisters are drinking the blood of babies, or simply have taken damn good care of themselves, because they sound as potent now as they did when they blared out of my baby-sitter's speakers.
Had I been gazing at images of British lysergic-punk pioneers Psychic TV during my formative years, I probably would have turned out decidedly less well-adjusted. Their three-hour set last Wednesday at Neumo's was a spectacular collision of Frankensteinish surrealism, romantic genderfuck politics, and a primal sense of artists making art simply to keep the blood coursing through their veins. To call Genesis P-Orridge a surgically augmented freak force of nature is a bloody understatement, but to look at them purely from the circus-sideshow viewpoint is to do the music a great disservice. He/she led the band fearlessly through a macabre and magical mix of old and new material, plus a handful of appropriately narcotic covers, including Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion." Not something I'd ever take my father to see, but a sight to behold nonetheless.
The atmosphere at the Triple Door on Saturday for Earlimart's set was notably more mainstream, but no less entertaining, thanks to an especially reverent crowd and the band's letter-perfect performance. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last 30 minutes of their set, but I'll get a second chance when they return to play the Crocodile on Friday, Sept. 28.