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SHOW REVIEW: Lydia Lunch and Retrovirus at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

This past Saturday Detroit was blessed with an appearance from singer, poet, writer, actress and self-empowerment speaker Lydia Lunch. It all went down at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) and MOTORCITYBLOG was on the scene.

The event kicked off with Lydia taking the stage with her guitarist bandmate Weasel Walter. After reading some writings in her notebook, Walter led her down memory lane with conversation that traces the cultural history of "No Wave" and her part in it. It was dubbed "No Wave Revisited" and Lydia had lots to say. Lydia was a key player in "No Wave", which was a brief, but massively influential anti-rock post-punk tipping point on the cultural timeline.

Lydia moved to New York City in 1976 at the age of 16. There were no spoken word outlets in NYC so that drove her to other artistic endeavors including acting and music. She had a "I don't panic, I cause panic" moment that forever changed her artistic outlook.

Lydia has maintained an anti-commercial ethic over the years and it was quickly and clearly apparent that things have not changed. Lydia freely speaking her mind is exactly what you'll get when you see her live. Lydia once called Patti Smith a "barefoot hippie chick" in the Soho Weekly News so you better believe she has no problem confronting and calling out the mainstream. She says she's "happy to hate". She also says bandmate Walter Weasel is happy to hate and that's a reason they bond so well.    

Lydia gave much love to all of us in the audience for the very fact that we were in Detroit. She says she has
love and respect to everyone in Detroit because she believes it's one of the finest places this country has. She's about spirit and desperation and that's what Detroit is to her. She says "The coasts are toast" and "They have not been cool since 1990."  In regards to her former residence she says "New York is a shit pit now. Detroit now is what NYC was".

Lydia has lived in Barcelona, Spain for the last 8 years because she needs to live where art is moving and appreciated. She has recently been coming back here to the states to perform because she feels things are changing.

After her "No Wave Revisited" conversation Lydia went outside to catch a smoke and enjoy some wine. Seated outside on a chair several fans came up to her and were greeted with a appreciative Lunch. Lydia  said she doesn't use facebook, but did request contact info of people to be written down so she could call/write them in the future. A barely legal female admirer who just starting playing music intrigued Lydia and she put everyone on hold so she could give her complete attention and conversation. Lydia was glad to sign items and take photos with fans before it was time to take the stage for the musical portion of the event.

Lunch's new live musical endevaor is Retrovirus. Lunch is joined by guitarist Weasel Walter (The Flying Luttenbachers, Lake of Dracula), drummer Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore), and bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse). Retrovirus performs a career-spanning selection of her tunes and out-of-tunes. The band is an all-star cast of sonic brutarians in a no-holds-barred survey of Lunch’s musical output, from 1977 to the present. Including music from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, 1313 and Shotgun Wedding. Lydia Lunch has spent decades trolling through the subterranean sick-home black & blues creating a schizophrenic musical legacy which loops from shrill No Wave to bludgeoning hard rock, from smoky jazz noir and illustrated word to macabre psychedelia.

As Lydia says, "If you have a vision, give it a sound.".

During tuning before the music started someone in the audience yelled "Louder!". Lydia's reaction to it was "You won't be saying that in 10 minutes bitch".

Lydia was armed with a musical stand which contained both a pile of lyric sheets for various songs throughout her career and a hand fan which would come to great use because it was about to get very hot on stage. 

Her band was solid. Weasel Walter had a line of guitar effect pedals that could give Thurston Moore a run for his money. The experimental guitar sound was a treat to hear and the guitars took unmerciful beatings. A strap breaking and a string snapping was standard for the set.

You felt the bass chords through your bones courtesy of  bassist Tim Dahl who was technical savvy in the midst of the chaotic musical set.

Drummer Bob Bert provided the killer drum beats for the evening.


The Retrovirus set was loud, chaotic at times as well as danceable. Lydia spoke often between songs with introductions and to songs as well as word's of wisdom. She shared her love for Alice Cooper and his performance art on stage including Cooper's guillotine. She covered his song Black Juju during the set.



Lydia gave several shout outs to those who have passed in her life over the years. She's been in the scene for over 35 years and many have come and gone. Lydia does not forgot this and performs many of the tunes with the spirits of her collaborators next to, or possibly in her. One of my personal highlights of the night was the late Rowland S. Howard and Lunch collaboration - Burning Skulls. Lunch had a blast on stage and was a ball of energy. 55 years young and no sign of slowing down.

Lydia Lunch was in great spirits and had much love for the audience during her set. She let the audience know that "There's no difference between you and I, I just have a little more stamina."

                                  ** Photos by Adrianne Johnston and Casey Schwochow**

 Thank you for the stamina Lydia and Detroit hopes to see you soon!