On Sunday, April 10, a little screaming part of the universe fell silent.
On Sunday, April 10, the melodic madness of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum made their last bit of chaos together as a formed band. Fans both new and old packed into The Independent in San Francisco to witness the last of their legendary performances. So many, in fact, that they added a second matinée show after the evening performance quickly sold out.
It feels a bit slack to be writing this post more than a week after the event in question. But there is no shelf life on the sense of loss that I feel knowing that I will never be able to see SGM perform again.
But we should back up a bit.
By mainstream account, SGM formed in Oakland in mid 1999. Founding members Nils Frykdahl and Carla Kihlstedt joined with Dan Rathbun and Moe! Staiano after the breakup of Idiot Flesh, a band Frykdahl and Rathbun had previously been members of. Over the years the lineup changed a bit and albums were recorded, and so on and so on. Their sound was explosive, bizzare, experimental, and avant-garde. All of these details are important if you’re writing a definitive biography of the band, but I’m not here to do that.
My first introduction to SGM was sometime in 2005, in the peak of my mischievous teenage trouble making. The time in my life when I had a regular habit of sneaking out of my parent’s house late at night and drinking in parks with my much cooler older friends. Those days spent trying to get someone to buy me cheap cigarettes. It was a time in my life where I was desperately, almost obsessively, forming my identity based on the cues of my peers. And I was lucky enough to be hanging out with some people who had truly excellent taste in music.
If I had to pin who specifically turned me on to SGM, it was likely a friend who for the sake of anonymity we’ll call “D.” I remember him playing CD after CD of Mr Bungle, Mike Patton, and King Crimson while we drove around. I ended up taking a lot of cues on music from those drives. One day, he came over to a party I was at somewhere in the wasteland of Sonoma County. It was late, very late, and I remember him showing up looking like he’d been hit by a truck. I asked him where he’d been. “I just saw the most amazing show…” he said.
I think you can figure out what band he’d just seen. Of course, I instantly made a note to watch where they’d be playing around me next, and within a year I had managed to see them live (of course, being a broke teenager living in the north bay, this involved a fair bit of bribing and convincing of friends with cars).
And unsurprisingly, it was a stunning night. The dadaist lyrical themes, the instruments invented from discarded trash, the bizzare stage show, everything was delightfully strange and beautiful.
That sense of wonder was still present at their last show. This is clearly a group that is not disbanding because they have exhausted their creativity, but because the years of playing together have paved the road for projects that are much greater than their current form. They are still working on a DVD project, among others.
As I stood there at their last show, pressed up against other audience members, I was struck by not only how connected I felt to those around me, but also how in touch I felt with my own realization of personal growth. Almost 6 years later, I found myself living in a different city, surrounded by different friends, with entirely different goals in life, and yet I was watching a band that I had constantly remained entranced with throughout the years. It didn’t matter that this was their last show. With their haunting lyrics and improvised instruments, SGM provided the connecting string that threaded so many of my life experiences together. And that thread will never go away just because I can’t see them live anymore.
“Cockroach” Video credit to schtink123 on YouTube
So, this ended up being a post that was less about their final show, and more about the impact SGM and their final show had on me. It’s impossible for me to write about this band and not link it back to my experience, since this was a band that was so influential on the type of music I listen to now. But in parting, I’ll leave you dear readers with some more links to pages about SGM, in the hopeful thought that my post has piqued your interest in this remarkable group.
–A post about SGM’s disbanding by the lovely and talented ladies at Coilhouse, which includes a link to a free PDF of an interview with Frykdahl a couple years back. I voraciously read this interview in their print mag, you really owe it to yourself to download this beautiful PDF.
–Marty0217’s Youtube channel, which includes a ton of beutiful, high quality videos from SGM’s last show (try to spot me in the cowd!)