For over three decades, Psychic TV have pushed the boundaries of sound, art, body & gender politics, and organized spirituality. The band was co-founded by main provocateur Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and video director Peter Christopherson after their previous group Throbbing Gristle, largely considered the founders of industrial music, broke up. But even though Christopherson left Psychic TV after only two albums, the band never stopped exploring various media forms.
Local music promoters Blueprint Events were thus seemingly right to have advertised Psychic TV as an “experimental video art group.”
But considering the emphasis on Psychic TV’s visual work, the band missed the mark. Occult images and psychedelic lights onstage did not factor into the performance as much as the promise of a “visual experience” implied.
Musically though, the band gave little to complain about, unless fans wanted to hear PTV’s industrial or acid house material.
Only two weeks prior to playing in front of the humid Venue crowd, Psychic TV released their newest album Alienist, four lengthy tracks inspired by classic rock ‘n’ roll. Set- and Alienist-opener “Jump into the Fire”, a Harry Nilsson cover, demonstrated as much with its bouncy, kinetic keyboard and choppy guitar stretching the track into a wild, electric odyssey.
At other times, Psychic TV were more tender. The uncomplicated, catchy “Just Like Arcadia” made elation simple. PTV also reached about as far back as they could with “Just Drifting”, the first song they ever wrote, in 1982, and another slice of light fare, “Stolen Kisses”, which features modest cowbell and also came from their first album.
Such throwbacks may have conjured warm feelings within the audience, but P-Orridge also explicitly encouraged – preached, even – positivity. “Do you want to be happy?” P-Orridge asked the crowd after the first song. “You like being happy?” Everyone cheered affirmatively, so P-Orridge put them to a little test. “Look to your right, and smile at someone you don’t know. Can we push it a little bit further? Look to your left, and hug a stranger.” Some people embraced more than one stranger, confirming P-Orridge’s only “experiment” of the night as a bona fide success.
Still, despite the overwhelming positive vibes, it wouldn’t have been Psychic TV without at least a hint of something depraved or sinister. The sublimely monumental “Looking for You” unfolded like the sound of entire mountainsides collapsing. And near the end of the show came a piece to destroy all of the optimism: “Nothing matters but the end of matter,” P-Orridge recited over and over on “Greyhounds of the Future”, an existential poem set to brooding, crimson music.
Psychic TV finished their set by merging the opposing feelings of happiness and despair that the band elicited. The encore consisted of “After You’re Dead, She Said”, a song that’s musically characterized by a degree of openness and hopefulness born of its feathery keyboard and sky high ascension, despite lyrics like “You will be what you want to / You can really be you / After you’re dead, she said.” But it’s difficult to not take lines like those first two out of context and feel spiritually uplifted. Psychic TV made the crowd levitate – maybe not to a transcendent height but like a pure oxygen high. Psychic TV gently guided everyone back down as P-Orridge made one final plea: “Be happy, happy, happy!”
No, Psychic TV were not the gutsy, visceral, discordant performance some fans may have expected. But Genesis Breyer P-Orridge promoted and maybe even inspired happiness, and there shouldn’t be anything alien about being happy.