Although the songs Gary Wilson performed at the Knitting Factory were at least 25 years old, one would be hard pressed to call his 45-minute set an exercise in nostalgia. If it was tough to figure out exactly what it all meant, there was no doubting that even a quarter century later, Wilson’s music retains its power and originality.
His album “You Think You Really Know Me” only recently became known through a reissue on Motel Records. Self-released, and mostly forgotten, the record was kept alive by connoisseurs of the obscure who passed around copies like vinyl samizdat, gaining influential fans such as Beck while Wilson languished in San Diego, playing piano in an Italian restaurant and working in an all-night bookshop.
With songs that filter the compositional sophistication of Steely Dan or Frank Zappa through a late ’70s DIY, art/punk aesthetic, Wilson ended up with something that exists outside the styles of any particular era, remaining stubbornly contemporary, engagingly hermetic and eccentrically coded.
The same could be said about Wilson’s performance, his first in L.A. in more than two decades. Songs such as “Chromium Bitch” and “6.4 = Make Out” are naked evocations of teenage sexual frustration, and although solidly in middle age, Wilson still seemed dogged by his demons.
Wilson shared the stage with a trio of naked mannequins and was followed by a roadie, his head wrapped in duct tape, whose only job seemed to be pelting the singer with flour. Wilson writhed and moaned, attacking the alabaster dummies with a raw abandon.
In both production and instrumentation, the show utilized technology that was available in the late ’70s. Wilson’s band (including members of Sukia, Medicine and his original backing group, the Blind Dates), wearing an assortment of odd headgear and shades, re-created the album’s sound, with its chicken-scratch guitars and swooping Moog synthesizers.