Take Contortion Horse, a sonic sludge factory that shut its doors six years ago. Like Nirvana's Bleach applied directly to the scalp, this Lawrence-based quartet scorched skulls with its floor-cracking bass lines, seismic drums and distorted, deranged vocals. A testament to the grimiest side of grunge, Contortion Horse combined Seattle-style muck with the burgeoning brutality of early Season to Risk. It left behind two lightly distributed EPs, a devoted local following and some still-confused out-of-town witnesses.
Contortion Horse's chunky grooves have aged well, if at all -- bearing none of their era's commercial trademarks, these tunes could still fit comfortably on hard rock's fringes. But the biggest draw for the group's shows at the Bottleneck on Thursday, January 9, and at the Brick on Friday, January 10, will be the small-venue return of drummer Kliph Scurlock, last seen doing double-duty for the Flaming Lips and Beck at the Lied Center. Before punching percussive holes in the Lips' psychedelic balloons, Scurlock played in Kill Creek as well as in such lesser-known outfits as Sleeztax, Snailherder and Let's Rodeo. More than any of these acts, Contortion Horse gives Scurlock a chance to go wild -- at times his fast-paced skittering and stomping seem superhuman. The group's rare eyes-of-the-storm should prove equally entertaining, because playing with the deceptively calm Lips has taught Scurlock some new downtime tricks.
Marc Tweed, also of Saturday's openers the Hearers and Sunday's warm-up gang Unstoppable Thought Leopards, fronts the Horse, which also includes Darrel Brannock (ex-Stick and Kill Whitey, just visiting from Seattle) and Eric Mardis (Split Lip Rayfield, ex-Creekbank Ghetto Boys). In keeping with recent area tradition, Contortion Horse will also feature mandatory member Wade Williamson (Dirtnap, Season to Risk, Stella Link).
The group's lineup covers considerable ground, but its most prolific participant is Tweed, whose list of former bandmates is as voluminous as a daily roll call of Sprint casualties. Having served stints with 12 Angry Men, Dig a Crib, Able as Cain and more than a dozen other outfits, Tweed remains hungry for multiple partners: His trash-rock duo Charge Droplets and loopy electric company Hot Children are both set to debut in February. (When Tweed finally shares a stage with fellow musical multitasker Mark Reynolds, it will be a momentous, inevitable occasion, like when Warren Beatty hooked up with Madonna.) In less fertile scenes, such band inbreeding has led to musical retardation. But Tweed's creative promiscuity has led to consistently bright offspring.
"It's just what I live for," he says. "I think it's fucking awesome. There's just a lot of people here who get along musically, and the chemistry shifts with different combinations."
With Contortion Horse back in the saddle again, and with Giant's Chair having briefly reappeared last year, fans can dare to dream about the resurgence of other long-quiet acts, such as Zoom, the Micronotz, the Embarrassment and TV Fifty. For his part, Tweed longs for Mudhead, a dirty-toned noise band that showed a much different side of mellow-indie icon and former Kansas Citian Archer Prewitt. Such one-off concerts don't allow for the sorry spectacles that come with package revival tours: once-idealistic punks acting like boorish rock stars, and boorish rock stars acting like themselves without the relevance to back it up. The return of local legends is pretty much a positive situation, giving younger crowds and recent residents a chance to get excited about bands they never knew existed, and validating fans whose breathless accounts have kept the bands' reputations alive.
A few weeks after Contortion Horse resurfaces, the non-Tweed-inclusive institution Shiner will dim its lights for what's said to be the last time. But as long as its members remain in town, fans will have reason to hope for a resurrection.Contortion Horse gets back in the saddle again.