World/Inferno Friendship Society
With Bouncing Souls, Street Dogs and Whole Wheat Bread
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
Thursday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
If we choose to believe the legend, the first (and last) time Spin magazine agreed to interview Brooklyn cabaret-punk collective World/Inferno Friendship Society, the band's notoriously nutty frontman Jack Terricloth kidnapped Spin's unsuspecting reporter right off the New York City sidewalk. It's a chat ripped straight from the Brooklyn Barfly scrapbook: He wrapped a blindfold around her head, shoved her in a limousine, and sped off to some secret location, a sort of makeshift taxidermy museum in an abandoned warehouse on the Hudson. When they arrived, he removed the blindfold and conducted the interview. He sat in a toddler's high chair.
More than almost any other band working, World/Inferno cultivates an appreciation for the most performative aspects of being a band. Much more than the music itself, W/I treats its stage presence, costuming and interview technique as the art form. Not everybody "gets" that value swap. Spin certainly didn't, neglecting even to acknowledge the kidnapping hoax in their story, failing, entirely, to appreciate Terricloth for the grand showman (and performance-art hound) he's always been.
But why expect any better? The mainstream music press has largely ignored his band's gaudy lounge-punk since W/I formed from the ashes of Sticks and Stones in 1996. It was no wonder that Spin's bewildered writer ignored nearly every extraordinary aspect of the interview when drafting her story. To her, the music was the focus. Common rock-criticism wisdom, after all, holds that, even if a band's music takes a calculated back seat to hammy affect and showmanship, the focus should still be on the songs. For World/Inferno, that couldn't have been further from the truth. Terricloth's point is that it is all about the show.
But the whole kidnapping may have never happened. That possibility puts the band on another level of cool. If Terricloth never carted a journalist off to a room filled with dead animals and a high chair, the whole story is just a wild by-product of the band's own out-of-control image. Planting those kinds of seeds warrants a huge pat on the ass.
Either way, what's certain is that the music doesn't really matter when it comes to World/Inferno. Sure, their loungey, kitsch-filled sonics are a decent time. Songs like "Only Anarchists are Pretty" from 2006's Red-Eyed Soul get by on creamy brass, po-go drumming and Terricloth's bastard-croon. But it's the magic and the myth, the storied performances and the crazy interviews that really make impact. Hearing the opening bars of "Fiend in Wein" doesn't do it, but remembering the 12 drunk weirdos dressed as pumpkins falling all over themselves absolutely does.
These guys deal in absurdist escapism: drunken, sweaty, hedonistic, purposefully truthless rock music. World/Inferno commandeers a stage for 30 minutes, turns it into a circus where the band members are larger than life and where anything feels possible. Talk about the music if you want, but the real import is in this possibility: They've got a music critic bound and gagged in their dressing room.