Cringe-inducing costume party incites rock mayhem

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by Kelly Fahey

We’re all weirdos.

That seemed to be the theme of the night at last week’s Cringe Con. At least it was according to Anthony Petrovic, of Reanimator record shop.

Reanimator teamed up with Burke Street Comics to bring this celebration of all things unordinary to the Garage in Winston-Salem. The two Winston-Salem businesses didn’t have a specific reason to celebrate, but then again, who needs a reason for a good show?

“We kind of opened at the same time and we wanted to do a silly costume party,” said Petrovic, who came to Winston-Salem from San Francisco four years ago. 

The event’s weirdness was only heightened by the crowds’ costumes, adhering to the Heroes and Villains theme. Costumes ranged from Snake Bucket, which was simply a guy wearing a bucket on his head with snakes glued to it, to Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction.

The show’s lineup, comprised of five fairly diverse acts, really had just one cohesive factor: They were all fairly bizarre. Well-known Baltimore duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat headlined the show, with support from Whatever Brains, Primovanhalen, Human Pippi and the Three-Brained Robot.

The night kicked off with Greensboro act Three-Brained Robot, which is essentially a one-man freak show. Sam Martin, a friend of mine, channels his bizarre creativity into what could be mistaken as neurosis. I’ve seen him spit fake blood all over himself and sing with a puppet on his hand. Last week’s performance certainly didn’t disappoint.

Martin opened up the show doing a sort of “stand-up comedy gone wrong” routine. After a fit of rage over his jokes not landing, he proceeded to strip his clothes off revealing a unitard fixed with sequins and tassels. He then proclaimed that he wanted to be a cat instead of a comedian, put on cat ears, and crawled around on the ground, meowing and everything

Next came the sensory overload that is Primovanhalen, featuring Petrovic on drums.  Between smoke billowing out of a machine, flashing colored lights and a deafening sound coming from the band, a terrifying sort of psychedelia was produced. The effects-driven guitar of Adam Kelly, the band’s lone guitarist, created a spacey yet heavy atmosphere that can only be described as “metal shoegaze.”

Next up was Charlotte’s Human Pippi, whose deranged synth pop was a fairly calming interlude between the heaviness of Primovanhalen and Whatever Brains, who came next.

Whatever Brains — with odd, pulsating and dark soundscapes intertwined with rhythmic percussion and even a whistle — were the crowd favorite despite struggling with technical difficulties.

The night’s headliner, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, played to a diminished but eager audience at about midnight. Schrader, who sings lead vocals and frantically pounds away on a floor tom, thanked the “actually cool people” for sticking around.

Ed Schrader and Devlin Rice, joined forces in 2009 for a one-off show and have been producing short-burst punk gems ever since. They recently returned from an international tour alongside fellow Baltimore act Future Islands.

Schrader’s vocals veer back and forth between a tortured, paranoid scream on fast numbers like “Rats” and “Gas Station Attendant” and a low, soulful croon on slower songs such as “Airshow” and “Pink Moons.” There was quite a bit of buzz created around the duo when I first moved to Greensboro in 2010, but the last time I saw them perform in the Triad was when my old band opened for them at CFBG Records in 2012

A light shining up through Schrader’s floor tom made him look like some kind of sinister campfire storyteller. He interlaced original tunes with a lighthearted stage banter and a-cappella covers of Elton John and Billy Joel. Schrader seemed particularly pleased with the show, despite the fact that half of the crowd had already left.

“If I lived here I’d be like… who’s the guy from ‘Cheers’? Norm!” he stated before they played their encore, which was a crowd favorite called “Can’t Stop Eating Sugar.”

And with that, the first ever Cringe Con was over. I approached a faithful fan that stayed to the very end and asked him what his costume was supposed to be. He was wearing shoulder pads.

“I don’t even know man.”

The concept for the show was summed up perfectly by Sam Martin. “To me, Cringe Con is a costume party where the performers create discomfort for the audience,” he said. “It’s the freaks you usually miss while you’re at the bar waiting for your favorite band to play.”

Whether or not Cringe Con will become an annual fixture in Winston-Salem remains to be seen.

“I hope it becomes a thing,” Martin said. “It’s a really good concept.”