Club Helsinki Hudson
Human Sexual Response
November 7, 2012
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Judging by how many people stopped me to tell me that they had seen Human Sexual Response in a club somewhere 30 years ago, I may have been one of the few at Club Helsinki Hudson on Wednesday night who hadn’t seen the group in its heyday. (Not that I couldn’t have – a quick tallying up of the arithmetic says that in just a few years, I’ll be talking about how I first saw Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith forty years ago). Well, all I can say is, better late than never. Although the group’s short-lived career lasted from 1977 to 1982, with only a few, sporadic reunions since then, they sounded terrific on Wednesday night – frankly, much better than one could possibly expect from an ensemble that has barely performed together since all those fans who packed Helsinki saw them three decades ago.
Human Sexual Response is often called a New Wave band, and on many accounts, rightly so. But the description both misleads and diminishes the group, which turns out to be several groups in one, and surprisingly organic to boot. Boasting seven members – four vocalists and three musicians – Human Sexual Response is both a vocal ensemble and a band. But make no mistake – those vocals are arranged as part and parcel of the instrumental, or musical, attack, and thus this instrumental “trio” actually boasts a surprisingly big sound, courtesy of the voices of Casey Cameron, Larry Bangor, Dini Lamot and Windle Davis – these last two the hometown heroes (they are innkeepers in Hudson in their “regular” life).
Thus, while the B-52s (on “Guardian Angel” and “Five Minute Walk Away”) and Roxy Music may be obvious referents, Human Sexual Response’s vocal approach – at least as heard on Wednesday night – brought to mind other acts, including the Hollies, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, various girl groups, and even Crosby, Stills and Nash, with their folk-derived three- and four-part harmonies.
The music is darker than that of most of those groups, however, and HSR channels more than a bit of the Velvet Underground and the Doors (on “Bodyguard”), and when the power trio at the instrumental foundation of the group takes front and center, even Blue Oyster Cult. And those three were incredibly tight and on the mark – assuming they were the original members, drummer Malcolm Travis, bassist Chris Maclachlan, and stunning guitar virtuoso Rich Gilbert, who produced an incredible range of sounds from his instrument without ever being overly flashy or excessive.
More than all this, however, was the fact that the group exuded fun. Maybe it helps that they haven’t been doing this over and over again every other night for thirty years. Maybe that made it all the more enjoyable for them. But Larry Bangor, who handles the lion’s share of the lead vocals and frontman duties, and Dini Lamot (Bangor’s brother, perhaps?) seem born to the manor and in their element, and Windle Davis and Casey Cameron – the only woman in the group, who, ironically, sings lead only on their biggest hit, “Jackie Onassis” – were also eager to please.
The group covers a wide emotional range, from the pop-culture commentary of “Jackie Onassis” to the socio-political critique of “Anne Frank Story,” and pulls it off with wit, variety, dynamics, color and fun – attributes that are too often devalued or even scoffed at by subsequent groups. If it was meant to be that Human Sexual Response was to shine for one brief moment in the early 1980s like a comet, and then soar out of sight only to come around again 30 years later, then it was worth the wait.
Rasputina, the nom-de-bande of cellist/vocalist/composer Melora Creager, warmed up the crowd with a set of its sui generis art-rock. Performing in a duo format with another cellist who added some kick drum for additional oomph, Creager, who also calls Hudson home, boasted a virtuoso voice and a musical range from lieder to Broadway to grunge. Her songs ranged from tales of environmental desolation to a childlike vision of a world of giants to something she described as an “1820 Sadie Hawkins canoe song.” Creager is a one-of-a-kind artist and visionary, and although her quirky sensibility undoubtedly appealed to many of those who came to hear Human Sexual Response, she’s an odd choice to warm up a crowd – hers is art deserving of its own dedicated time and space.