• Title: Gordon Gano: The Knitting Factory
  • Author: Ann Powers
  • Publication: The New York Times
  • Date: January 25, 1993 (p. C14)

Fans of those alternative-rock mainstays the Violent Femmes might be surprised to hear that Gordon Gano’s new project is a song cycle based on German Dada texts. It seems like an odd departure from the twisted obsession with Americans that has fueled Mr. Gano’s work with and outside the Femmes. But anyone confused by Mr. Gon’s move need only read Greil Marcus’s opus “Lipstick Traces” to discover the connection between Dada and punk rock.
Mr. Marcus’s book reveals the thematic similarities between these two “negationist” movements. Both employed an aesthetic violence threatening the art’s very foundations, moving social satire into a realm of “antisense.” The surprise isn’t that Mr. Gano would turn to Dada for inspiration, but that he’s among the few post-punk artist making this canny move.

Mr. Gano’s untitled piece, presented in a staged reading on Wednesday evening, was definitely a work in progress. But this happy mess showed more spirit than anything Mr. Gano has attempted in years. Despite the cast’s dress-rehearsal mood and the deliberately chaotic nature of the script, the performance glimmered with wit, grounded in Mr. Gano’s imaginative combination of folk, rock and German cabaret music.

Ten singers, including Mr. Gano, performed the work, which transferred Aeschylus’s “Oresteia” to 1920’s Berlin, with an extra layer of references poking fun at the Clinton inauguration. Bruce de Torres, as Aegisthus/Elvis/Woodrow Apollo/Clinton, was the funniest and the most vocally gifted member of a uniformly fine cast. Beth Wishnie, as Henry Pythia/The Duse, took a few star turns on art songs that revealed Mr. Gano’s debt to Kurt Weill. At other times, the music, which was partly on tape and partly played by Mr. Gano on guitar and Fernando Menendez on percussion, had the deranged-hillbilly feeling of the Violent Femmes’ songs. The work’s thick web of references, both textually and musically, could benefit from some indicators in the staging; but that will come later, when Mr. Gano offers a real performance of this promising piece.