As descriptive as the band’s name is, it’s definitely not sufficient to describe the sound of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, who return to the Phoenix Theater this Thursday. Since their inception in 1999–from the ashes of Idiot Flesh–the quintet have actually honored their piles of instruments with music that evades pigeonholing.
The band’s latest album alone, the just-released In Glorious Times, brings us everything from The Wall-like chants (“Puppet Show”) and guitar-funk freakouts (“Ossuary”) to sparse plodders (“Salt Crown”) and demonic metal (“Helpless Corpses Enactment”). With rare instruments like the lute and custom-made pieces (like the Viking Rowboat) created by bassist Dan Rathbun, the band unsurprisingly rejects descriptors like “prog” and “avant-garde” in favor of being known simply as “entertainers.”
The Oakland group’s live shows are equally eclectic. In the band members’ own words, a Sleepytime concert is “a costumed festival of hyperventilating self-derangement, which has yet to include much of a puppet show, but has included human performers of varying stiffness.” Incorporating spoken word-recitations, dance troupes and, yes, puppets, the shows are mind-freaking performance-art experiences that make the term “rock show” contextually impotent.
Though their gothic garb and faux onstage rallies may bring to mind shock-rock bands like Gwar or even Marilyn Manson, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum transcend these comparisons by the sheer commitment to their image and accompanying “movement.” Known as “Rock Against Rock,” it is largely informed by Dadaism and futurism, with a credo of “No Humans Allowed.” No wonder Sleepytime claim their first show had an audience of one banana slug. Whether or not the band are the next Devo, they sure put on a hell of a show for any species.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum play on Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Phoenix Theater. Stolen Babies open. 201 Washington St., Petaluma. 9pm. $15. 707.762.3565.