Now that ONO’s second incarnation has lasted longer than its first, the theatrical gospel/avant-noise performance-poet/musicians (did I leave anything out?) seem to be picking up long-overdue steam. Dangerous Minds clued you in on them a few months ago, in a guest post by Plastic Crimewave Sound/Moonrises psychedelia pooh-bah Steve Kraków, so I’ll go easy on the history here and refer you to that post, but the tl;dr is that ONO’s singer/invoker of spirits Travis and sonic guru P. Michael Grego led the archly arty Chicago band from 1980-86. They resurrected the project with new and returning members in 2007, releasing the album Albino in 2012, and going on their first tour in 2014, in support of the album Diegesis.
I was incredibly fortunate to have been in one of the opening bands for ONO’s very first show on tour last summer, and it is to my lasting regret that I didn’t think to shoot any video. Travis, resplendent in white (he often sports a wedding dress, to match his white beard) cut a compelling and shamanic figure while the band’s improvisations lurched about dizzyingly and unpredictably. I could not help but think that if only they had gotten out of Chicago more in their original incarnation, they’d be so much better known today. P. Michael was quoted in an excellent 2008 Rocktober article as having said “We toured in our mind, but not in our feet.” Pity. An ONO show can be described, but only seeing one is seeing one. Frontmen like Travis do not come along often.
But cross your fingers, if we’re lucky another tour could be in the offing, as ONO’s third new album since their reactivation is due this fall. Titled Spooks, the album features contributions from Tiger Hatchery drummer Ben Baker Billington, OBNOX singer/guitarist Lamont Thomas, and I shit you not Ministry leader Al Jourgensen. Jourgensen contributed to the band’s first album, Machines That Kill People, and has significant behind-the-scenes history with ONO. P. Michael again, from the same Rocktober interview:
We ran into this guy that was skating that turned out to be Al Jourgensen. He was in the Immune System and then he left them and then he was going into Special Affect. One night they were playing with Naked Raygun. Somehow we knew Naked Raygun, probably by going out dancing. No, we hadn’t played any shows at all, but Naked Raygun saw us somewhere. Special Affect was playing at the Exit, and Naked Raygun was opening for them. They asked us to go on after them, like at two in the morning. So the first ONO show was me, Travis and Mark [Berrand, guitar]. After that, we had gotten shows at O’Banions, Lucky Number. We played a lot of these old punk venues little by little. Mark eventually had to leave town; that’s how Ric [Graham, sax] got into the band. Al, who by then had left Special Affect and was starting up a group called Ministry, his girlfriend was Shannon Rose Riley at the time. He said, “I got somebody that would really be cool for you guys,” and he introduced us to her. She sorta played saxophone and the accordion. She was a character. She joined up with us, and Al said “I got this record deal. Thermidor Records (owned by Joe Carducci and Joe Boshard, distributed by SST) wants Special Affect singles. They had officially broken up, but he had told Thermidor Records about us. So they were interested. Al was going to go into the studio with us. We were gonna make a single. We were able to get a hold of Al and his engineer, which was Iain Burgess, so we went out to Chicago Recording Studios to record two numbers with Shannon, and Al was the producer.
Shannon Rose Riley—who Jourgensen credits with launching his career in his autobiography Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen—is still involved with ONO, listed in the band’s Punk Database page as “Sax-Bass, Percussion and Keyboards.” The collaboration with Jourgensen is called “Punks,” and you’re hearing it here first.
After the jump a taste of live ONO that actually captures the chaotic feeling of being there… and more!