aka FIFTY TONS OF BLACK TERROR
Mule/Penthouse - Laurel Tree, Camden - 5th March 1995
"Why don't you ditch the showbiz shit? You don't need it." It's been 15 years since Mark E. Smith offered this uncharacteristically succinct advice to The Cramps and now, finally, someone has got the point All that glitters is not tinsel, and Penthouse's greased-back, ascetic swagger proves it. Dressed (down) to kill, they hurtle through their set with frippery-stripping frenzy. Where lesser bands just rock, Penthouse 'Billy like Fury. I haven't heard music as good as this since dreaming that Link Wray had joined The Stooges to form a thrash metal band. What they know about white trash '56b music you could probably write on a matchbook, but the Rockabilly Rebels are back. Gallon Drunk fans scratch their heads. Sam Phillips beams. Sun shines brighter up in the Penthouse y'all.
Mark Luffman - MELODY MAKER
Soul Bossa/Penthouse/Crawl Limbo - St Johns Tavern, Archway - 21st August 1995
Penthouse have left their sources way behind them choking on their dust. When their single hits your deck it'll make Jon Spencer sound like Frank. Tonight they tear into their set like a crocodile at a carcass. New (to you) singer Charlie stalks and shakes like a trippin' toreador, freeze-framing like a human strobe. He's a bit of a wally - that's Little Wally Horton, of course. Gosh, can he blow a mouth organ! And golly, do Penthouse blow up a helluva storm! What makes it so gripping is watching them trying to keep a grip. The sense that they're going wherever the music takes them, that they're confident enough in each other and their direction to relinquish control and just flow, Daddy-o, this is what makes Penthouse the bestest, bossest live band north of the South Pole.
Mark Luffman - MELODY MAKER
PORN TO BE WILD
Penthouse, Headcleaner, Guapo - Dublin Castle, Camden - 10th January 1996
"So," I say afterwards to my colleague, who's swaying unsteadily beside me even though he's sitting down, "they're pretty sexy, don't you reckon?'
Now, in my mind, this is an entirely rhetorical question, because the sexually compulsive drive behind Penthouse is, to me, plainer than the nose on Jimmy Durante's face. It has bugger all to do with the physical allure or otherwise of the four on stage (I couldn't give a damn about that; I mean, you don't size up an author's photo on a book jacket before you decide whether or not to read it, do you?)
But, no. My colleague can't find them sexy, he says, because well, there aren't any girls in Penthouse, are there? (After several pints this seems to bear the hallmarks of a potentially long-running, enjoyably feeble joke, but I'll leave it for now.)
My fault I guess. What I meant to say was sexual, suggestive - an entirely different kettle of kippers. Sexual as in the difference between erotica and porn; as in the difference between casually, unselfconsciously, alluringly deshabille and plain butt-naked; between the blues (at it's best a raw, meaty, low-slung bit of rough) and pop - surely responsible for some of the least sexual music to have ever been made, a lot of it neatly nipped and tucked into three minutes of positive reinforcement, and either overcooked of half-baked.
Penthouse have the kind of eruptive, wild, volcanic energy that makes Britpap sound like the prematurely menopausal whining most of it is. OK, so their whacked-out new blues marks them as fully paid-up members of The Jesus Lizard, The Birthday Party, James White and The Blacks, Mule and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion fan clubs, a couple of songs sound like takes on 'Glamorous' and diminutive frontman Charlie Finke (how cool a name is that?)jerks around like that other tiny terror, David Yow, but hell, if it's excitement you want, I can think of much wussier, far less worthy shoulders to look over.
There's a swaggering libidinal undertow to tunes like 'Queen Of Sex', 'Ript n Happy', and 'Gas Porter Blues', with their crazy cross-currents of loose-limbed, clattery drums (courtesy of Tim, moonlighting from Ligament), loads of twangtastic, surfspastic guitar and an impressively muscle-bound bass. Everything hangs by the skin of it's teeth to some frayed understanding of the fundamentals of Southern blues, and it throbs with all the fucked-up iconography that implies.
"Authenticity" be buggered - Penthouse like, rock.
Be my guest and call me a simple soul, but tonight that's more than enough to see me happy as the proverbial pig in sheets.
Sharon O'Connell - MELODY MAKER
Link Wray/Penthouse - The Garage, London - 28th March 1996
I hope Penthouse, seemingly unaware of the meaning of the word autopilot - get paid twice as much as anybody else.
In a world of half measures, they give you double your money's worth of muddy, exuberantly disagreeable, psycho, fucked-up blues. It sounds distinctly like something broke and, not only have Penthouse not bothered to fix it, they kinda like it like that, and wink at you over the mayhem. They're loveable, even if they clearly don't mean to be: sizeable drummer Tim demonstrating that big kits are for wimps; teeth-rattling bassist Graeme hunched-up and giving it some (and somebody else's); guitarist Jon keeping to the back like there's a little old lady with a missing handbag on the other side of the glass.
And, of course, singer Charlie, who doesn't for a moment let his recently scrubbed, bright-eyed, Alex-from-Blur looks impede his gutter-pilgrim's progress. In fact, considering how trad Penthouse are in those inevitable Cave-Spencer respects, it's astonishing that he makes no attempt to slap fake-junkie surliness over his mischievous delight.
Instead - and infectiously - Charlie can't believe his own hamminess. Half Screamin' Jay Elvis, half carnival barker, jerking like a flamenco dancer manque, he's convinced that, when he sings "faaaall down", it's crucial to do just that. Ba-dum. What with the quick wit, the scrabbly harmonica, the hissing and roaring, by the time 'Gas Porter Blues' demands to see our beating hearts, we're inclined to oblige, just to save him the mess and bother of getting those knives out.
Link Wray, of course, has evolved way beyond mess and bother - except for fun - and appears onstage to the sound of a) his own twangtastic epic, 'Rumble', and b) delirium. Like the Queen thinking the world must smell of fresh paint, Mr Wray must believe the world is composed of anoraks and psychobillies scrabbling to touch that guitar. Which, of course, he allows. Dead-white, dead-cool, dead-dark shades and dead legendary, but, most importantly, not dead, he spends the evening pointing one finger upwards - through 'Ace Of Spades', through Batman-meets 'Wipeout' - like there's no doubt about... well, anything.
Jennifer Nine - MELODY MAKER
Gallon Drunk/Penthouse - The Garage, London - 27th July 1996
The Jesus Lizard. We might as well get those words out of the way straight off, because the similarity between David Yow's outfit and this young London quartet is always being remarked upon. In truth, Penthouse's music is even more twisted than that of their Chicago brothers in pain, the yelps more deranged, the guitars rawer and more deranged. A good thing, obviously.
In Penthouse land, five o' clock shadow, slicked-back hair and sharp, loud shirts are mandatory. The quartet stumble about the stage like they've been hitting the backstage rider a bit too hard and proceed to brutally deconstruct their vicious punk-blues, guitars and vocals spiraling off at severe tangents while bass and drums dry-hump awkwardly. They look great and sound better, doing a fine job of reclaiming this bleak, black noise schtick from the Yanks who've had gnarly gutter grooving to themselves for far too long.
Penthouse's tunes loiter menacingly in back alleys and ill-lit bars, reeking of fags, bourbon and cheap perfume. Previous singles like 'Ript n Happy' and 'Gas Porter Blues' benefit from guitarist Jon Free's wicked denial of anything to conventional as harmony or melody, his barbed, convoluted riffing ripping mercilessly across Charlie Finke's psychobabble.
At times, Penthouse sound too sprawling, but they posess a great knack of pulling out a killer riff or vocal line from the confusion. And that's what makes them a hugely entertaining and eminently watchable live band. Go see.
Best Onstage Quote: God only knows what nonsense vocalist Charlie Finke was garbling
Verdict: 4/5 - So good they could be American
Paul Brannigan - KERRANG!
Gold Blade/Penthouse - The Garage, London - 6th September 1996
Penthouse might all be stacking shelves in Tescos come Monday morning, but tonight they come in God's mouth.
In reality their audience is made up of the usual suspects - jaded London seen-it-all-before 20-somethings with a distressing bias towards ugly blokedom - but in Penthouse's hollering monkey-heads they play to 20,000 white polyester, skinny-rib T-shirted, bud-breasted, E 'n' speed-addicted 14-year-old teenyboppers in thigh-split maxis and a delirium of uncontrolled lust. There isn't a face in the place that isn't split sideways with a faecal-munching grin.
Those same faces are thus totally ripped in two, the lower halves falling to the floor with audible clangs when Gold Blade take the stage and shag it till it splinters. The backline strut on looking like Armani models on ugly drugs, all disco shorts, spliffy quiffs, Oxfam suits and red-eyed, flared-nostril attack-dog attitude. And then John Robb and his skinny mate blast onto the stage in brain-shatteringly vulgar gold lame jim-jams, clutching their guitars at cock-level and, with many a 'Hey! Hey!' and a 'Ho! Ho!', they destroy the audience , the venue, and all previous notions of what constitutes 'cool'.
Steven Wells - NME
Penthouse/Monkey Island - Hope 'n' Anchor, Islington - 31st October 1996
Stoke Newington's favourite sons (two of 'em anyway) should take up residency at The Hope & Anchor - it always seems to bring out the best in bands. Penthouse's performance at the venue in May '96 was their most storming witnessed by DOTPB... until tonight. Tonight is Hallowe'en, and theatrical spider-webs like candy floss have been draped above the stage, with the obligatory rubber insect perched in it. First up are 'those Monkey Islanders' (c Charlie Penthouse), who play the best set we've seen them do, which is no mean achievement for a band who are consistently good live. A guitar/vocals - bass/vocals - drums/vocals 3-piece, their sound is based around Pete Bennett's guitar noises and is delivered with the energy of raw punk, the throb of dirty blues, the strung-out feel of jazz, and the hedonism of classic rock 'n' roll. Drummer Jan, like Penthouse's Tim after him, gets all entangled in the floss and it's all a laugh. Towards the end of their set, however, bassist Darren gets most fucked-off when his instrument becomes all caught up and he looks like he really doesn't enjoy Hallowe'en. Pete, meanwhile, certainly does and he ends up during a 10-minute version of 'The President' with guitar aloft, twisting it around in the sticky webbing, almost to the point of smashing it in true, ahem, rock 'n' roll style. As if remembering the cost of his instrument, and MI's current budget, he settles for smashing a couple of stage lights on the ceiling, which blow with a splendid boom and leave his guitar relatively unscathed.
Penthouse are forced to take the stage with floss everywhere, and what remains of the ceiling bowing further towards the floor. But the party spirit is unshakeable; guitarist Jon (who does not like Oasis, and has never uttered such profanities, even in jest), is at his most sartorially elegant - he's wearing a fucking tie - and Charlie is at his most dashing, with slicked-back hair leaving a few wisps flopping over his forehead, facial make-up, a cool grey suit with matching waist-coat, and the suavest red shirt this side of Gallon Drunk. Knickers are veritably wetted in the audience for this vision of a rock 'n' roll Quentin Crisp (or a New Romantic Elvis?) The knicker-wetters on this occasion are a heaving, sweating mass crammed into the H&A's underground bar, all eyes fixed adoringly and in awe on our Elvis Crisp. Everyone absorbs the wrenching wall of noise, and laughs at the problems caused by the floss, particularly for Tim who, during Le Stunt, becomes completely unable to play as his shredding drumsticks get all enmeshed. Most of this audience are actually Penthouse fans as opposed to friends of the band, or people in other bands - a reward for Penthouse's relentless gigging in 1996.
And the music? Not only are Tongue Kung-Fu, Le Stunt, The Queen Of Sex, and a blistering Gas Porter Blues to end with the rawest roars of frothing beauty they were always meant to be, but there is a confidence, almost expectation, in the way Penthouse play and in the way they are received tonight. There is a definite feeling that their time has come.
Dominic Sheisser - DRUNK ON THE POPE'S BLOOD/VODKA SLAMMERS
Penthouse/Gilded Lil - The Attic, Edinburgh - 12th January 1997
Gilded Lil's specialist subject is lascivious, groin-fixated SLEAZE. It's the way they can take a single groove, stretch it out long and slow enough so it's totally taken your senses over. It's the way they know how to turn normal, lateral thinking young persons into slavering lunatics, overcome by GL's smutty performance.
After that the crowd were well lubricated in time for Penthouse. I was actually worried the crowd might already be totally, shall we say, shagged-out after GL, but if there's one thing you learn about Penthouse, it's that they can't EVER be upstaged. Tonight they proffered a set of unbelievable quality, a seething, libidinous, white-hot mass of sonic filth, ranging from the primal, coarse swagger of 'Voyeurs Blues and 'Gin Waltz', to the serrated bastard noise of 'Road Rash' and 'Stungtrunks'. It's just the way Graeme and Jon will use their guitars as tools of catharsis, bending and warping the sheets of noise that emit from them. The way Tim beats the absolute fuck out of his drums, driving the rhythm like an iron peg into your cranium, and the way Charlie will pace the stage like a trapped lion, but never relinquishing his poise and his incredible ability to stay on the stage despite his series of frenzied contortions. Just the way they all look just two head-wounds away from complete insanity. Jesus, this band fucking entertain SO MUCH.
Andrew Friendly - OSCAR SMOKES THE LEFTOVERS
Railroad Jerk/Penthouse - The Underworld, Camden - 4th March 1997
This may be Railroad Jerk's gig, but it's Penthouse's party. Check out Graeme on the bas there, looking like Neil Carlill's speedy piss-take of Jon Bon Jovi (he told me to say that), and sounding like Dave Alexander (Stooges, dumdum!) in a tropical thunderstorm. He digs Sun Ra, can't you tell? Look at Tim on those drums there, the wrists of Minnesota Fats and the timing of Eric Morecambe. Loads of swing, almost no back swing. A Boredoms fan. Of course he is. Looky looky yonder at Jon on the geetar. No, first just look at that shiny guitar, scratched paintless by a rampaging right and bottle-slid smooth by a lengthy left. A junkyard axe-murderer, yessir. But he's thinkin' of Nancy Sinatra when he strokes that plank, you betcha. Now look at Charlie in the middle in the gold lame skinny-rib grinning his Al Green grin and bucking his Princely hips and dare to guess what he's thinking of...
Penthouse are a terrifying spectacle these days. They've left their immediate influences far behind and twisted their bruised blue bayou soundtrack into a totally unrecognisable shape. We once breathed the words Gallon Drunk in the same sentence. We were fools. We knew not what they had planned. They sound like the Mutinying Birthday Party with the gothic death-wish swapped for psychotic sexual fantasies. But more evil. If they had their tongues in their cheek they'd make Roxy Music look like literalist dullards. As it is, we don't want to know where they've had their tongues.
Mark Luffman - MELODY MAKER
Penthouse/P W Long - The Garage, London - 18th June 1997
Well, I never. the first time I saw Penthouse, they were supporting Mule. Tonight, as support, up pops former Mule frontman PW Long to make an ass of himself with an acoustic guitar. I'm being unfair, obviously. PW has a voice that is closer to Tim Rose is his prime than Rose on his recent supports to Nick Cave. He bellows and bawls in a way that suggests he's used to drowning out the sound of breaking glass. I realise this is closer to the Mule everyone said I should have loved than Mule actually were - bluesy, boozy, and a little bit broken.
On that first time, Penthouse had a different singer. They were in a tiny fetid venue and I was as thrilled as a rabbit locked in a carrot field. I told the soon-to-be-ex singer how much I liked it, and he said, "You think so? There's no stage here, so I find it hard to assert my natural superiority." Charlie Finke has no such problem, even though when I watched his debut I wasn't sure if he was trembling with nerves or simply a bit chilly in his gold lame skinny rib.
He doesn't tremble these days. And he doesn't wear gold lame either. Tonight he's suited and wide open at the neck, grinning his Al Green grin and yowling like Howlin' Wolf with an aching fang.
Since Charlie arrived, Penthouse have stopped pissing about and started to piss all over the competition, from American spiritual grand-daddies like Jon SPencer all the way down to young buck pretenders like Soulbossa. Let's pick 'em off one by one, then; Tim thumps better than Russell Simmins; Jon plucks 'n' strokes better than Rowland S. Howard; Charlie howls better than James Johnston; Graeme rumbles better than, well, anyone. Usual reference points? Forget 'em. Rather, remember The Rolling Stones. Not the grammar school mod Stones, not the psychedelic Stones, but the ugly, brutal, frightening Rolling Stones - the sprawling version of 'Baby Peeler' tonight makes 'Goatshead Soup' sound pretty. This is twisting, growling, compelling music. This ain't rock 'n' roll. Leave that to pale rockabilly purists like Gretschen Hofner.
Sun shines brighter in the Penthouse y'all.
Mark Luffman - MELODY MAKER
Penthouse- The Garage, London - 18th June 1997
You join us amid the chewing-gum sleaze on the stacked boot of a Chinese Elvis lying bruised and bleeding in the gutter of Hell Street, Harlem, New York. A man called Charlie Finke oozes across the Garage stage like Tim Roth after bleeding to death over a white suede jacket, dredging a skewed blues slaughtertune from the deepest sewer in Hades and vomiting it into the crowd. You're not in the Penthouse now, honey.
Like many unwashed, gravel-throated and very-pissed-indeed musicians before them, Penthouse would like to own Jon Spencer's trousers. Not because they want to squeeze into them and flounce about in front of a mirror, praying that the fly doesn't burst, mind. No, they'd like to hang them up on meathooks and flay them with a cat-o-nine-tails until they beg for mercy. For these are men who believe the Blues Explosion to be too slick, too widescreen, too fuckin' polished. I mean, cheeee-seee or whaaaat?!?
After all, Jon Spencer occasionally plays a tune (SPIT!). And tunes (SPIT! SPIT!!), as Penthouse know only too well, are the work of the Supernaturals. Hell, why bother with melodies, choruses - notes even - when you can make a harmonica sound like seedy sex with a written-off Morris Minor in a breaker's yard throughout (oh yes) 'Plate Of Slags'? Or when you can emulate a New York subway train spinning off the rails straight into Elvis Costello's face on 'Gus' Neck'? Or when you can pretend that 'La Grotte D'Amour (TWA)' is a nice, soulful ballad-type number before pumping it full of crack halfway through and letting it loose in the street to eat babies?
But with the lyrics (which, no doubt, include all manner of saucy references to basques, frottaging and farmyard animals) lost under the neutron blast chords, Penthouse's no-nonsense, no-prisoners and certainly no - SPITSPITSPIT!! - tunes onslaught is ultimately the aural equivalent of David Cronenberg's Crash.
It's compelling, slightly revolting, stirs the trouser region for reasons you can't quite explain, but eventually drags and leaves you craving a nice, soothing Cardigans single and a choc-ice. Tonight's voyeurs started with the hots but left with the blues.
Mark Beaumont - NME