July 18-24, 2002
“In a way, the helmet is about disregarding what I look like and concentrating on the music.”
The first thing you think when you see Bob Log III perform is how can one man make such a racket? He’s up there working his slide over the strings, operating a drum machine, bass drum and cymbals with his foot, balancing women on his knees, screaming into the telephone receiver/microphone in his helmet. That’s right, the esteemed Mr. Log sweats out his performances hidden beneath a motorcycle helmet rigged with a telephone receiver for his vocals. Needless to say, the vocals emerge as a tortured howl, like a bad cell connection coming in through a drive-thru speaker. But this just adds to the primal feel of Log’s ragged, raucous blues. Think Guitar Wolf crossed with Blind Lemon Jefferson, vocals provided by The Fall’s Mark E. Smith.
While drawing inspiration from slide guitar legend Mississippi Fred McDowell, Log also credits AC/DC's Angus Young as a major influence. Like the schoolboy Aussie guitarist, Log brings an inspired lunacy to his playing, whether bending a note places it doesn't want to go or tearing up the fretboard like a jackrabbit intruding on a fox hunt.
"Anybody can play the blues," says Log, from his Tucson home. "I want to take it somewhere different. By now, everybody's heard that one-four-five crap. They're tired of it. You want to take it someplace new."
Ever irreverent, Log's taken his own words to heart, introducing mammary percussion (or "tit-clapping") to rock 'n' roll. While breasts have always been part of the rock environment (particularly at bodice-baring metal shows), Log is the first to invite them onstage to participate. On his last record, 1999's Trike (Epitaph), the tit-claps were provided by pros (and we're not talking studio musicians here), but Log says the travel costs were prohibitive, so he's been soliciting help from the audience. This is in addition to the women he invites up every show to balance on his knee while he plays.
"It started with one woman, and then two. Then two on one knee. I keep upping the ante to challenge myself," Log says. And he admits, the stunt's not without its danger -- "this one girl was having herself such a good time bouncing up and down on my knee, that I got a little distracted and missed a few notes."
Part self-defense mechanism, part identity shield, the helmet's been a staple of the Log's show ever since he first began performing solo when the percussive half of his duo, Doo Rag, abandoned him while on tour with Ween.
"I just wasn't ready to go home," Log says. "There were seven shows left, and the whole thing was already set up, so I just did it. About 2 a.m. before the first [solo] show, I went to town with the drum machine and figured out songs that went with the beats. That's when I learned to play with my feet, too."
While initially donned as protection from potential audience projectiles, as time went on, Log came to see the helmet in a new way -- like KISS' makeup, only not to distract the audience from the music, but to remove himself from the equation.
"You see these guys with their faces on the covers of their albums," explains Log. "What is that about? What does that tell you about their music? So in a way, the helmet is about disregarding what I look like and concentrating on the music."
What happens when you concentrate on Bob Log's music? You find that racket is a clever disguise for that same kind of raw, heartfelt energy that first enticed many to the blues. Log's guitar screams, but the combustible combination of lightning-fast bottleneck-blues licks, teeth-rattling distortion and chugging bass drum is hypnotic and enthralling on a gut level, much like the plaintive blues drone of Mississippi Fred McDowell (think of the Stones' reverent cover, "You've Got to Move.") Sure, Log's birthed a mutant blues child, but when you look at it more closely, you find it's only a down-on-his-luck E.T., finding a way back to his Mississippi Delta home.
Bob Log III plays Thu., July 18, 9 p.m., $7, with Modey Lemon, Slo-Mo and The Walkie Talkies., at The Khyber, 56 S. Second St., 215-238-5888.