Last week at Soundpony, 409 N. Main, I witnessed the spectacle of Ptiaradactyl. The band is a hybrid of performance art, experimental noise rock and death metal that is fronted by local artist Erin Turner and rounded out by Lucas Neiman, Rob Stuart and Zach Hughes. They've only been together since October but have already landed that Holy Grail of coveted local opening slots with their lead-in to Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (along with Callupsie) at the Marquee Sat., May 16.
It's the kind of band that's usually destined to play gutter punk house parties, but their unusual creativity, subversive playfulness and exhilarating who-gives-a-fuck attitude has already lifted Ptiaradactyl out of its perceived local niche and into the position of being one of Tulsa's hottest new under-the-radar acts. If you don't believe me, the fact that Brian Haas asked them to open for the rare JFJO Tulsa performance should be proof enough that Ptiaradactyl is not strictly a scene band.
The Soundpony show was a grand guignol of shock and awe that demanded an extreme position on the part of the audience; a third of the crowd hid outside for the majority of the set, while the rest gleefully soaked up the insanity and in some cases participated by engaging directly with the band and its props, which included helmets, very large horns, a giant pterodactyl piñata that dangled from the ceiling and an assortment of homemade instruments.
Audience members were asked to shake flashlights on the band and a stack of cymbals bound together by rope was repeatedly slammed on the ground by different patrons. The piñata was destroyed halfway through the show to produce an ungodly amount of candy, silly string rained down on everyone, and a good time was generally had by most.
The music, which the band describes as "Dinocore," is loud, trashy, dissonant, DIY, garage-friendly lunacy that utilizes the homemade props created mostly by Turner to tell epic stories of dinosaurs battling over diamonds. Turner sings, or screams rather, scaling throughout each song from the low barking growls of death metal to high-pitched squeals that'd make Karen O blush.
The instrumentation is messy and unwieldy with sloppy rhythm changes, brash, discordant guitar work and crushing, fuzzy bass that give the music an unstable air of barely-there coherence.
Turner, a classically trained pianist, incorporates spacey keyboard melodies that often provide the main hook and catch of songs. It's a garage band dynamic in the best sense; everything feels like it's on the verge of falling apart, like the sanity of the band is held together by a single thread.
Let's Grok, Shall We?
"We're really from Eternia," Turner explained shortly after the show. "It's such a wonderful place. My name from my home planet is E.Turnidon and this is Postus-Lucas-Lucas," referring to Neiman, who occasionally broke out in high-pitched dinosaur screeches throughout the interview.
"We have Robotasaur and also Z-Rex the Beautiful," she continued. "All of us contain magical powers and we all contain a magical stone--to understand further about the band, the name is Ptiaradactyl, so we're a band about dinosaurs and jewels."
Turner explained that all of the songs fit into a larger, cohesive narrative that involves Triceratops, Megladon, T-Rex and Predator X.
"There are other characters that we haven't mentioned, but it will all tie in to this epic story of a battle that is lasting between Pterodactyl and T-Rex," Turner said. "They're fighting for power over the black diamond, which pterodactyl now contains in her eyes."
Turner recited a portion of lyrics to clarify.
"Island inhabitants running for their lives/when they see that look in pterodactyl's eyes/ wings spread to heaven, beak faced to hell/ T-Rex must die to let her kingdom swell/ only in battle in an epic war/ we are the orators of dinosaur lore."
So we're bringing in some Homeric references here, to epic poetry and the oral transmission of the mythology of dinosaurs," she further explained.
Whether she's having a laugh or taking herself seriously is hard to say; the band as a whole obviously has an amazing sense of humor, but Turner delivers the band mythology and meaning behind songs with a poker-faced reserve. She clearly takes the entire project as an art piece very seriously, which may be one of the reasons why they've been able to break out of the floundering local hardcore scene to open for one of the world's more respected jazz bands.
"I'm all about taking it as far as possible," Turner said. "In August, we're going on a tour from here up to Seattle and then down the west coast to play a bunch of shows and try to get on some different festivals."
They've already been on one brief tour through Texas and back, an experience that produced more than a few stories for Turner and Neiman to tell.
"The first show in Denton, we played at a house party and our bass player is blowing fire, he catches his face on fire twice, burns his entire beard off, we smother him with mustard," Turner said.
"It was onion-infused mustard so it burnt his fuckin' face while they were filming," Neiman continued.
"So the entire tour he has this crusty, green face-"
"-And I almost puked from it when we were in Austin," Neiman finished. "We were eating lunch, I just looked at him and was like (makes retching noise)."
Besides touring, Ptiaradactyl is preparing to enter a local studio to record its first album (they currently have a lo-fi EP that can be purchased at shows). In addition to recording, the band is focused on expanding its live performance, incorporating more props and eliciting as much audience excitement and participation as humanly possible.
For the Jacob Fred show, they have a particularly special prop, which Turner referred to as their secret weapon that is "beautiful and Chinese-influenced, and also influenced by Predator X."
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