Picture of Snakefinger

Live In Chicago

Snakefinger - Live In Chicago ©1986 Ralph Records
1. Yeti: What Are You?
2. Magic And Ecstasy
3. Beatnik Party
4. Save Me From Dali
5. Golden Goat
6. The Model
7. Eva's Warning
8. Trashing All The Loves Of History
9. Kill The Great Raven
10. Climbing The Ladder

Snakefinger, whose real name was Philip Lithman, was best known as the adjunct guitarist for the mysterious, enigmatic San Francisco legends The Residents. However, his contributions to the music world were not entirely restricted to that particular outfit as Snakefinger cultivated a decent solo career until his untimely death in 1987. His earlier works were often simply strange and hard to digest. Eventually he formed a backing band called The Vestal Virgins, featuring members of Pere Ubu and other equally left field acts. It was then that Snakefinger's solo music truly began to be impressive. Live In Chicago is a set that captures the impressive music talents of the entire band during 1986.

As a guitarist, Snakefinger had a nifty style where he was constantly sounding as though he was one note from being entirely off-kilter, yet never losing the thread of the song. The ten songs on Live In Chicago are cultivated from his solo career but do not have any in common with The Vestal Virgins' Night of Desirable Objects, the studio album released around the same period of time. The unfortunate aspect of this live album is the production is pretty weak, somewhat squashing the sound and making it almost sound mono. However, after a few moments one just gets used to the production and the excellence of the songs shine through. The band's music is essentially a mix between shades of jazz and modern rock (as it existed in the mid-80s). The most intriguing aspect of the album is that while earlier in his career, Snakefinger sounded like he was trying too hard to be weird. With The Vestal Virgins, the oddness of the music is completely unforced and just naturally oozes from the music. The interplay between the band and stage banter is amusing and Snakefinger sounds positively delighted to be performing that night. The songs that appeared on early Snakefinger albums are given a real dose of energy and fun, transcending the studio versions by at least eight miles in the sky. The band also provides a relatively straight-laced version of Kraftwork's "The Model" that is one of the most impressive versions I've heard to date.

Live in Chicago, despite its shortcomings in sound, is one of the most enjoyable and fun live records of its kind. It has done nothing but grow on me over the years. Snakefinger took awhile to really become interesting, but with the help of The Vestal Virgins, he was there with a bang.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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