Big Commotion:Fear & Loathing at Picasso's

By Race Bannon

Fear & Loathing, formerly Toxic Shocks, returned to performing with do-or-die vengeance Tuesday, June 25, at Picasso's in Bowling Green. After a nearly year-long hiatus, the quartet, whose originals and covers incorporate heavy metal, punk and rap, astonished a modest audience which mostly turned out to see if guitarist Viva Las Vegas, his brother, drummer Anton Las Vegas, lead screamer Jack Tapp and bassist John Boland still had the right stuff.

The set began with "Lyin' and Stealin'," a relatively recent original that quickly re-established their command of the performance medium. Fear & Loathing then tore through a number of originals from their days as Toxic Shocks: "Amerika the Beautiful," "Studying You," the grooving, bouncy "Young and Dumb," and "By Any Means Necessary." Offering a eulogy to the recently departed Johnny Thunders, Fear & Loathing covered "There's A Little Bit o' Whore (in Every Little Girl)," as well as Motorhead's "Ace of Spades," doing one song each by Funkadelic and Iron Maiden as an encore.

In a review of the band in the August 1990 Louisville Music News -- when they were still the Shocks -- I emphasized the power and energy of their stage presence. While that energy remains unabated, Fear & Loathing are in other ways a different band. Viva Las Vegas' guitar playing has become considerably polished and mature, possibly a result of his other gig as rhythm guitarist for Government Cheese. Also improved is drummer Anton Las Vegas; previously, sincerity, rather than technique, was his strength. Anton still has the chops, but he has grown into a reliably solid drummer.

More than any quantifiable traits, however, Fear & Loathing now exude a comfortableness on stage that had been lacking. Lead singer Jack Tapp seems most responsible for this transformation. While Toxic Shocks were always self-consciously arrogant, it was strictly through their songs that they expressed it. Now, their stage demeanor both during and between songs reflects confidence and (dare I say it?) professionalism. For Fear & Loathing, the audience seems no longer to be an object of conquest, but rather a participant in its own seduction.

Fear & Loathing will also be appearing soon at Exit/In and Club 1000 in Nashville; when they will return to Louisville is, at the moment, uncertain, but certainly a goal. While the band has the unenviable task of rebuilding its following and re-establishing its reputation, for Fear & Loathing this is only a matter of time. To paraphrase a witness to the Picasso's show who had also seen them as Toxic Shocks: There's really nothing now that should hold them back.