Sleepytime in Oshkosh

Paul Karner

On Oct. 6th, two bands from the West Coast transformed Oshkosh’s Algoma Club into a veritable theater of rock. Oakland’s Sleepytime Gorilla Museum headlined in an evening of twisted art-rock and bold theatrics, sponsored by Fever Pitch magazine (, culminating in a strikingly poignant display of pandemonium.
The Billy Nayer Show opened the concert with a series of songs and tales, often involving animals and/or fornication. The trio of San Francisco natives favored thick rock grooves and anxious vamps throughout the set, which provided a suitable platform for the flamboyant poetics of front man Cory McAbee. With his electric Autoharp close at hand, McAbee assumed the image of a 17th-century bard who somehow stumbled into a rock concert. Though after speaking with him, the image seemed like less of a silly notion.
The members of The Billy Nayer Show have come to see their band as more of an artistic collective in a mission that extends beyond just making albums and shows. McAbee has written and directed a number of films, including 2001’s “An American Astronaut” which has made waves in film festivals all over the world. The soundtrack was written by the band in conjunction with the film, and their most recent recording, “Rabbit,” coincides with McAbee’s book by the same title. “They’re all different facets of creating things,” McAbee said. “Its simply different mediums aiming at the same end.” This spirit was reiterated in a loud way once Sleepytime Gorilla Museum took the stage.
The five members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum slowly migrated onto the stage during an extended version of “Chippy-Chin” by The Billy Nayer Show. Donning matching white dresses and various displays of white makeup, SGM took to their instruments – several of which they had built themselves – with an unflinching zeal that was fully supported by the eclectic intricacies in their music. The set never stayed in one place, moving from Cagian rhythmic deconstructions to soft ambient textures often making way for their distinctive deep bellowing rock.
In the center of the stage stood a white box showing the silhouette of a man hanging upside down, whom the band claimed was the last human. Front man Nils Frykdahl frequently addressed the audience with the air of a circus ringmaster on the curious characteristics and patterns akin to so-called “humans.” The human on display eventually came out and accompanied the rest of the set with a Neanderthal dance that seemed to evolve gradually to the end. This silent member of the group was professional dancer Shinichi Momo Koga, who recently collaborated with SGM for a film entitled “The Face” before joining them for their current tour.
Amidst all of the circus-like antics and sarcastic analyses of “human” behavior, the show never seemed to lose itself in any diminutive attempts at irony. “It always has to be understated,” said drummer Matthias Bossi, with regards to on-stage theatrics. “It all begins with the music,” Frykdahl said, “any dramatic gesture always begins as a musical gesture while we’re writing.” Frykdahl, who graduated with an undergrad degree in composition, has poured his musical knowledge and ambitions into SGM with an uncompromising mentality that has permeated throughout the group. The success of their combined efforts is evident in the diverse audiences that they attract at every city they visit. “We win a lot of hearts,” claimed Bossi.
SGM seems to view their place in the music world through a much wider lens than most bands out there, and their disillusionment toward the modern music scene has only fueled their motivation to pursue their art with the utmost resolve. “Rock was birthed in a spirit of rebellion,” said Frykdahl. “Whenever it arrives at a point of complacency it needs to be shaken up – or shake itself up.