There are very, very scant biographical details online about the sideman/drummer of Atlanta's Combichrist. He was born in New York City, as of 2017 he's 38, he admits to previous substance problems - especially in adolescence. He's been the center of a couple of internet outrages - one, because of making some statements on Facebook joking about getting out of jury duty by making outrageous and offensive statements, and another because he inverted the usual Norwegian corpse paint trope by painting his face and neck a solid black, which was taken as blackface, even though he was wearing colored contacts and quite clearly in no way attempting to mock anyone's ethnicity.

The only two things I really know about the guy is, he can play the drums, and he's delightfully weird.

It's a challenge to play with an Industrial band - the beats are electronic and therefore metronome-tight. With all due respect, yes, any professional musician needs to be on beat, but it gets especially challenging in the chaos of live sound to make sure you're as on beat as a regulated clock pulse, while being theatrical and interacting with a crowd. Letz manages to complement the track perfectly with on-point playing, but also in a way where his extremely long limbs flail and his stage business make the whole thing worthwhile. More on that in a second.

The second part? Well, every good partnership has a yin/yang thing going on. Jim Henson had Frank Oz, a relationship that has been forever immortalized as the interactions between two characters loosely based on their core personality clash, Ernie and Bert of Sesame Street. Former Icon of Coil frontman Andy LaPegua moved from Norway to the United States to continue his particular brand of hellektro and started a project that had live elements and much more energy, recruiting musicians to play the rest of the ensemble. Guitarists and bassists and second drummers have come and gone but Letz has been pretty much a staple, off to one side with his drums turned sideways, the crowd looking at his right side. He starts the show by pouring water all over his floor toms, and then it provides a neat visual effect when he hammers them with his sticks.

But Andy LaPegua is one of those people who is just naturally extremely cool and charismatic. He's sinfully good looking in a Scandinavian way, to boot, over six feet tall, and with the kind of decent athletic build that women find "not too big" and "not too muscly" but still built. To give you an idea of how charming the man is, I once read a review of Combichrist in which "that kind of feminist" went down to give him a piece of her mind regarding his objectionable, racist, sexist, homophobic, manspreading, patriarchal, ablist, macho, oppressive songs like "Shut up and swallow" as being demeaning of intersectionality and so on and so on, but (reading between the lines here) when she actually ran into this Nordic God with the wonderful smile, her underwear got tighter and a lot more slippery, she forgot what she was going to say, her tongue didn't work right, and she spent the night singing along and having a good time and in between feeling like she was sitting on a fountain and actually not being uptight for a change, she ended her review by saying things like you shouldn't judge people based on a knee-jerk reaction to a word, phrase or expression and maybe she and her fellow SJWs should lighten up for a bit. Good grief. Now THAT is charisma.

Joe Letz is not an unattractive man, but he's well over six feet tall, I'd guess at least six foot six, with lean limbs, an average level of attractiveness and a long face. He's admitted to social awkwardness. They're good friends, and they share a stage. If he had decided to try and play it "cool", he would have been compared with LaPegua, and no matter how good he was, he would seem "not as". Again, not describing Letz as uncool or unattractive. I'm just saying, reread the previous paragraph.

So in either what is an accidental genius or one of the most amazing acts of brilliance I've seen in a while, Joe plays a character - in essence a Flavor Flav to LaPegua's Chuck D. This acts as a beautiful counterpoint. So while Andy is commanding a stage with a microphone in his hand dressed like a paramilitary zombie movie survivor screaming "MY LIFE MY RULES" Letz has appeared in any of a number of garbs, including one resembling a McDonald's character, or more recently a drag character I'm presuming is called "Neutered Nancy", based on the fact that he drew it on a tom head for $50. Underneath a retro gingham schoolgirl dress and wig, and a dental facial appliance that exposed all his teeth and gums (which he'd painted with red glitter) he was wearing thigh high tights with garters and a type of female underwear my wife explained was called a "Brazilian", complete with "Tickle Me Elmo" design. Flailing on a drum set and doing his usual stage business of knocking over toms and throwing sticks wildlly upwards in the air, he very, very disturbingly dealt with the times he wasn't playing by standing on the drum throne and pulling his skirt up to his chest in the same manner a little girl does when she's too young to understand you don't do that - revealing the "hint of testicle" aforementioned underskirt ensemble and a tattoo on his stomach that says in bold black letters, "SICK". It's one of the most deliberately creepy things I've ever seen and even though he was standing in near darkness, it actually upstaged LaPegua.

It isn't a Marilyn Manson ripoff. Manson's people wore schoolgirl outfits, but were trying to pose as "cool" at the same time. Letz simply emulated a small child while doing so. A very very unpredictable child, as children are. The effect is appallingly disturbing and makes the Manson crew look rather cowardly and calculated by comparison. An absolutely perfect anti-cool, that winds right back around and becomes cool.

Letz needs a "minder" on stage. There's one dedicated roadie that does nothing but stand behind and to the side of Letz, and the guy earns his keep. Letz will absentmindedly throw a stick in a random direction while playing, grabbing another one to not miss a beat. The roadie however has to chase that thing before someone steps on it on stage, dodging a guitarist, bassist, and the hyperkinetic LaPegua - and replace it because Letz doesn't have an infinite number of sticks. He's also fond of knocking over a floor tom which the roadie has to carefully replace in exactly the same place while Letz is playing. Drummers have a "wild man" reputation right from the days of Keith Moon, but the impression you're supposed to get from the roadies moving around is that Letz somehow needs constant supervision or he's a threat to himself or others. During last night's show someone didn't understand his stage business of having the crowd hold the floor tom up for him so he could play it into the crowd during a song, and they took it crowd surfing. The roadies and staff got it back too late for him to play his part, so he threw it repeatedly with some degree of violence into his drum set, meaning that now two roadies had to try and set things back up before the third verse, in which he plays the set proper. It's fantastic stage business, and I'm sure he's glad he's got sponsorship. As of right now he plays ddrum drums, but he had a prior endorsement deal with crush drums.

I saw the man before the show making his way outside for some reason. He was walking exceedingly quickly and was trying to be as unobtrusive and to himself as possible. I respected that. I also respect him as an artist, performer, musician, and showman.

 

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