By Michael Aushenker
On stage there are diabolical doctors, deranged nurses, wheels flying off an out-of -control gurney set ablaze.
The fervent performances of Chane O’Reilly’s horror-hardcore band Surgeon Marta are 100% rock ’n’ roll fun, but they also appear to be rooted in real-life trauma that shaped the musician and his band.
A native of Ireland, O’Reilly was working as a bus driver in Minneapolis, Minn., before a real-life medical emergency brought him to Santa Monica: his musician brother was dying of cancer.
His brother’s last wish was for O’Reilly to take over his apartment, and as O’Reilly packed some of his sibling’s belonging to ship back to Ireland he realized that was what he wanted, too.
“The couple nights I was here, I walked out to the ocean. It was an ecstatic, profound living postcard,” said O’Reilly, who sings, plays guitar and writes his own music for Surgeon Marta.
O’Reilly didn’t speak directly about ties between his experiences and his art, but credited his father — a lover of opera and classical — for introducing him to music in a time rife with political violence. He recalls a childhood memory of people rushing to assist the victim of a bomb attack north of Belfast, where the family lived briefly, only to find, “literally, a [detached] head on the pavement,” he said.
“These kind of things, they had an effect on people. There’s no getting around it,” O’Reilly said.
When Surgeon Marta performs Friday during the Day of the Undead festival at TRiP in Santa Monica, the band may opt for its traditional show or continue to explore more sci-fi oriented leanings that have come of late, he said.
“We’re getting away from the doctors and nurses,” O’Reilly said. “We’re pushing the music, reaching out to the classic influences.”
Surgeon Marta has been grappling with identity. Their influences include late ‘50s to early ‘60s girl groups like the Chantels, the Shirelles, the Supremes, the Ronettes, the Shangri-La’s blend with punk and New Wave acts that came after them, like the Ramones, the B-52’s, the Cramps.
“We’re probably a punk rock Fleetwood Mac,” O’Reilly declared of his five-piece band. “We love three-part harmonies and chainsaws.”
But above all there’s Lemmy — Lemmy Kilmister, that is, leader of the band Motörhead.
To get to Lemmy, O’Reilly takes a storyteller’s path through free-association rambling and well-annotated asides. Exploring verbal detours and taking talking tangents, he shared commentary on the Coen Brothers versus Italian horror directors (“‘The Big Lebowski’ is a classic, but Maria Bava is art!”), bashed Miley Cyrus, praised actor Warren Oates, exalted Antonio Marghareti’s science-fiction/horror classic-in-reverse “Wild Wild Planet,” spoke of Oliver Cromwell and the connection between southwest Ireland and Jamaica, and professed his love for his former home Minneapolis.
“The problem is I just love music— all kinds,” O’Reilly said. “We’re very tenacious, working on finding a unique voice in the music landscape.”
But in Surgeon Marta’s “yin and yang” identity struggle, “We have to keep the Lemmy-esque [showmanship] influence in there,” he said.
O’Reilly and his band have already found believers at TRiP, where O’Reilly has tended bar.
“Chane is an evil genius whose stage show never ceases to amaze me. There is always something different, over the top, unusual and unexpected at a Surgeon Marta show that stems from the darkest corners of that madman’s mind,” said TRiP owner John DeCoster.
“O’Reilly has a fire that burns deep in his heart for everything that is good, pure and authentic in rock n’ roll,” added TRiP booking manager Josh Wiener. “His passion is evident at all times, which makes him an exciting person to be around both on and off the stage.”
For O’Reilly, life in West Los Angeles has been and adventure. While working a long list of odd jobs — bartender, muralist, trompe-l’oeil artist, art installer and remover, truck driver, chauffeur and even briefly as a stunt car driver — O’Reilly kept writing songs and fattening his catalogue before forming Surgeon Marta.
Playing everything from the main stage at Sunset Strip staples House of Blues, Key Club and Viper Room to wild house parties on L.A.’s eastside, Surgeon Marta has engendered a few clashes with people who don’t relate to the spectacle of its dark sense of humor.
The faux-killing of a black cat for Surgeon Marta’s video of “Do You Say Your Prayers at Night?” (a tribute to “The Wolf Man”) landed them in hot water with animal right groups.
Others cringed when, at a show two days after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, they brought out a King of Pop impersonator on a gurney to the song “Thriller.”
“This was our way of saying, ‘Take care, buddy,’” O’Reilly explained. “We are, first and foremost, huge music fans.”
As for Surgeon Marta’s performances, “It’s [expletive] therapy,” he said. “The world is a [expletive]-up, crazy place.”
Surgeon Marta headlines the Day of the Undead festival at 8 p.m. Friday at TRiP, 1201 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Other performers include Debt, Vatican Volume, The Slow Poisoner, Mikey Flores and DJ WiseUP. Call (310) 396-9010 or visit tripsantamonica.com or surgonemarta.com.
Sound and Spectacle: Transplant Shane O’Reilly’s theatrical Surgeon Marta headlines Friday’s Day of the Undead festival at TRiP in Santa Monica
By Michael Aushenker