Drummer and dashing garage-rocker-about-town Nadeem Khan points defiantly at his longtime musical comrade, bassist Tony Christy, and says, "It was him! He's the one who wants to end Obliterati and it doesn't make any sense to me! We never play, it's not like we're burnt out or anything." Christy just responds with a quietly deadpan, "What?" And the room – saxophonist Jim Ivy, vocalist Lisa Bugayong, and Orlando Weekly – explodes with relieved laughter. So it goes in the world of Orlando no-wave lifers Obliterati: there is no plan, there is no messaging, there are no simple questions, there is only glorious, glorious noise.
The members of the band, particularly the tandem of Khan and Christy, have been making an unholy racket in a seemingly infinite number of projects (Choc, Operation Bellbottom, Turkish Gravity Bus, First Assembly of Jed, to name only a few) since the 1980s. Khan and Christy even fondly reminisce about how the South Bay homeowners' association circulated a formal petition to stop the two from practicing music in Khan's parents' garage when they first started collaborating as teens.
It's their work in Obliterati, starting in 1996, for which these musicians are perhaps most notorious. The group is comprised of six very different artists, all formidable scene veterans in their own rights: Christy, Khan, Bugayong, Ivy, guitarist/keyboardist Steven Garnett and violinist/violist Sarah Morrison. When seeing them together onstage for the first time, one would be forgiven for perhaps thinking that a random assortment of eccentrics just ambled onstage. Until they start playing. Then it's a telepathic melange of no wave, free jazz, funk and good ol' college-rock skronk.
Few in the City Beautiful do it as well, or have been doing it as long, as this band. Over the years, Obliterati have toured with Silver Apples up the East Coast, released the album Havy Baubaus Inflience on SA mainman Simeon Coxe's Whirlybird Records, and opened for acts as varied as Quintron & Miss Pussycat and Polvo. Ivy jokes, "We were big in Romania and Olympia, Washington," while Christy mentions that, improbably, hometown rockers Seven Mary Three were big fans of the band, and once wanted to take them on tour. Sadly, Friday night's show, Obliterati's first since last summer, is also set to be their final curtain call.
Khan: We never had any discussion about ending this!
Ivy: We didn't want to be opening for a touring act for our last show, so we decided to do one big show where we do two sets.
Bugayong: Is this our last show?
Christy: As Obliterati, yes.
Khan: We should be Dubliterati and just play reggae.
It's not like Obliterati haven't taken a hiatus before. After an apocalyptic show that kicked off at the dawn of the millennium on midnight Jan. 1, 2000, a happening so intense – Ivy recalls the crowd throwing dildos at them, Bugayong remembers an audience decked out in formal attire who kept handing her bottles of champagne – that Khan gave up drumming for 14 years, the band went into a long hibernation. "I just didn't want to play them anymore," says Khan. "So I started playing upright bass. Whose idea was it to even start this again?"
Yet this time around, the "last show" tag just might stick. The band is clearly thinking about their own legacy. They'll be selling a CD on the night that includes long out-of-print material and previous unreleased recordings with Michael "Q-Burns Abstract Message" Donaldson. Even more notably, they'll be delving deep into their own tangled roots by playing a second set of songs from the infamous, pre-Obliterati chaos that was Bad Afro Experience, a sadly under-documented slice of pure Central Florida instrumental weirdness circa 1986-1990.
Ivy: Here's the thing about Bad Afro: We were all young, we didn't really know what we were doing, but what we were doing was really complex and interesting.
Khan: We did a lot of theater onstage.
Ivy: For one show, we had a 9-foot-tall clown playing theremin and a cellist that was 14 years old. That was when we opened for the Butthole Surfers.
Khan: The clown was on acid.
Looking back, looking forward, saying goodbye ... kind of, maybe. It's a fittingly non-linear way for this most non-linear of local bands to end. Whatever the future holds – even now, between the members, there is a plethora of active outlets – this show is a chance to pay your respects to a collective of musicians who have been holding it down for the avant-garde in Orlando for decades. Fittingly, the last words on the recording of our conversation have Khan asking no one in particular: "Are we going to do any Madness covers or no?"