Mad scientist on the midway

Nov 26, 1997 at 12:00 am
In a better world, the dynamic one-man band of organist, inventor and sometimes pyrotechnician Mr. Quintron would be at the center of an awed crowd on some carnival midway. As we all know, the blare of burnout rock dominates Tilt-a-Whirl tunage, so that's carny culture's loss. Fortunately, there are other ventures for Mr. Quintron, the Amazing Spellcaster, and in darker, more intimate surroundings he has been amazing nightclub audiences for the past several years.

In the early '90s, Robert Ralston (no relation to Lawrence Welk's organist) was one-third of Math, an experimental music group from Chicago. Together with Jodi McCann (now of Duotron) and another fellow who seems to have faded into history, Ralston coaxed trashy funhouse sounds from looming constructions that seemed equal parts Simon Rodia (the outsider artist who created the landmark Watts Towers) and Harry Partch (the composer and instrument inventor who rejected every notion of traditional composition and tonality).

When Math broke up circa 1994, Ralston set to work on his solo persona, Mr. Quintron.

Early percussion and homemade electronics performances no doubt endeared him to tribal pounders Crash Worship, with whom Mr. Q toured as an opener. At these fire-friendly shows, Quintron could be found strolling around, casually tossing off small explosives into the crowd, an added atmospheric bonus for concertgoers. He's also the fine-dancing fellow who commandeered the stage at the end of the Destroy All Monsters reunion show a few years ago.

Quintron soon abandoned his percussive-oriented shows in favor of organ recitals. From behind a bank of vintage organs, Quintron pumps out the good-time sounds of the Grand Guignol, working both the keys and the audience into an evangelical-unto-non-sequiturial furor. His Crescent City companion and constant tourmate Panacea Pussycat further accentuates the theater aspects of a Quintron show.

Ms. Pussycat, the proprietor of the puppet show known as Flossie and the Unicorns, charms and perplexes with her postmodern Punch and Judy antics. Existing at the nexus between children's records, the golden age of '70s Saturday morning cartoons and the Residents, Flossie and the Unicorns is one whacked-out puppet show.

Quintron's latest record, Satan Is Dead (Do the Stomp), finds Mr. Q using not only such thriftily scored keyboards as the Wurlizter Sprite Funmaker and homemade novelties such as the Alien Device, but also drum machines. Electronica sellout? Hardly, especially when you consider that one of those machines is Quintron's latest invention, the Drum Buddy.

Looking like a cross between a classroom record player, a coffee can and the dome from a hairstyling chair, the Drum Buddy -- a four-oscillator, rotating, light-activated drum machine -- gets quite the workout. Also on the record, Quintron's gospel roots come to the fore on the uncharacteristically somber "A Hymn." Still there's lots of trademark mayhem, as when he orchestrates a chorus of screaming neighborhood youngsters for the intro to the twitch-groove of "Ninth Ward Breakdown." (Quintron makes his home in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, after fleeing the gentrification of Chicago's Wicker Park.)

Like his record, Quintron's live shows are unpredictable but consistently brilliant and captivating. At his last area performance, an out-of-control pyrotechnic display (complete with a 3-foot vertical blast of flames) so impressed the nearly singed audience that most laughed in the face of near-disaster. The smoke that filled the Green Room dissipated by the time the fire department arrived. Business as usual for a Quintron show. Greg Baise gets electric in the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]