Sensory Overload: Professional Wrestling

From the 08/31/2011 edition

As a concept, the one-man band Professional Wrestling is genius. Jonathan Orr wrings gnarly electro-punk jams from his Casio rack while breathing life into a particularly tuneful robotic consciousness through his heavily processed microphone.

Orr more or less nails that concept on Professional Wrestling's self-titled debut album, a 27-minute blast of rudimentary digital claustrophobia that hits hard and leaves you humming. No longer must we ponder what garage bands sound like inside eight-bit arcade games.

Aesthetically, Orr's live show is a perfect match for the album's blown-out beats and hooks. Everything feels low budget but high concept, from Orr's wardrobe (Mickey Mouse T-shirt, white sweatband, Aqua Socks) to the elaborate tape job on his keyboard rig, which spells out "PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING" across two keyboards and even includes a duct tape cup holder.

The entire enterprise straddles the millennial generation's favorite line - the one between ironic distance and nostalgic embrace. There's a wink and a nod to Professional Wrestling, but it's not like the band is a joke.

That's why it's such a bummer to see Orr fumble through his live show, a scene I've witnessed twice now, most recently when he opened for Purity Ring at Skully's last Wednesday.

Behind those thick glasses, Orr carries himself with a neurotic mad scientist charisma. He's constantly fiddling with his gear, but once a song gets rolling, he's awkwardly in the groove, accentuating the rhythm with sassy finger points, foot stomping and occasional fits of violent dancing. He's not exactly James Brown up there, but he works himself into a similar huff.

The music is intriguing and occasionally invigorating, with shards of new wave, hip-hop, industrial and myriad other genres woven into Orr's circuit-blasting post-punk. An electric guitar opens up new sonic possibilities, but thus far he isn't using it in ways that match the potency of his strictly Casio tracks.

This would all add up to an exciting experience if it wasn't so frequently sidetracked by false starts, interminable delays and other technical difficulties. Maybe it's bourgeois to expect a punk band to have working equipment and to handle it with expertise, but I can't help thinking Orr would be on to something special if his show was just a little less slipshod.