Reclusive, magnetic, downtrodden synth-project Puerto Rico Flowers made friends for the last time several weeks ago in the habiliments of Baltimore’s Talking Head, with full support from Screen Vinyl Image, Pfisters, and maybe a bit of Major League Baseball.
Toward the end of the fitful existence that was the abrasive, cult-followed Clockcleaner, the sounds began to be a bit more poppy, sullen, and maybe splashed with just a zest of eyeliner-after-dark. So it was no coincidence that front man, John Sharkey III, coupled his bass with a synthesizer and foraged a sound born in these fires (as I dare not use the term “goth,” for fear of retribution).
Negotiating all the way from Australia, where he now resides with his wife, Sharkey planned a handful of releases on the infallible Fan Death label. Before the first LP, Four, was released, the buzz was already hive-sized, though Sharkey refused to descend from the shadows of anonymity.
Live shows did eventually happen, but sparsely and at random, with Sharkey being the only permanent fixture of Puerto Rico Flowers. Finally, with the first two PRF releases (Four and Two, respectively) out in the world and a third on the way, Sharkey headed back to the states to play what was rumored to be Puerto Rico Flowers swansong.
The room was flowing with electricity, but much to the crowd’s chagrin and at Sharkey’s insistence, the system was erupting with live coverage of the baseball game. It was in many ways a who’s who of the intriguing and actually independent music community, from Baltimore, D.C., New York, and beyond, everyone treating this as some sort of musician’s reunion.
Rolling enough gear onto the stage to legally constitute it a pawn shop, Screen Vinyl Image flicked on the light show before steam-rolling every square inch of the talking head space with their Suicide-eqsue shoegaze soundsystem. “Loud” is a term that fails in a fatal magnitude at describing SVI’s set, but “appropriate” would be an acceptable follow up. This is a group that simply gets better with time and hearing the harsh weight of the newer tracks performed live is just one testament to this.
If Screen Vinyl Image’s purpose was to hypnotize the audience down into the weight of the world, then Pfister’s purpose was to knock them straight down to the floor. Hailing from Baltimore, and being a conglomerate of other groups, Pfisters drags the idea of a basic rock group into the fields of Landed and then proceeds to beat it in the face with a crowbar. As this was their second performance I’d witnessed, I could not but actively notice how much they’d upped the ante since the last time. The group punished their way through song after song until the floors ran with all manner of liquid. Going out with both a cover of, “Ready to Fight,” with Fan Death’s own Sean Gray commandeering the vocals, followed immediately by another cover, “Bloodstains,” left the room as a pulse cannon would.
But as complete and amazing as the show had been up to that point, all paled in comparison to the main event that was Puerto Rico Flowers. As Sharkey, Michael Berdan and Mike Sneeringer (keyboards and drums for this incarnation) shuffled around the stage, every foot in the room darted forward. All with glowing faces, we watched, like children seeing Santa Claus for the first time and thinking, “Is that really him?” And once that familiar bass line dropped, we knew that yes it was, and Christmas had come. Most of the attendees had never seen PRF before but probably listened to the two albums roughly a hundred times each. Aided by the group’s dead-on live recreation of that precious vinyl, many sat rapt, mouthing along to every word.
More than likely it was smart to keep the set at only six songs, thereby playing all of the “hits” and leaving a positive, if not wanting, air in the room. And in true style, between misanthropic songs about love and loss, Sharkey took time to harass and mock the crowd. It shouldn’t have been any other way. Once the final echoes of the last synth chord fluttered out of existence, everyone there felt as though they had been privy to something special, yet overlooked. And with the firm rumor that Puerto Rico Flowers will not play live again, that would be a very true statement.
However, all is not lost, as, (even though the Four LP is sold out), you can still at least purchase the Two 7” and wait with baited breath for the final full-length to arrive.