After a 30-year hiatus, the Chicago rock band ONO is back. Lead singer Travis, who goes by one name, commandeered the stage late last month at the rock club Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, New York and immediately entranced the room. ONO's members span several generations, ethnicities, and genders and create a loud and unique blur of sounds. Combined with one of the most fascinating frontmen I have ever witnessed, ONO exists on its own terms and in its own inexplicable territory which transcends all categorization.
Wearing a thrift-store bridesmaid gown and a cap made of little girl stockings, Travis struck the poise of a heroic Greek statue, but with a white beard appeared more like a Black Santa Claus crossed with Merce Cunningham. Travis brings his extraordinary and painful biography right on stage for all to experience. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. A gay, African-American sailor at a time when our country was still segregated and unabashedly homophobic, he discovered the revolution at Stonewall Inn while on his first naval liberty. After leaving the military he encountered the race riots of the early 1970s.
ONO began over 30 years ago and are a beloved Chicago experimental rock group. Their recent tour was organized by Robert Cole Mannis, the owner of Moniker Records, their label, whom they met at a record store in Chicago. He released their album, Diegesis, on Moniker Records. According to the band, they were motivated to reunite after Steve Krakow (Plastic Crimewave) interviewed ONO for a secret history of Chicago music comics published in the Chicago Reader. Arvo Zyle, the host of the Delirious Insomniac Freeform Radio Show, aptly labeled them an "avant-industrial gospel band." Their rock "cred" extends back to the late 1970's when Travis worked with midwestern punk rock pioneers Pere Ubu and Peter Laughner.
Their musical underpinning is the work of P.Michael whose pedigree extends into his familial roots in Chicago's storied jazz scene. For all the over-statement that is Travis, P.Michael is the understatement and the rich music flows from his wealth of skills and inspiration. The band also has a third original member, Dr. Shannon Rose Riley.
A quote from the band: "ONO has always combined visual performance with sound, ritual, emotion, and trance premise-driven storytelling leading you from the beginning to the end. ONO1980// Experimental Performance, NOISE, and Industrial Poetry Performance Band; Exploring Gospel's Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premises."
Music can be a refuge from the horrors of this world, but it can also remind you of all that is perverse, grotesque and human and all of this is ONO.