Issue 547 : March 23-29, 2006

Top live show
Joe's Pub ; Wed 29

Photo by Charles Ernest

For more than 20 years, the Belgian doomsday prophet Arno has been stumbling around European stages, looking as shell-shocked as if he were the last man standing after the apocalypse. He twitches apoplectically; he shrieks out nightmare scenes in a corrosive howl. Many Europeans have compared this Continental star to Tom Waits and Serge Gainsbourg, but Arno Hintjens, now 56, drags their brand of fatalism into the pits of hell. In his sleazily black-humored songs, God is an unemployed cleaning lady, the angels have gone on strike and the circus tigers are too old to roar. In their midst is Arno, the mad king of this no-man’s-land, reeling like a drunken sailor as he surveys the destruction. His stories are set to music that parodies sentimental chanson by clobbering it with heavy metal.

It’s all a lampoon of anyone’s worst nightmare of hopelessness, including his own. This macho bulldozer knows how to laugh at himself; he even played a lust-ridden gay swim coach in the 1996 film
Camping Cosmos: The Sex Life of Belgians 2. Now, having filled arena-size venues abroad, beginning in the early ’80s with his rock band T.C. Matic, Arno is coming to the States, where almost nobody has heard of him. He’s sure to heap an overwhelming amount of depravity onto the much tinier stage at Joe’s Pub. Wherever he appears, Arno is the five-car pileup which you can’t pull your eyes from, and in his view we’re all thrashing about underneath the wreckage.—James Gavin