The Knife

Trick or Treat! Costumed Bands

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 10.22.13 in Lists

Peter Gabriel dressed up like a fox-woman. Daft Punk transformed themselves into sentient Magic 8 balls. Lady Gaga has taken the stage looking like Expressionist architecture and a butcher’s shop. GWAR dressed up like pustule-covered, sex-obsessed mutant aliens. For some bands or artists, life is a permanent Halloween, and there is nothing more fun about Halloween than gawking at costumes. So, to celebrate the holiday we transformed ourselves into costume judges: Who, due to their originality, flair, or theatricality, gets that extra handful of fun-sized Snickers bars tossed into their opened pillowcase? Who gets tricked, and who gets treated? We took a survey of pop-music history to find out.


Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!


The get-up: Ridiculous, identical uniforms — most famously the yellow jumpsuits and red plastic "energy domes" of the early '80s, but also variations like potato costumes with big, white collars
The music: Herky-jerky new wave, with sly lyrics whose deliberate dopiness conceals fiery smartness
Trick or treat: Treat! Devo's music and their presentation are all part of their larger, brilliant, bitter satirical concept. — Douglas Wolk

The Residents


The Residents

The get-up: Tuxedos, top hats, and — oh, yes — enormous eyeball masks that cover their entire heads
The music: Woozy, sarcastic, arty mutations of the past half-century's worth of pop
Trick or treat: Trick. The surrealism of the Residents' eyeballs didn't take long to get old, and the coy guessing game about their identities has perennially overshadowed their occasionally fascinating music. — Douglas Wolk

The Knife

Shaking the Habitual

The Knife

The get-up: With cloaks as dark as a ravens (complete with a beak obscuring most of their faces), monkey masks, gymnastic warm-up gear, and whatever you'd call their flowing hair and blue jumpsuits, the Knife is like the kid who changes their costume several times in order to hit up the same houses multiple times for candy.
The music: Ghostly pitched-down vocals, terrifying pitched-up ones, Japanese flutes, atonal synth shrieks. It's not just music miasma — it's a statement on race, class and sexuality. Sure it's as weird as hell and twice as scary, but the sincerity burns a hole.
Trick or treat: Tricky treat. As anyone who has seen the Knife's elaborate stage show can attest, the Swedish duo puts on a fest meant for both the eyes and ears. But with material this personal, it would be nice to occasionally see the artists behind the work. — Laura Studarus

Upper Crust

The get-up: 18th Century aristocratic gear, complete with powdered wigs, breeches and frilly jackets
The music: Dead-on imitation AC/DC, with song titles/conceits like "Let Them Eat Rock," "Tell Mother I'm Home" and "Rabble Rouser"
Trick or treat: Treat. They've got one joke, but it's a great joke, and it never ceases to be funny because — as their wardrobe demonstrates — they're totally committed to it. — Douglas Wolk

James Brown

Make It Funky/The Big Payback: 1971-1975

James Brown

The get-up: And the get-down! The Amazing Mr. Please, Please, Please designed his own eye-popping stage outfits during his late-'60s/early-'70s funk period — for one, a denim jumpsuit with a deep V-neck, ultra-wide flares, and studs reading "JB" on its collar and "GFOS" (for "Godfather of Soul") on its midsection.
The music: The hardest, sweatiest funk and deepest soul screaming of all time
Trick or treat: Treat. The force of Brown's presence was such that he could wear outfits nobody else on the planet could get away with — and his odder get-ups let him pull off astounding dance moves. — Douglas Wolk

Genesis (Peter Gabriel era, 1967-75)

Selling England By The Pound


The get-up: Years before Phil Collins took over, original frontman Peter Gabriel appeared as, among other things, a fox in a dress, an expressionist bat with wings, a flower, the spirit of Britannia, a blob-like Slipperman (a fictional character created for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and leather-clad Puerto Rican "punk" Rael (that 1974 pre-punk concept album's protagonist).
The music: Early- to mid-'70s Genesis created some of the cleverest, most whimsically colorful and complex sounds of the progressive rock era.
Trick or treat: A treat that begat a trick. Gabriel's ever-increasing theatrics to match ever-grander concepts created a rift between him and the band that culminated in his 1975 departure, which then led to Phil Collins's hammy ascendance, and Genesis's rebirth as a far more conventional '80s pop band. — Barry Walters

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

The get-up: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter sport futuristic robot motorcycle helmets on top of sharp-cut, spangled suits and look like bodyguards protecting a mirrorball monarch.
The music: Their Sharp-cut, spangled dance music has an ear toward the EDM future and one foot in the disco past.
Trick or treat: Treat. In addition to being the visual equivalent of a cheesy-awesome vocoder hook, those iconic helmets grant de Homem-Christo and Bangalter a degree of Banksy-style anonymity that further underscores the timeless quality of their music, as though you've discovered a lost disco classic circa 1979. — Stephen M. Deusner

Marilyn Manson

Antichrist Superstar

Marilyn Manson

The get-up: Stilts, nightmarish dental appliances, colored contact lenses, makeup supplied the gallon drum; breasts. And no, "Paul from The Wonder Years" doesn't count.
The music: A judicious mix of Trent Reznor, Alice Cooper and Mott the Hoople; anthemic in the dumbest way possible and gimmicky in the best way possible, like taking a tour through a broken-down small-town haunted-house ride that scares you anyway
Trick or treat: Oh man, treat. Marilyn Manson is every bit as unapologetically synthetic and prefabricated a creature as the massive boy and girl bands that were his contemporaries, and his attention to the details of his own theatricality remains inspiring to pop-culture dramaturges to this day. — Jayson Greene


The get-up: Silver spacesuits with lizard-like masks featuring unmistakably (as in really, really) phallic noses
The music: Swirly cosmic disco and rigid synth-punk pop
Trick or treat: Trick. Beyond their insane initial hometown disco hit, "It Takes Me Higher," which sounds like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" as performed by the Muppets, much of the subsequent sci-fi-high output from this Austrian/German one-hit-wonder flaunts more simple-minded novelty than groove. — Barry Walters

Klaus Nomi

The get-up: He may have rocked the receding hairline harder than any other pop star, but his stiffly triangular tuxedo, with its oversize bowtie and patent-leather gloss, remains iconic 30 years after his tragic death.
The music: Nomi pioneered an over-the-top blend of post-disco beats, New Wave synths, and multi-octave operatic vocals that turned "You Don't Own Me" and "Lightning Strikes" into barbed camp.
Trick or treat: Treat. Nomi's outrageous attire completed the concept, turning the German singer into an alien facsimile of a pop star and influencing generations to come, from David Bowie to Lady Gaga. — Stephen M. Deusner


The get-up: Supremely over-the-top pornographic rubberized alien action figure costumes; otherworldly space barbarians fully equipped to destroy the despicable human race
The music: Comic book thrash metal of the classic variety defined by its drill press guitars and otherworldly groove
Trick or treat: Is there even any question? Treat. What would the world be without Oderus Urungus's awesomely indecent prosthetics? — J. Edward Keyes

The Monks

The get-up: The Monks lived up to their name: donning black clothes on stage and even sporting the punkest tonsures imaginable.
The music: Hardly Zen, these American GIs, stationed in Germany in the late 1960s, bashed out psychotic nuggets like "I Hate You" and "Cuckoo," whose volume and intensity made them almost as violent as the war they were protesting.
Trick or treat: Treat. Sure, the tonsures were a little too literal — not to mention a bit disturbing — but they served as a twisted parody of the all-too-familiar military buzzcut. — Stephen M. Deusner

Animal Collective

Sung Tongs

The Animal Collective

The get-up: In the early incarnation of the band, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, the Geologist and Deakin wore loose fitted tie-dyed T-shirts, tribal animal masks and the occasional miner headlight.
The music: Tripped-out psychedelica and swirling harmonies rooted in avant-garde folk music
Trick or treat: Trick. The music is beguiling enough that the shtick surrounding it just felt like a distraction. Presumably, this is a lesson that even Animal Collective itself has learned. They no longer perform masked, though they are currently compensating with a lot of neon stage projections. — Arye Dworken

Daniel Dumile aka MF DOOM

The get-up: An aluminum mask modeled after the one worn by Spider-Man's Dr. Doom, meant to reference the fact that Dumile had suffered disfiguring wounds by the industry and was coming now to take his revenge
The music: DOOM specializes in surreal, comic-referencing hip-hop built atop a tall stack of dusty old soul records. His super power is his nimble wordplay, able to string together Exquisite Corpse lines like "Givin' y'all nothing but the lick, like two broads/ Got more lyrics than the church got 'Oh Lords.'"
Trick or treat: Trick. DOOM's mask may have started out as a clever way to augment is backstory, but it quickly became a cover for the fact that he'd stopped showing up for concerts, simply sending an imposter in a mask in his place to lip-sync over pre-recorded tracks. — J. Edward Keyes


The get-up: Frontman Bradford Cox as the British rock "legend," "Connie Lungpin." Vintage pattered shirts that haven't seen the light of day since the 1970s, a tangled black wig, missing fingers, and smeared red lipstick? Nothing's too over-the-top.
The music: Deerhunter has always been a vehicle for Bradford's dreamlike garage glam, but their most recent album Monomania reached deep into the rock bucket, digging out swampy feedback, corroded vocals, even some delta blues crooning. Cox's restless imagination ensures that the band stays unsettling and thrilling.
Trick or treat: Treat. Throughout his career, Cox has made a habit of disappearing into his musical creations, seamlessly fusing visuals and sound. (See: His tribute to Johnny Hallyday's style on his '50s-leaning album with Atlas Sound, 2011's Parallax.) Whoever this Connie person is, s/he can certainly stick around for a while. Sadly, Bradford has probably already moved on to the next thing. — Laura Studarus

The Tubes

Mondo Birthmark

The Tubes

The get-up: Singer Fee Waybill's platform-booted glam-rock spoof character, Quay Lewd, singer of "White Punks on Dope," presaged Twisted Sister's much milder Dee Snider, and the Tubes' other parodies of TV and underground culture involved extras in skimpy burlesque bikinis, S&M leather ("Mondo Bondage"), and other Dada representations of decidedly impure excess.
The music: Devious, Zappa-esque and satirical New Wave before the fact (and before they became relatively normal New Wave)
Trick or treat: Treat. Month-long residencies in various hometown San Francisco theaters meant that Tubes shows, in part crafted by future Dirty Dancing/Michael Jackson choreographer Kenny Ortega, reached a theatricality only multimillionaire successors like Madonna and Lady Gaga could approach years later. — Barry Walters

Lady Gaga

Born This Way

Lady GaGa

The get-up: Part S&M chic, part "Derelique," part nudity and, one time, fully outfitted in meat
The music: Electro-glam dance music equally inspired by the 80's and by whatever's thematically provocative
Trick or treat: Both. Trick because Gaga is a supremely talented songwriter and performer, which sometimes makes her Dadaist design choices somewhat of a distraction. Treat, because her look is distinctive enough — the pleather moto jackets, the silicone body suits and, yes, even the rib-eye dress — to inspire her Little Monsters fanbase to embrace their inner freaks, even if it makes whoever's around them uncomfortable. — Arye Dworken


Antennas To Hell


The get-up: Custodial uniforms paired with spike-impaled, horror movie-inspired masks — a look we like to call "Scary Janitor"
The music: Both angsty and aggressive, the Des Moines, Iowa, thrash collective appeals primarily to metalhead teenage suburban males.
Trick or treat: Treat. Without the scary masks, Slipknot's sound isn't that distinctive in a crowded bro-metal scene — which is why the costumes were so integral to their success. — Arye Dworken

Empire of the Sun

Ice On The Dune

Empire Of The Sun

The get-up: Wings, facepaint, mirrored headgear, breastplate: Each member of the duo sports their own spectacular, eye-popping outfit, custom-designed to each tour. The outfits have their own names, which describe the aesthetic better than we ever could — Empyren Geisha! — but the look is a combination, basically, of Flash Gordon with Queen Amidala of Naboo.
The music: Cheerful, sugary, brightly pumping synth rock, mixing '70s prog and '80s New Wave sounds into something that can expand to fill stadiums as ably as it scales down to department stores
Trick or treat:: Treat, 100 percent. EOTS's music is pleasurable and fleet-footed, but without the elaborately festooned figures standing in front of it, the effect would be diminished by at least half. — Jayson Greene




The get-up: Does anyone need the KISS army outfits explained to them? Blood-spitting, fireballs, face paint; The Demon, The Starchild, The Spaceman, The Cat. The greatest costumes in rock 'n' roll history, the faces that lunched millions of lunchboxes, action figures, and some of the most enduring pop iconography of the last half century or so. No, we're not kidding!
The music: Party metal, lightweight and flashy and pumped full of testosterone and adrenaline and fake blood and other questionable body fluids
Trick or treat: See above, the whole "most enduring pop iconography of the last half century." Without their face paint, they were a band of agreeable oafs, making oafishly agreeable party music. With it, they were an army. — Jayson Greene