Aha, so these guys really are artists, not just members of a mere rock band, even of the avant-prog variety. X-Legged Sally might've made a couple of forays to record at Bill Laswell's Brooklyn studio, but back on their home turf of Belgium they had gotten their start as a vehicle for performing music that leader Peter Vermeersch had composed to accompany dance productions, including works by Flemish choreographer/director Wim Vandekeybus and the Ultima Vez dance company. Vandekeybus is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking works, and on the evidence of Eggs and Ashes, X-Legged Sally were ideally suited to playing music for a number of his Ultima Vez productions. Nine tracks from three works, dating from 1991, 1993, and 1994, are included on the album. Taken together, the tracks illustrate the stunning range of the band's capabilities better than either Slow-Up or Killed by Charity. And Eggs and Ashes hangs together as an entity unto itself, despite the wide disparity in stylistic material as the tracks jump back and forth among the three Vandekeybus works. There are certainly plenty of surprises, starting with the opening, "Lulu," a deranged waltz from the 1994 production entitled Mountains Made of Barking. With an eccentric vocal performance by Mauro Pawlowski (Evil Superstars), the piece becomes progressively more unhinged until it approximates something akin to a hellish mix of big band, jazz, and speed metal. "Laut und Leise," from 1991's Immer das Selbe Gelogen, is up next; it includes voice samples from Carlo Verano, an 89-year-old artist and hermit who Vandekeybus had befriended and who inspired not only the 1991 production but also Alle Gröáen Decken Sich Zu, a 1995 work undertaken after Verano's death. "Laut und Leise" introduces electronic percussion loops, noise guitar, and abrasive textures into the X-Legged Sally sound; Verano's voice and the muted trumpets of Bart Maris and guest Jan Weuts provide welcome organic touches. Later on, "Immer Carlo" is more successful in revealing Verano's charm, with its gypsy-flavored violin from guest George Van Dam adding a perfect touch to the elderly traveler's singsong delivery of a simple verse that seems to reflect satisfaction with a life well spent.
The rare gentle side of X-Legged Sally is also revealed in "Two Volcanoes"; another Immer das Selbe Gelogen piece, it features harp-like acoustic guitar voicings and a European folk flavor that would be right at home on a Mike Oldfield record. A completely different mood is set by Immer das Selbe Gelogen's live version of "Turkish Bath" -- it's a rough-and-tumble reading of the tune that appeared in a studio take on Slow-Up, and sure to please those looking for touchstones to the band's earliest sound. Even better in that regard is "Midwave," from Her Body Doesn't Fit Her Soul, a 1993 Ultima Vez production that featured blind dancers. "Midwave" brings back the kind of funk-flavored arrangements, driving momentum, and incendiary front-line soloing that made the first two X-Legged Sally CDs such knockouts; the piece also incorporates a vocal sample of Muhammad Ali offering particularly cutting remarks about how even the words "white" and "black" can be used to reinforce racist attitudes. But the best is saved for the CD's finale: the 17-and-a-half-minute "Mask" (from Mountains Made of Barking), the longest and certainly one of the most ambitious X-Legged Sally tracks found on any CD (although admittedly sounding a bit more like a Vermeersch studio production using X-Legged Sally members than a full-band effort). "Mask" takes listeners on an extended burn through Middle Eastern-flavored motifs, wild guitar shredding, emphatic harmony clarinet punctuations, floating space jazz, and finally a series of episodes -- fueled by relentless tribal-flavored percussion -- that ratchet the energy level higher and higher before a final burnout. At the close of this third CD, it indeed appeared that Peter Vermeersch and company were capable of practically anything. And yet one thing had eluded X-Legged Sally to this point: a domestic release that could finally get the band out of the import bins in the U.S. That would come next. ~ Dave Lynch