La Plaza Cultural rocks out for 40th anniversary

Peter Missing, right, and Surreal Hazard got the crowd charged up with an industrial metal jam and darkly prophetic lyrics. Photos by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | It was a throwback to the riotous ’70s and ’80s on the L.E.S., with some futuristic topspin. La Plaza Cultural, that iconic green haven on the corner of Ninth St. and Avenue C, celebrated its 40th anniversary last Saturday with a blowout show, featuring industrial metal jammers Missing Foundation, punk auteur Lydia Lunch and No Wave pioneer James Chance kicking it for the ages.

Missing Foundation — a group the cops once blamed for instigating the 1988 Tompkins Square riot — led off with a driving, 40-minute set of rhythmic, free-form punk and scrap-metal banging, with lead singer Pete Missing shouting on a bullhorn about love, war, Tesla, drones, GMO’s and plundered utopias.

“Rise up. We know who’s elected, we know who wins. Nobody! Occupy everywhere! We are here to save the world. Utopia is possible. Ignore the white culture…” he ranted, sounding like a cross between a messianic preacher and Sid Vicious.

James Chance came up next with a charged solo set that mixed his signature avant-jazz saxophone playing on top of old-school funk and ecstatic James Brown dance moves that he performed against his own backing tracks.

James Chance wailed on sax while channeling James Brown’s funky shuffle.

And punk doyenne Lydia Lunch, who now resides in Barcelona, performed what felt like a group exorcism. Hailing all sorts of “alchemy” and “ghosts” from the past, she took the crowd on a tour through her “encyclopedantic understanding of narcotics and psychotropics.” She prognosticated about the U.S. as a country that feels “threatened by massacre and then arrogantly brags about gangbanging the whole f—ing world.”

The event culminated with a “ritual performance” by the Brooklyn-based troupe Fold called “Birth,” which was supposedly inspired by Artaud but looked more like a pagan scrum with wine-soaked naked bodies and a bloody baby in the mix.

There were also DJ sets by Sal Principato of Liquid Liquid, Etienne Pierre Duguay and Collin Crowe.

Downtown arts legend Lydia Lunch gave a tour-de-force performance.

A crowd of at least 200 people swamped the garden, lapping up the dance beats. La Plaza’s executive director, Ross Martin, said he had hoped the evening would honor the radical history of this (originally) squatted patch of green, which was founded in 1976 by a group of Puerto Rican ex-gang members turned community activists (a.k.a. CHARAS) and other guerilla gardeners.

Angel Eyedealism and Elizabeth Ruf-Maldonado, in background, were digging the scene at the garden’s 40th anniversary party.

Yet it’s a measure of how well-established La Plaza has become since then that Martin and its other members felt they could indulge in a night of raucous celebration without having the cops shut the place down. As it says on the garden’s crumbling murals, “La Lucha Continua… .”

You can catch Lydia Lunch and her full band, Retrovirus, at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg this Fri., June 24, at 7:30 p.m.

What’s on the grill? Artists Fly, left, and Monty Cantsin of the Rivington School.