see all the photos from this concert here

The Cramps
Queen Adreena
Astoria, London
Saturday October 27 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

The legion of the Cramped snakes down the side of the Astoria. It's the kind of crowd that would probably strike fear and despondency into the corporate heart of any music biz executive - pick the target-market demographic out of this lot, if you can. Old-skool rockabillies and grizzled first-wave punks. Glammed-up Varla girls, suited n' booted gangsters, crimped-up goths. Bikers stride by, ton-up boys in BSA patches, combs out, repairing the damage their helmets have done to their DAs. Two teenage girls, who look like they've been using photos of Siouxsie circa '77 as their style guide, giggle wide-eyed as they seek out the end of the queue. The costermonger cries of the touts - 'Buy or sell, any spare tickets, buy or sell!' - fill the air. Forty quid to you, squire, if you want to see the show. Two nights at the Astoria, and both sold out long ago. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cramps are back in town.

In their earlier days, The Cramps tended to be viewed as a cross between elder statesmen and wayward cousins of the British Psychobilly scene - a status the band themselves never particularly wanted or enjoyed, even though it got them an instant audience. I can remember many Cramps gigs over the years at which it seemed the support slots had been filled by whichever random bunch of quiff-merchants happened to be passing when the promoter stuck his head out of the office window - because, hey, if it's The Cramps, it's gotta be Psychobilly, right? I always imagined The Cramps themselves must have accepted these situations with a mixture of good grace and gritted teeth. Tonight, however, it seems that someone's had a sudden attack of imagination, because our support band turns out to be Queen Adreena - a freaked-out bunch of rockers who don't have much musically in common with The Cramps, but who share that same gung-ho, all-or-nothing approach to ye olde rock 'n' roll.

Queen Adreena aren't a new band. They've been around for three or four years now, during which time they've released two albums on two different labels, gone through assorted line-up changes, and generally kicked up enough of a racket in their own right to escape the 'ex-Daisy Chansaw' tag. Yep, two of the band, vocalist Katie Jane Garside and guitarist Crispin Gray, are former members of that ramshackle-but-cool 90s punk outfit, and while Queen Adreena is a very different beast, the Daisy Chainsaw connection is nevertheless worth a mention, just to establish our coordinates.

On stage tonight, Katie Jane wears a flimsy white dress and her trademark I-don't-quite-know-where-I-am expression, while the boys in the band keep their heads down and pummel at their instruments. The basslines grind and growl, the guitar crunches and howls. And Katie Jane sets up her inimitable caterwaul in that air-raid siren wail of a voice, a keening threnody which wraps itself around the hammering music like brambles round iron railings. It's a captivating noise, although I do catch myself thinking, after a few songs have gone by, 'OK - what *else* do you do?'. It has to be said that the band never really ring the changes - they set up their sound, and whump and holler it out on song after song. Once you've got your head round the *sound*, the uncomfortable fact is that none of the *songs* are particularly memorable. I find myself longing for something as simple as a singalong chorus, but Queen Adreena don't deal in such poptastic stuff. You can lose yourself in the surge and churn of the music as the band's set unfolds, but you won't walk out of the venue afterwards whistling any of Queen Adreena's tunes. Perhaps significantly, the nearest thing the band have had to a hit single thus far is a cover of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' - a song which has all the memorable hooks that Queen Adreena's own music definitely doesn't have. And they don't play it tonight!

But, in terms of sheer spectacle, Queen Adreena's live show works. Katie Jane clambers and spraws over an old garden chair, like some Berlin cabaret singer gone slightly mad. She flops and contorts herself like an overwound clockwork doll, but I suspect she's totally in control throughout. At one point, she pulls her dress down to reveal her breast (the bloke behind me takes it upon himself to shout, 'Show us yer fanny!' at this point), and although she's wearing a glazed expression, as if she's away with a very strange bunch of fairies, in reality I bet she knows *exactly* what she's doing. I've seen that tit-out pose before, in Queen Adreena publicity photos: it might *look* like Katie Jane is losing grip on reality, but I suspect she's rehearsed this schtick so often she knows exactly how far down she has to pull her dress to reveal the correct amount of boob. In short, Queen Adreena's show is probably about 20% genuine rock 'n' roll mayhem, and 80% theatre. A pretty good ratio for a cool and arresting show, but I think the band really need to write a few killer tunes before they'll reach their full potential.

The Cramps, of course, effortlessly combine 100% theatre with 100% rock 'n' roll mayhem, and *every* tune is a killer. That's why, over 20 years since the band first formed, they can effortlessly sell out two nights at a major London theatre venue with no media or industry support. Like many other bands, The Cramps have discovered that the music business is a fickle friend - but what the hell. Who needs the music industry when you've got your own label, a gung-ho attitude, and an enthusiastic international fanbase?

And then, suddenly, they're on stage. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy look as lean and cool as ever. You could almost believe that they've just driven up in a '59 Cadillac instead of just strolling out from the cruddy old dressing rooms of the Astoria. Ivy has her trademark deadpan expression, that very fine Gretsch semi-acoustic, and a fetching pair of Nice Boots. Lux looks like your slightly manic weird uncle who turns up every Christmas with inappropriate presents. And, of course, there are The Other Two, the latest in the ever-shifting roster of Cramps sidemen. Please welcome, on bass, Chopper Franklin, sporting a gleaming black quiff, so solid it looks like it's hewn from jet, and on drums, Harry Drumdini, a skinny rock urchin sporting tattoos and a necklace of bones. They launch headlong into a crazed, rumbustious set of unruly rock 'n' roll. None of that namby-pamby 'pacing' stuff here - they just hit maximum speed from a standing start. Hey, this is The Cramps. You get the full-on wrangle-gangle right from the get-go. And personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

We get selected highlights from the back catalogue, walloped out with a fired-up glee that's almost tangible, interspersed with new stuff from the latest album. 'TV set', 'Drug Train', 'Human Fly', 'Wrong Way Ticket', 'Papa Satan Sang Louie' - all delivered in Lux's resonant rock 'n' roll holler. He may not be the world's greatest singer in staid technical terms, but he's a genuinely expressive rock vocalist, able to go from a howl to a croon at the drop of a chord - and this while  attempting to swallow the microphone, or wrenching the mic stand into a kind of steel origami. And, I ask you, what other vocalist could deliver a line like 'Oowee baby, whatcha do to me' with such lascivious aplomb?

Lux makes a point of namechecking the original artists whenever the band throws in one of their covers of obscure vintage rock songs - but, ironically, stumbles over the title of the new Cramps album, referring to it as 'Dopes of Fiend Island' and then, 'Our new album, whatever the fuck that's called!'  But don't be fooled by his apparent out-of-it-ness, or indeed by the barely controlled rush and swagger of the band as a whole. The Cramps always know *exactly* what they're doing. Their out-of-control moments, the stunts, the tricks, those little vignettes of craziness with which their show is liberally sprinkled, are, I suspect, rehearsed to the hilt. This is where the theatrical element of the band comes in - The Cramps aren't just a bunch of rockers, they're vaudeville board-stompers of the old school. There's one amusing give-away moment, where Lux, having clowned and posed with a bottle of wine (clearly placed on stage as a prop rather than a source of refreshment), momentarily misplaces it. For one moment, he's thrown, nonplussed: without his prop, he can't move on to the next stunt. He yells across at Ivy, 'Where's the WINE?'  He's off-mic, but his shout can be heard above the racket of the band. Ivy walks over, still playing, and hands him the bottle, whereupon Lux smashes it dramatically across his mic stand. Wine splatters everywhere, including all over Ivy, who, having just crossed the stage to Lux, is closer to the action than she'd otherwise be. She drops her deadpan expression and for  one brief instant looks thunderously annoyed - then recovers herself, and the band plays on. And I think to myself, aha. The wine-splattering incident clearly wasn't in the script!

In true Cramps fashion, the show speeds up and hurtles to its climax like a hot-rod heading for Dead Man's Curve. The audience, which has been in a transport of boisterous delight throughout, knows there'll be a grand finale, a final flourish of gonzoid theatrics - because this is The Cramps, dammit. *This* band doesn't just say, 'Thanks, g'night!' and walk off the stage. There's always a big finish. And so it proves: the band cranks up a rolling, thunderous version of 'Surfin' Bird', drawing out the riff, allowing Lux to improvise and scat around the lyric. He teases the audience, hesitating longer and longer and longer before finally jerking out the 'Papa Oom Mow Mow!' refrain, as if the words have just leapt out of his gut like an alien - and then he's off climbing the speaker stacks, diving down into the security pit, using the stage like an adventure playground. He rips up his PVC trousers - it just wouldn't be a Cramps show if Lux didn't get his packet out - and, as a last great trump-the-audience gesture, he rips off Ivy's mass of orange hair - prompting gasps from those members of the audience who haven't realised she's wearing a wig - and puts it on his own head, cavorting like a loon at the back of the stage as the 'Surfin' Bird' riff churns to its conclusion. Harry Drumdini collapses over his kit, sending drums rolling. Ivy, her real hair springing everywhere, calmly walks to the exit. Chopper Franklin strides across, saluting the audience. And Lux, having once again attained rock 'n' roll nirvana, staggers into the backstage darkness like a bedraggled shaman whose task is complete.

The audience is exhilarated, sated, soaked in sweat. We've been taken for a crazy ride on that big black witchcraft rock, and then dumped back into reality having glimpsed another, wilder, world. Ladies and Gentlemen, let's hear it for The Cramps. Madcap vaudeville. A roaring, ribald, rambunctious rhythm 'n' riff machine. Sex, guitars, and mangled mic stands. The best rock 'n' roll band in the world.

see all the photos from this concert here

The Cramps don't have an official website, but these fan sites contain the essential stuff:

Queen Adreena's official site:

One of many Queen Adreena fan sites:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: