see all the photos from this concert here 

The Cruxshadows
Underworld, London
Monday July 7, 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Here we are at the London gig of The Cruxshadows' never-ending world tour. In defiance of all accepted wisdom, we have a packed venue on a Monday night. The Cruxshadows have a strong following these days - sufficient even to overcome the dreaded Monday factor, the one day of the week when it's generally assumed you can't get a decent crowd in to any gig. And yet, The Cruxshadows have pulled 'em out of the woodwork. This is obviously a band with clout, a band which can make things happen. Their relentless touring has paid off. They've built up an audience by putting in time on the old-fashioned gig-circuit slog, often making a point of taking in remote towns and smaller venues which many bands would simply overlook. It all goes to prove that this strategy can still pay off. In fact, it's ironic that The Cruxshadows have played live around the UK more extensively in recent years than many UK-based bands. While our lot are sitting around moaning that it can't be done, a band from Florida - of all places! - simply gets out there and does it, and gets a result. There's a lesson to be learned there.

But before The Cruxshadows themselves appear on stage, we have some support bands. Chillburn come from the Netherlands (although you'd be forgiven for thinking they are a US band, going by the vocalist's curious American-as-a-second-language accent), they're all dressed in white, and they're allegedly an industrial band, or at least that's how they've been promoted at this gig. I say 'allegedly' an industrial band because their music is actually pretty straightforward rock. A few samples and some jerky stop-start rhythms bashed out on their electronic drumkit are the only concessions to their supposed left-field aesthetic. The bassist and guitarist have a fine repertoire of rock 'n' roll leaps and jumps and shapes, the singer goes into full-on rock-god mode, and it all....well, rocks, basically. Their songs don't particularly stick in my brain, aside from 'Supermodel', which has a nagging, insistent beat, a belter of a chorus, and is poppy enough to be a hit single. But that's a one-off. At the end of the set I've more or less filed the band in the 'good at what they do, but it's not my thing' slot. I suspect that, deep down inside, Chillburn are a fairly regular rock outfit. I get the impression that they've just speeded everything up a bit and thrown in some electronic stuff in a bid to appear slick and modern and cool. But I bet if I went round their houses I'd find they own plenty of Soundgarden albums.

And now, Katscan. Their angular, sleazy, electro-punk is a probably as far as you can get from regular rock without leaving the planet. They're back with a new line-up (on stage, at least: Katscan is otherwise vocalist Martino Diablo's solo project) which features a keyboardist in Suede-style indie-glam gear and Mr. Diablo himself, looking very businesslike in a Katscan corporate tie. He stalks the stage and raps out his lyrics of surreal sleaze, fixing the crowd with a half amused, half cynical stare all the while. It's Katscan's weirdo-glammy-punky attitude which makes the band stand out from the keyboard band crowd. They have more in common with Specimen than VNV Nation, and although the fact that there's only two people in the Katscan live incarnation means the stage isn't exactly crowded, somehow there's a weird presence about the band which means they fill the space quite effectively. The music is tough, street-smart electronica; 'Stutter Cut' particularly hits the spot with its controlled freak-out of a chorus. It's good to see an electronic band which has a bit of an edge, and which avoids the trap of simply recycling banal party-party jolly-ups. Katscan are probably pathologically incapable of uttering the words 'Put your hands in the air!' - and for that, we should all be profoundly grateful.

The Cruxshadows pull all the latecomers and stragglers in from the bar. The band troop on, and all of a sudden the stage seems to be crowded with women in minimal PVC costumes. The Cruxshadows' line up, which under normal circumstances is two boys (on keyboards and vocals) and two girls (on guitar and violin), has been expanded by the addition of two scantily-clad go-go dancers, one on each side of the stage like the set of a 1960s TV show. Now, cynics might say that this is a blatant attempt to play the sexxy deth chyx card, and it's certainly noticeable that the band have no trouble at all in grabbing the close attention of the male half of the audience. But what the hell. The Cruxshadows have always operated a policy of 'Give 'em what they want'. Check the evidence: their music is danceable in an EBM-lite manner, so it appeals to the club-kids. But it also features chunky guitar, so there's something for the gothic rock fans to latch on to. Their lyrics typically run the goth-gamut from relationship-angst to mystical myths 'n' legends stuff - all bases are touched in that department. The band's male/female line-up could be purpose-designed to capture the widest cross-section of the audience - and now, with the addition of the sexxy deth chyx dancers, there's even more appeal to the sector of the audience which, if we are to believe music biz research, buys the most CDs and goes to most shows: young males. Add to this a relentless 'tour everywhere' strategy and you have all the ingredients of a successful band.

All except one - we haven't mentioned the frontman yet. And here The Cruxshadows trump everyone else on the circuit, because in Rogue they have a unique asset, the factor which really makes the band. Part shaman, part acrobat, part vaudeville ham, he's the focal point of The Cruxshadows' show. At first, he isn't even on stage: as the band crank up the music he begins his spoken introduction from behind the backstage curtain. When he finally emerges, he gets a cheer all to himself. Sure, that's a hoary old showbiz trick, a shameless clap trap, but he gets away with it. And then away the band goes, into a set based around the band's new album, 'Wishfire'. Rogue prefaces the songs with a series of presumably scripted introductions, which, along with the songs themselves, seem to tell some sort of mythological story. It's not really possible to follow every nuance - perhaps you need to know 'Wishfire' to get it - but it's all highly conceptual, obviously rehearsed to the hilt. A theatrical presentation, rather than a spontaneous rock show. But what the hell, it's different and it works - and Rogue's intense, mad-eyed stage persona certainly commands attention. He has a habit of thrusting his face alarmingly close to the audience, singing *at* individual people in the crowd. Some of his victims look very frightened, some grin delightedly and get into the spirit of it, while others are very British about the whole thing. They stand there, expressionless, stoically pretending that nothing unusual is going on and there isn't really a spiky-haired loon declaiming melodramatically about ancient myths three inches from their noses.

The well-drilled nature of the band is revealed whenever Rogue indulges in his trademark schtick of jumping into the audience to deliver the vocals via his clip-on radio mic from the middle of the bemused and startled crowd. Whenever he does this, the violinist takes a step forward to occupy the stage-space Rogue has vacated, a move so seamless you'd almost believe it's choreographed. Unfortunately, the resulting visual image - four girls, in line across the stage - makes The Cruxshadows look like a goth version of the Spice Girls, so it's rather a relief when Rogue clambers back to take up the conventional lead singer's position.

Then we come to part two of the show: there's a brief break, in which Rogue abandons the concept and his scripted introductions, and greets the audience before the band launch into a set of older material. There are yet more forays out into the audience: at one point Rogue carries a chair out into the mosh, and, standing on it, appears head and shoulders above the crowd, gesticulating wildly like a tic-tac man at a very unruly racecourse. It's all made possible, of course, by his radio mic, which is strapped to his head throughout the gig, making him look like a manic cyberpunk cab dispatcher - but there's a down side to this particular piece of technology, too. Because the microphone is at a fixed distance from his mouth, there's no chance of using mic technique to assist the vocals - no going in close to emphasise the bass, no going slightly off-mic to help the high notes, or to fade the vocal slightly at the end of a line. Given that Rogue has a somewhat limited range to start with, and his on (and off) stage antics obviously leave him out of breath, a bit of help in this way would be useful. As it is, there are several points in the show when Rogue's vocals become little more than a breathless, monotone chant. Not that anyone seems to mind too much - the crowd reaction is enthusiastic throughout - but I can't help thinking that placing this kind of restriction on an already somewhat restricted singing style isn't necessarily the best idea.

As a grand finale, the band give us 'Marilyn, My Bitterness', the only real oldie in a set which is generally biased towards more recent material. And in yet another manifestation of the band's showbiz schtick, a bunch of fans are hauled on stage to dance around and have their moment under the lights. The Cruxshadows have pulled off another great show: everyone goes home happy.

Personally, I feel slightly detatched from The Cruxshadows experience. I'm not a diehard fan, so I find myself stepping back a bit, both literally and figuratively. I can appreciate what the band do - and, indeed, I can sometimes discern the nuts and bolts of their show in a way that the real fans, with their more emotional involvement, might not be able to. I can see how The Cruxshadows always seem to favour the pre-planned over the spontaneous; well-rehearsed moves over rock 'n' roll risk-taking; scripts over ad-libs. Their gimmicks - Rogue's expeditions into the crowd, the audience-on-stage stuff at the end - is effective, although it's not new any more. It's all very much expected of the band these days, and sure enough the band give the fans what they expect. And sometimes I wish that Rogue would simply stand still on stage with a good old Shure SM57 in front of him, and just *sing*, dammit! But hey. For all that, the band have got a show that works, and the sheer grit and determination to get out there and carve out a *career*. In a world where so many bands never quite progress beyond the part-time hobby stage, that in itself is worth a cheer.

see all the photos from this concert here

The Cruxshadows' website:

Dancing Ferret, The Cruxshadows' label:

Wings Of Destiny, The Cruxshadows' booking agent:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: