Queen Adreena
Three Children Of Fortune
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Tuesday March 22 2005 
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Notwithstanding my long and close personal friendship with Her Majesty, I very rarely find myself strolling down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace these days. But tonight, I'm doing just that, although I'm not on a royal visit. I have an audience with quite a different queen, at another location. I'm heading for the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which occupies the ground floor of an imposing terrace a mere tiara's throw from the London residence of our revered monarch.

A few years back, I used to see gigs at the ICA quite regularly. But I don't think I've set foot in the place since nineteen-eighty-whatsit, when I saw a very fine show involving Danielle Dax, Severed Heads and Hula. I recall that one in particular, because the ICA hadn't been putting on live music for very long at the time, and the venue staff were not exactly wise to the ways of rock 'n' roll. I met the world's champion blagger outside the venue, who cheerfully proceeded to score free entry and all-areas passes for both of us on the strength of nothing more than a bit of fast talking ('...and we've got to pick up a couple of passes - yeah, those ones there, on the desk - those are ours!'). These days, The ICA staff are a little more sussed, and passes, alas, are no longer to be had for the asking. But I've got a ticket, and that gets me in.

Three Children Of Fortune have a name that hints at wild, buccaneering rock 'n' roll romance - and an image that hints at High Street leisurewear. A trio of almost defiantly ordinary-looking lads in T-shirts and jeans, they come across as a much more workaday bunch than you might guess from the name. Their music see-saws crazily between winsome indie-jangle and roaring metal noise. Songs start out sounding like The Smiths, and end up like Metallica. It's an odd combination of styles that does actually work - at least, some of the time. But the band wear their ordinariness like a badge of honour, hunching over their guitars, chugging away like diligent rock 'n' roll craftsmen, and once I've got my head around the incongruous indie/metal mash-up which seems to be their principal musical idea, there's not a lot to hold my attention.

The coolest thing on the current music scene these days is the post-punkish influence of the early 80s, and Ariel-X seem to have bought into the style wholesale. There are several spike-perfect examples of new wave haircuts in the band for us to admire, and the guitarist sports a vintage Adam Ant T-shirt. The band throw themselves into their music with a swaggering verve, throwing shapes and giving it loads - yep, they certainly pass the 'putting on a show' test. I'm initially interested, captured by the full-on roar and tumble of the performance, but little by little I begin to lose heart. The music doesn't have anything like the new-wavey sparkle that the band have obviously tried to add to their image. It's essentially yer average emo-rock - loud, fast, and impassioned in that angst-by-numbers manner that never quite gets as far as  convincingly genuine emotion. In the end, it all gets a bit dull. It's not that Ariel-X are a bad band, exactly: for all the post-grunge kids who want some fashion with their passion I'm sure they'll hit the spot admirably. But for me, Ariel-X just don't live up to their hairstyles.

It's obvious which band most of tonight's crowd are here to see. The Queen Adreena barmy army, wide-eyed and glammed-up, are present in force. This is a band which has always been able to count on a loyal cult following, and cynics might say that's just as well, given that Queen Adreena have never quite arrived at the kind of Garbage-style alternative-cred-plus-chart-hits status that I suspect their record labels were hoping for. Indeed, the fact that the band are about to release their third album on their third label hints somewhat at expectations that have never quite been fulfilled. But the fans crush themselves down the front with the devotion of true believers, and it's immediately clear that although Queen Adreena's career so far might have left a trail of disappointed music biz executives in its wake, they certainly aren't about to short-change the faithful tonight.

With a roar and a caterwaul, they're away. The sound is a huge squalling mass of guitar noise and rumbling rhythms, almost Zeppelin-esque at times in its ever-thundering avalanche of blues-flavoured rock. Queen Adreena are, of course, a four-piece band, but the drummer and bassist are dressed down, heads down, anonymous and discreet throughout. The attention of the crowd is elsewhere. Guitarist Crispin, all cheekbones and stripes, a study in effortless cool, has his own coterie of fans. They follow his every move as he insouciantly slashes at his strings, or leans into the mic for a backing vocal.  But it's vocalist Katie Jane, fronting the band like a mad rag doll, lurching and staggering as if buffeted by ever-changing air currents, who's the real star of the show. Dressed in a messed-up white outfit that makes it look like she's just discharged herself from a very odd hospital, she flails and wails about the stage in a non-stop frenzy. The set leans heavily on new songs from the as yet unreleased album, and maybe that's the reason the mosh is slow to kick off. There's a sense of expectant appraisal among the crowd as the new songs are introduced, and it's only when older numbers like 'Cold Fish' and 'Pretty Like Drugs' make an appearance that the pit really begins to seethe. Perhaps the crowd's restraint is also due to Katie Jane's indisctinct vocal style, which makes it impossible to latch on to lyrics you don't already know. She slurs and drawls, shrieks and roars the words with a fine sense of drama, but without much in the way of clarity. At times, her voice becomes mere sound rather than communication - and at these moments, as the guitar churns away, Queen Adreena start to sound oddly and alarmingly like a heavy metal version of the Cocteau Twins.

Still, even though the music might be unfamiliar, the spectacle still grabs attention. Katie Jane's one-woman theatre of the weird, tumbling around the stage like a marionette with unravelling strings, wrenching out the vocals as if it's all the microphone's fault, gives Queen Adreena an undeniable visual edge. And yes, it is theatre: Katie might look like she's in a world of her own, but as ever I'm left with the impression that all her moves are planned and rehearsed. Inside her head she always knows exactly what she's up to, and which move is coming next. That sprawl over a chair, the collapse-on-the-floor routine, even her sudden attack on Crispin (who continues to play his guitar as if nothing unusual is happening) are all theatrical moves, deliberately worked out for maximum effect. Even the moment when Katie grabs a bottle of white wine and pours it over herself is not a spontaneous outpouring of angst. A glance around the web at some of the fan-photos from other gigs reveals that she pulls the same stunt on every date of the tour. Sure, it all works, and many fans seem to take it all at face value, apparently believing that they're witnessing Katie Jane's personal demons in action. But me, I reckon she's not half as mad as she makes herself out to be.

By the end of the show, some of the real diehard followers at the front are wearing expressions of near ecstasy. It's as if the Queen Adreena experience has been some sort of catharsis for them, a kind of cleansing ritual in which the crazy obstacles of life can be swept aside by a glorious surge of uninhibited wildness. I'm less convinced. I think Queen Adreena deliver fine rock 'n' roll theatre, but I can't abandon myself to the feeling of gleeful release which some of the fans clearly seem to experience. I see a band in control, rather than a band letting go. Even if you allow for the new songs factor, which made this show slightly less of a coruscating blast than usual, the overwhelming impression I take away from the gig is that tonight we saw Queen Adreena demonstrating just how firmly they grip their artistic steering wheel.

see all the photos from this concert here

Queen Adreena official site (not necessarily up to date): http://www.queenadreena.com

Queen Adreena fan site (best for info and latest news): http://www.room-eleven.org

Queen Adreena fans gather here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/hotelaftershow/

Ariel-X:  http://www.ariel-x.com

Three Children Of Fortune: http://threechildrenoffortune.com

Institute Of Contemporary Arts: http://www.ica.org.uk