see all the photos from this concert here

Sheep On Drugs
Our Lady Of Miracles
Yumi Yumi
Cargo, London
May 12 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

I'm slightly surprised to find myself at this gig. When I last saw the reformed Sheep On Drugs, at the Black Celebration all-dayer last year, I wasn't exactly blown away. I was a big fan of SOD's 90s incarnation, but Lee Fraser's efforts to bring the band back to life without the mad-eyed showmanship of Duncan, the original frontman, seemed frankly lame. The reincarnated version of Sheep On Drugs appeared to comprise nothing more than Lee doing a virtual DJ act with a laptop, while assorted pissed-up friends and acquaintances filled in some stage-space around him. There was no real *show*, and certainly no focal point to the performance, if indeed it's possible to describe something which looked like a ramshackle jam session as a 'performance'. In short, it was all a bit of a mess, and I resolved there and then that I wouldn't be back.

And yet, here I am...back. Back under the East End railway arch that is the Cargo club, back at another Sheep On Drugs gig. Because when all's said and done, I think every band is allowed to fuck things up once in a while, and every band should be given a chance to un-fuck itself afterwards. In any case, I'd heard that the Sheep On Drugs line-up had been tweaked yet again - there's now a *new* new version of the band - so the chances are tonight's show will, at least, be different. And besides, there's a good support band line-up. Not, for once, a 'usual suspects' collection of goth-scene hopefuls. This is not a Flag Promotions gig! Tonight we have two bands from outside the goth-loop, and they're all the more intriguing for that.

Yumi Yumi (pronounced, apparently, to rhyme with 'roomy' rather than 'tummy') are a Japanese band based in London. They're a duo: two girls in red combat trousers and black T-shirts play guitar and bass, with some sort of portastudio contraption providing rhythms and electronic squawks in the background. The singer is wearing some frankly unwise eighties-style 'secretary' spectacles, which I assume are a stage prop since she doesn't seem to wear them otherwise. They make her look like the disapproving woman who lives next door and bangs on the wall when you turn your music up. And then they turn the music up. It's chunky pop-punk, a bit bubblegum, a bit glam-rock. One or two songs teeter on the brink of turning into Suzi Quatro's '48 Crash' but pull back just in time. The riffs are chopped out like they've been precision-cut in a bacon slicer - the electronic beats seem to be down in the mix, so the songs are carried forward rhythmically by the guitar and bass. There's some good stuff in there, but the band's visual identity - two people in similar costumes riffing away on guitars on song after song - is a little less than exciting. I keep waiting for the band to *do* something, but they more or less just stand there and play, only occasionally essaying a few odd dance steps or rock moves. For all that, Yumi Yumi get a rousing reception. I'm left to ponder how much the fact that they're two punky Japanese girls, and thus automatically gain extra credibility points in the eyes of a London gig audience, has to do with the crowd's enthusiasm. I wonder if the cheers would be quite so loud if it was two boring old British blokes and a drum machine on stage?

It's an alarming thought that I've been following the chequered indie-scene career of Melanie Garside for over 10 years now. In the early 90s, she fronted a gloriously cool band called Tabitha Zu, who brought a spark of punky glitter to the London indie-toilet circuit, gained much press attention, and were widely tipped for great things. Except the great things never quite happened. Tabitha Zu mutated into a new band, simply called Zu, and Zu mutated into Melanie Garside, solo which point I more or less ducked out. I saw one Melanie Garside solo gig, and while it wasn't *bad*, I did rather get the impression that someone had got alongside Mel and advised her that the way forward was to re-invent herself as the indie scene's Shania Twain. Uh oh, I thought. I'm outta here!

But now she's returned with yet another new band. Our Lady Of Miracles have the best name I've heard for ages, the drummer out of Tabitha Zu behind the kit (and he's even wearing the same old suit jacket with badges on the lapels!), a bassist who writhes and contorts himself in a quite disturbing fashion ('He *means* it! opines a passing Andi Sex Gang), and, on guitar and vocals, Melanie Garside herself. She seems to have dressed up as a long-lost member of Fleetwood Mac tonight - with, inexplicably, one of Kate Bush's old wigs on her head. But when she sings, there's no doubt who's on stage. She has one of those rare 'couldn't be anyone else' voices which can effortlessly go from a delicate, shuddering croon to a full-strength rock holler. There's quite a bit of rock hollering tonight, as it happens, because the principal difference between Our Lady Of Miracles and any of Mel's previous incarnations is that this band is LOUD. No more indie-schmindie. Our Lady Of Miracles are here to rock. Fortunately, that's 'rock' in a quirky, left-field-ish kind of way, somewhere between Danielle Dax and PJ Harvey, if you want a couple of hasty comparisons. The guitar has been cranked up, the rhythm section hits as hard as nails, the whole caboodle gives no quarter and takes no prisoners, but it's a very individualistic sound. No standard 'rawk' moves. And of course *that* voice over the top of it all creates an impression which lasts long after the set has ended and the band has left the stage. I'm impressed. I hope this is the band which will turn Melanie Garside into the star she's always deserved to be.

The promoters of tonight's gig have some sort of cabaret schtick going, so the next piece of on-stage action is a brief interlude in which a Marlene Dietrich impersonator gives us a couple of numbers. It's an entertainingly odd little vignette (and I notice Andi Sex Gang down the front, wearing a delighted smile) but you can tell the audience is hoping the cabaret won't go on *too* long. This isn't *quite* what the crowd has come to see...

So, now, the re-re-formed Sheep On Drugs. Tonight, they're a two-piece. Tarantella Serpentine, who was latterly employed as the band's frontman (inasmuch as there *was* a frontman) is apparently no longer involved. I'm actually quite glad of that. His antics at the Black Celebration all-dayer, when he did very little apart from wander aimlessly around the stage and occasionally raise the mic to shout 'Motorbike!', were, frankly, underwhelming. In any case, Tarantella is a talented artist in his own right. He was made for better things than bumbling around someone else's stage, shouting out snatches of someone else's lyrics over someone else's music. The latest SOD line-up features Lee Fraser on guitar (sometimes), bass, (other times) and laptop (occasionally), and Katie Kuts on vocals and sporadic bass. According to the SOD website, Katie is the 'Queen Of Perversion', and she certainly looks the part in skyscraper heels and, erm, very little else. The effect isn't quite so rad 'n' kewl as the band would probably like to think, however - these days, this kind of image has been overdone to the point where any impact it might once have had is lost. Now there's a lap dancing club in every town, now that the Torture Garden is an international clubbing brand, what impact do fetished-up grrrls *really* have? Still, at least Lee hasn't been tempted to go pervy. There he is, in his combat strides and cut-down T-shirt, the very model of a modern rock 'n' roller. In fact, when he straps on his guitar, he looks uncannily like an industrial Keith Richards. All he needs is the bandanna!

The band ease into a slow-burn slice of electronica, which is either a new song or something so obscure from Ye Olde Days that I don't recall it. Katie's vocals are low key, as if she's picking her way carefully through lyrics which she doesn't really know. Everyone stands around expectantly, waiting for the band to crank it up and really start cooking. And...they do. Sort of. The songs get faster, the stage show gets more dynamic. At least, Lee straps on his guitar and goes prowling round the stage in authentic mad axeman mode, but Katie is more or less rooted at the mic. They swap instruments and plunge ahead with some gritty electro-punk. It doesn't sound at all bad, actually, but the audience is reluctant to dance. Lee, clearly annoyed by this, sarcastically instructs the crowd to stand still and not move around - exactly the kind of sarky remark which Duncan, in days of yore, would make from the stage. It occurs to me that Lee is trying to compensate for Duncan's absence by copping some of his former colleague's trademark moves, an impression that's reinforced when he takes a vocal, and delivers it in exactly the same bug-eyed bawl that Duncan once employed. It seems the ghost of Duncan has not yet been entirely exorcised. Then comes 'Fifteen Minutes Of Fame', an old hit and the only song in the set which seems familiar to the audience. The band really put the pedal to the metal on this one, and all at once the show comes alive.. *This* is more like Sheep On Drugs should be - a full-tilt manic snarl, electronics and guitars on the rampage. If they did an entire set of this stuff,  they'd be on a roll. Alas, far from launching the band into the fast lane of the Drug Music freeway, 'Fifteen Minutes...' signals the end of the show. The song judders to a halt, and the band leaves the stage. That's it, no more, no encore.

The abrupt end to the set leaves the audience confused, but the general feeling seems to be that Sheep On Drugs have got away with it. I'm somewhat encouraged by this latest incarnation of the band - clearly, some thought has gone into the presentation. SOD are now a *band* again, rather than a random bunch of Lee's mates having a lark. I think the emphasis on the pervy stuff is a little misguided - there's really no shock value there any more, and while I'm impressed by Katie's ability to stay on her feet in *those* heels, she seems a little hesitant and nervous on stage, a demeanour which sits rather uneasily with her billing as the 'Queen of Perversion'. You'd think a queen would have a little more confidence as she struts her stuff before her adoring subjects! Personally, I'd play down the pervy angle and just concentrate on loosening everything up and turning the band into the mad-bastard electro-punk monster which they could quite easily be. Sheep On Drugs aren't yet quite back to full strength, but they have something here which could develop in all sorts of strange directions. It'll be interesting to see where they go next.

see all the photos from this concert here

Sheep On Drugs:

Our Lady Of Miracles:

A Melanie Garside fan site - includes history, press clippings, etc, from the Tabitha Zu era and beyond:

Yumi Yumi:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: