|see all the photos from this concert here
Sheep On Drugs
Our Lady Of Miracles
May 12 2003
~review and photos by Uncle
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 artist...at 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: http://www.sheep-on-drugs.com
Our Lady Of Miracles: http://www.ourladyofmiracles.co.uk
A Melanie Garside fan site - includes history,
press clippings, etc, from the Tabitha Zu era and beyond: http://website.lineone.net/~steve_laurie/SKFront.html
Yumi Yumi: http://www.yumiyumi.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to