see all photos from this concert here

Mechanical Cabaret
Electric Ballroom, London
Monday January 24 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Suicide: the original electronic duo - and the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that never touched a guitar.

Illogical, maybe, but true. Since Suicide first emerged on the New York proto-punk scene, more than thirty years ago now, with nothing but a malfunctioning drum machine, a shedload of reverb, a mutant-Elvis vocal and an attitude a mile wide, they’ve created some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll anthems you will ever hear, and all without troubling the likes of Mr Fender or Mr Gibson for so much as a chord. Listen to their early biker anthem, ‘Ghost Rider’, or their bleak, bizarre love song, ‘Cheree’, and if goosebumps don’t form then you’d better check your vital signs, because you probably died without noticing.

Suicide’s career has been sporadic and haphazard, full of fits and starts and extended solo excursions by both members, Alan Vega and Martin Rev, which have at times threatened to eclipse the band which started it all.  But, unlike many bands from the original punk era, Suicide never quite split up, and tonight’s gig is certainly not any kind of comeback show.  Indeed, Suicide’s latest album, the mordant and caustic ‘American Supreme’ shows that this is a band which certainly has no need to rehash past glories. But it’s typical of Suicide’s unmethodical approach that the tour of which this gig forms a part comes two years after that album’s release.  Suicide operate on their own system of logic, and definitely on their own timescale.

Incongruously, we have an indie guitar band to open up. No introductions, no words from the stage, but a swift glance at the sound engineer’s running order tells me they’re called Nought. That’s a name which just begs for smart-arse comments, but I shall restrain myself. Because Nought aren’t all that bad. They play a succession of dense, intense, instrumentals which nod in the direction of Sonic Youth at their most avant - and occasionally mellow out to become jazzy mood pieces, trilling piano and all. No vocalist means no real focal point for the stage show, but the band are clearly trying something different from the indie-rock norm, and for that alone they deserve a cheer.

Mechanical Cabaret have been around for a good few years now, and crop up at assorted electronic-ish gigs quite regularly. It seems like they’re forever pitching for the top spot, but so far they haven’t quite hit paydirt on the nose. On the face of it, that’s odd, because their amiably sleazy electro-pop, with its Soft Cell-ish hints at perversity behind the respectable English facade, is accessible and catchy, and frontman Roi is dapper and dashing - no mean feat in itself, given that tonight he’s wearing a scuffed-up old suit that looks like it’s trying to revert back into being a sheep. Maybe the element that holds Mechanical Cabaret back is the quality of the overall sound. Tonight, their music booms through the PA in a mass of midrange in which individual songs end up submerged beneath a formless blare. Roi’s vocal comes in, over-loud and unceremonious, slapped on top of the music rather than bedded down into it. Although Mechanical Cabaret are mob-handed tonight - there’s an extended line-up on stage which includes Martin Katscan on electro drums, and Misty Woods of the Ju Ju Babies on keyboards and performance art Pot Noodle-scoffing - most of the sound is on backing track, which means that the live sound engineer can’t do a proper mix to suit the PA and venue acoustics. Anything he might try with levels and EQ affects the entire track: tweaks to individual elements of the sound just aren’t possible. Then - oops - the backing CD starts skipping, and although Roi covers the glitch well, the show does rather fall on its arse at this point. I suspect that stripped-down arrangements, with less reliance on a backing track that probably sounds great in the studio but doesn’t necessarily work so well in a live setting, would showcase Mechanical Cabaret’s cool-but-weird pop sensibility much more effectively. It seems to me that we’ve got a good band here, paradoxically boxed in by their technology.

Did someone mention minimalist? Suicide wrote the book on minimalist. Here they are: two weatherbeaten reprobates, black-clad and enigmatic behind the inevitable shades. A DAT machine teeters on a small rack above a keyboard - and that’s it. And, unlike more recent practitioners of the two-men-plus-technology concept, Suicide don’t indulge in any grandstanding, crowd-pleasing gesticulations or cringe-inducing jolly-ups.  They rely on their sheer presence to carry the show, and, inexplicably, it works. Alan Vega, like a cross between Roy Orbison and Andrew Eldritch, looms out of the smoke and lets rip with his surreal Elvis-like croon.  Martin Rev, walloping and stabbing at his keyboard in true mad professor of rock ‘n’ roll style, is a dynamic foil, throwing shapes like he’s toting an invisible Stratocaster on the hip. The set swings to the syncopated thump and clang of selections from ‘American Supreme’, and it all sounds so fresh you’d think Rev and Vega had formed the band yesterday.

Suicide’s status as current contenders is, incidentally, reflected in the audience, which is not the gathering of old-skoolers you might assume.  There are certainly some grizzled veterans of the punk wars here tonight, but the crowd is varied in age, sex, style, everything. Suicide seem to cut across all demographics: indie girls in hipster jeans, middle-aged blokes in parkas, hardcore industrialists and full-on goths are all represented, the kind of all-ways crossover that only a select handful of bands can generate, but which is always good to see. Then Vega speaks: ‘That’s enough of the James Brown stuff,’ he remarks, and that’s the signal for Suicide to crank up the rock ‘n’ roll machine and roll out a few of the classics.  ‘Ghost Rider’ is a throbbing juggernaut of menace, a rumble on the freeway, ominously coming closer until it bursts around your head in a roar.  ‘Cheree’ is re-arranged, welded now to a clanking rhythm that makes the song, originally an other-worldly ballad, sound like it’s had assertiveness training. Vega takes time to lecture us between songs on the state of the world, something which obviously gives him no comfort, as he disses world leaders who like nothing better than to have a good war. His diatribe is surreal but obviously sincere, and, curiously, given that most bands with a bit of history behind them often try to gloss over their advancing years, he lays heavy stress on his age - ‘I marched against the Vietnam war! But you’re young, it’s your turn now!’ Some of the middle-aged blokes look rather bemused at being termed ‘young’, but there’s a point to Vega’s rant, and it’s refreshing to see an artist lay his politics on the line in a way which few dare to do these days.

Then Professor Rev cranks up the noise again, and Suicide churn and rattle on, Vega spending the instrumental passages pacing around the stage as if invisible bars keep him in check. He picks up Mechanical Cabaret’s discarded set list, and for one glorious moment I think he’s going to sing it, but alas, it is not to be. Encores follow, the crowd by now seething with appreciation, and when the band finally sign off with a shuddering, intense, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ there’s an almost palpable feeling in the venue that something genuinely special has occurred. In these days of flimsy, derivative music and lacklustre, good-but-not-great bands, when I sometimes find myself wondering just who still has that essential vital spark, it’s good to know that Suicide is still the solution.

see all photos from this concert here

Martin Rev's own website, apparently the nearest thing to an official Suicide site:

Fan site which probably contains the best Suicide overview:

Mute's comprehensive Suicide biography:

Recent Suicide interview:,12830,1400140,00.html

Suicide's albums - reviewed:

Mechanical Cabaret:

Nought: (No website)

Electric Ballroom:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: