With a little luck and a lot of determination and hard work, Pack-a-Lunch Productions has managed to bring a small number of great shows to the frozen Alberta wasteland in recent years. Alberta has pretty much devoid of good shows for ages, Edmonton has recently played host to the likes of Icon of Coil, VNV Nation and Assemblage 23, with fans from Calgary making regular trips north. Now, add Covenant to that list. Making an Albertan stop on their Northern Light Tour, Covenant played to a packed house at New City Suburbs on Tuesday, May 27th 2003. Supported by Melotron and FX Series, the show was a blast, and a great time was had by all as an eager crowd gathered to take in the concert.
Local Edmonton act FX Series started off the night with a short but strong set. A solo artist on stage always seems to have a bit of a problem pulling off a great show, but FX Series managed fairly well behind his rack of keyboards and assorted modules, and was well-recieved by the crowd.
Next up was Germany’s Melotron,a relatively unknown band on the local scene who managed to wow the crowd with their EBM pop sound and dynamic stage presence. Melotron performs all their songs in German, which is a bit of a refreshing change, but was utterly baffling to the audience at the show. Language wasn’t a barrier for long though, as great music and energy transcends such boundaries with ease. I have to admit that I had never heard Melotron before that night, but the strength of their live show forced me to buy a tour shirt and start hunting down their CDs.
After a short break, Eskil Simonsson and Joakim Montelius of Covenant took the stage, accompanied by Andy of Melotron on backing vocals and keyboards, opening with ‘Monochrome’ as the crowd pressed forward in excitement. The set list naturally favored tracks from Covenant’s latest album, Northern Light, but songs from United States of Mind and Sequencer managed to work their way into the set as well. Hits from ‘Bullet’ to ‘Dead Stars’ kept the audience dancing and singing along. Musically, Covenant’s set was near flawless, and in truth, I’m not sure how much was ‘performed’ through sequencer or DAT tape as opposed to real-time playing. Eskil’s voice is as good on stage as it is in the studio, and his stage presence is something any fan of Covenant needs to see live; his gestures and expressions add a new element of emotion to the lyrics that the CD just can’t provide.
Encores included the band’s hits ‘Stalker’, ‘We Want Revolution’, followed by ‘Invisible & Silent’ and an audience sing along performance of ‘One World, One Sky’ to close out the night on a high note.
Official Website: www.covenant.se
P.O. Box 54307
Philadelphia, PA 19105
New City Suburbs
10081 Jasper Ave
In Strict Confidence
The Ghost Of Lemora
Descendants Of Cain
Camden Palace, London
May 18, 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
I'm sitting in the Purple Turtle, a slightly hysterical designer-alternative boozer opposite the Camden Palace, watching a queue of goths extend itself around the side of the venue and down past the Damned's tour bus (a very nice Vanhool Astrabel from Star-Line, no less). Everyone's waiting for the doors to open so that Gotham, London's annual one-day goth-fest, can commence. But there's a delay. Rumours circulate about conked-out PA gear and missed soundchecks - the fact that some of the bands, who under normal circumstances should be inside the venue getting ready to rock, are hanging around outside chatting to the crowd, looks ominous. Well, when the going gets tough, the tough go for a pint. I'm staying right here until I see that queue start to move!
Eventually, an hour after the advertised start time, we're allowed in to discover that Excession have already been bundled on stage to kick off the show. They're winging it without a soundcheck, and they don't quite seem to be firing on all cylinders, but they make a good go of a less than ideal situation. The music - which I suppose you might call forceful ethereal - requires a certain amount of polish in the mix to make the best of it, and that's obviously not happening here. The vocals waver off the note occasionally, and I get the impression the band are putting a brave face on a set they know isn't quite as good as it should be. But under the awkward circumstances, they don't do too badly, and the sparse early-doors audience gives them a sympathetic round of applause.
Excession's set is followed by a lengthy pause as the Descendants Of Cain set up their gear from scratch. Much painstaking equipment-assembly takes place on stage. Cables are untangled and plugged in, the band's scrap-metal angel is slotted into place in front of the keyboards. All of this, of course, would normally have been done hours ago, but it seems the technical problems during the day mean the band has to play in a 'just do it' fashion. This means that when the band eventually gets going, it's not exactly a classic performance. The set is cut short - there's no chance for the trademark Descendants Of Cain atmosphere to build. As if that wasn't enough, the vocal mic stand keeps collapsing and the lighting engineer seems to have gone out to lunch. A few dim, static, purple lights provide the only illumination throughout. The band doggedly continue, and against the odds pull a decent, if abbreviated, set out of the bag. Encouragingly, they also pull a decent crowd to the front, but something tells me this one isn't going to go down in the annals of the Descendants Of Cain as their best-ever show.
Psychophile deal with the dodgy technical situation by flinging themselves at it head-on. I swear they've been on the punk rock pills: they go roaring and storming into their songs at warp speed, a performance so highly charged it makes their recent Whitby set look like a supper club cabaret. Slamming everything into overdrive clearly works. The technical gremlins are kicked into touch and the entire event - which up to this point had been trundling along in a pleasant but rather uninspired fashion, suddenly takes off. It seems there's not much coming through the monitors - 'Can you hear me?' asks Lucy at one point. 'That's good, because I can't hear me' - but little glitches like this aren't about to stop the rampaging Psychophile riff-machine. It's a full-Monty mash-up, an exhilarating dash through selections from the band's new album, and a literal dash all over the stage as both members of the band leap and flail their way through the songs. It's ironic that Psychophile should turn in one of the best performances I've ever seen them play under the technically stressful circumstances of this show, but perhaps all the behind-the-scenes problems goaded them to these crazy heights. Now that we've seen what Psychophile can *really* do, let's have 'em higher on the bill next time!
After Psychophile's madcap energy-raising session, it's a shame that the next thing that happens is...nothing. There's a long delay, during which the stage crew shuffle about the stage, pulling cables from sockets and plugging them in again, all the while exchanging anxious glances and shaking their heads sombrely like surgeons whose patient has just died on the operating table. Apparently there's a problem with the phantom power. Ah, the ghosts in the wires again. Or, in this case, *not* in the wires. But we do have some ghosts on stage: The Ghost Of Lemora set up their gear, and are ready to go, but there's a lengthy wait while the surgeons confer and tinker, and the band stand around looking rather awkward. Eventually, they're given the go-ahead, but by now they're faced with warming up the audience all over again. For that reason, the set takes a while to hit its stride, and the band seem a little less sparky than usual. Still, we get Swifty's trademark quips and humourous asides from the stage, including a tribute to 'Captain Sensible, the greatest living Englishman!' We're also introduced to Sonya's shiny new keyboard, and an equally shiny set of the band's quirky, glammy, gothpop tunes. The Ghost Of Lemora seem to be on an upward trajectory these days - this time last year, they were the opening band at Gotham '02. Now they're half way up the bill, with more London gigs in the offing (they're supporting both Inkubus Sukkubus and The Gathering in June). All good stuff, but I can't help wondering whether they'll end up overkilling London while remaining relatively unknown elsewhere. We shall see.
Bad news: Attrition were originally scheduled to appear at this point, but apparently they pulled out due to 'personal problems'. This is not a secret - Frank, the man behind Flag Promotions, appears on stage and tells us. He also has some good news: Mechanical Cabaret have been booked as a replacement. And some more bad news: because of all the delays, Mechanical Cabaret only have time for three songs. Primed by the promoter's announcement, the band get a sympathetic reception. Roi, vocalist and all-round main man, pours everything into his thumbnail-size set, throwing poses and singing his gutter heart out, as the electronic kitsch 'n' synch drama of the music swirls around him. I'm struck by the slightly heretical thought that reducing the set to three songs isn't entirely a bad idea - it forces the band to give us a concentrated burst of *everything*, the musical equivalent of downing a glass of 50% Stolichnaya in three swallows, rather than working through an entire crate of beer. Which prompts me to make a quick excursion to the bar, and return to the front for...
Killing Miranda. Rollicking cartoon-metal, with vocalist Rikky looming over the front rows like a moonlighting Rob Zombie. The first band to get a real mosh going. Killing Miranda have a large and enthusiastic fan club, and it seems like they're all squashed down the front. The crowd-crush is so intense I'm stuck at the lead vocal position with my camera - this is clearly a band with a *following*. Hang on, did I say cartoon-metal? Well, yes, but Killing Miranda do metal in the same way that the Cramps do rockabilly: they do their own thing with it and aren't afraid to unceremoniously wrench the music in all sorts of strange directions if the fancy takes them. Odd little electronic interruptions crop up in the full-on rock 'n' roll roar, and there are even a few stylistic nods to the band's gothic past. 'Discotheque Necronomicon', their anthem to the gothic clubbing experience, gets everyone jumping and cheering with recognition when such lines as 'We got the white line fever' crop up. Not that I have the slightest idea what that might be about, mind. And yes, I think it's fair to refer to Killing Miranda as having a gothic *past* - they may have emerged from the London goth scene, but on the evidence of this set they've now carved out their own niche that's more metal than anything else, although they obviously don't trouble themselves overmuch with the rules of the genre. But as with just about every band at this show, the set has been cut down to save time, and it's over before we know it.
In Strict Confidence turn out to be more of a live band than you'd expect from their EBM-slanted recorded works, with a real drum kit and a guitarist in the line-up. They're not the most visually arresting crew: essentially, they're a bunch of skinny blokes in black T-shirts with severely-cropped hair, like some sort of straight-edge punk outfit. The music is angular industrio-rock, danceable without being anything like the vaguely VNV-ish sound I was expecting. The vocals, all in German, are essentially a harsh chant. This is effective on one or two songs, but in the end the style brings things down a bit. Regardless of what the musicians do, the never-changing vocals tend to make everything sound the same, and I find my attention starting to wander. In truth, In Strict Confidence are the wrong band at the wrong gig - they'd probably do well in front of a bunch of cyberstompers, but at this gig, where they're playing to a combination of London goth-scene suspects and diehard Damned fans, they just don't go over. In any case, the time-guillotine comes down on them, as Frank the promoter emerges on stage to warn the band they've got to stop. The band take a bow, even as the roadies whisk their gear off stage behind them - not, I imagine, the way In Strict Confidence wanted their high-profile London show to end.
Now the crowd crush starts getting intense. I find myself unceremoniously shoved face-first into the monitors. I try to exert a little back-pressure, and suddenly realise that I'm trying to shift a solid mass of a thousand Damned fans. It's quite clear which band is the top draw tonight. And there they are, looking absurdly fit for a band that's been around for over 25 years, and has just come off yet another major tour. Vanian is decked out like a Victorian gentleman in topper and cloak, as if it's 1895 and he's arrived at the Palace Theatre for an evening of music hall entertainment. But it's 2003, and he *is* the music hall entertainment! Behind him, Pinch rattles the drums with his usual effortless style (who was R*t Sc*bies, anyway?), to his left Patricia Morrison wallops out the basslines with a fine display of gleeful enthusiasm, Monty gurns and churns behind the keyboards, and Captain Sensible - the greatest living Englishman himself - rips out *those* guitar lines with the insouciant grace of a musician who's doing what he does best and knows it.
As I've remarked before, there are those who insist on regarding The Damned as a bunch of ramshacke punks, good for a laugh and a bit of a pogo if they play the old stuff, but not a band anyone could take seriously. That view is ludicrously, stupidly, wrong, as any clear-eared appraisal of the band's psychedelia-tinged musical vision (everyone from Roky Erikson to Syd Barrett and Ray Davies is in the Damned's canon of influences, if you listen out for them) and first-hand experience of their commanding stage presence will immediately prove. And indeed the Damned *do* command the stage. Vanian is the consummate showman, stripping down to his dress shirt (but never removing his shades), dropping his shoulder and twitching his hips as he delivers a line of vocal, then shimmying away from the mic in one those classic rock 'n' roll moves which seem to come so naturally to him. Patricia is full of confidence and enthusiasm, obviously having fun at this goth-oriented gig. I recall seeing her hiding at the back of the stage during the punk revival shows the Damned used to play before their new album came out, trying to avoid the spitting and the flying beer cans - no such hassle here; she's among friends. And Sensible, an impressive and criminally underrated guitarist, just keeps it all driving forward. No crazy antics tonight, no impromptu strip-shows from the Captain: at this show, we're getting Captain Sensible the *musician*, not Captain Sensible the cartoon character.
The set is based heavily around selections from the new album, 'Grave Disorder' and the classic 'Black Album' - two recordings separated by more than 20 years, but which fit together so well they could be bookends. 'Song.Com', 'History Of The World'. 'She', 'Wait For The Blackout'. It all dovetails into a seamlessly groovy whole. We even get 'Curtain Call', the Captain interjecting some odd little guitar-squiggles into the long intro by scratching a beer can over the strings, and 'Smash It Up' parts one *and* two. In the middle of the mosh-frenzy a girl in a tartan miniskirt jumps out of the crowd and ends up on stage, in a heap at Vanian's feet. 'Ah, good evening, madam,' he remarks, politely helping her to her feet, as if they've just met over cocktails. Vanian's cool never slips, but he's clearly having a good time. The band launch into a five-song encore, playing their way beyond the end of the set list as if they just don't want to stop. 'What shall we play now...?' Vanian muses, running through the Damned's songbook in his head, while Sensible wails, 'I want to go home!'
The good Captain takes time out to tell a few tales of previous Damned gigs at this venue - back in the punk days, the Camden Palace was the Music Machine, murky haunt of many first-wave British punks - and then, as a grand finale, we get an extended version of 'Looking At You' which mysteriously turns into 'Break On Through' by the Doors after the second chorus. Patricia dedicates the song to all the goths in the house '...because you all look so cool!' and Sensible gives us a bit of guitar-behind-the-head stunt-playing. At the very end, Pinch ceremonially wrecks the drum kit amid a thrash-storm of guitar, and the band take their leave. Vanian, as ever the eye of the storm, politely tips his hat to the crowd as he coolly strolls off. Was it good? Of *course* it was good. The Damned have matured like a fine wine, a band to be savoured and appreciated - and yet, like all the best wines, they'll still get you fuelled up for a riot.
By now, it's gone midnight, so it's a night bus journey home and three hours sleep before the working week kicks in. But it's been worth it for the Damned. In fact, it's fair to say that the Damned saved the show as a whole from turning into a rather underwhelming experience. The technical problems, delays, and cut-down sets which blighted much of the event would have cast a gloom over the whole experience if the Damned hadn't come along and given it all a lift. It does rather beg the question - are these all-dayer events really worth it? This would've been a good show - with, I guess, much the same size crowd - if it had simply been a regular three-band gig with just Psychophile, Killing Miranda, and the Damned on the bill. Even without the technical hassles, how much benefit do such bands as Descendants Of Cain and In Strict Confidence really derive from these festival slots? A point to ponder, but as the entire UK gig-circuit (or at least, the gothy part of it) seems to be in the grip of a festival frenzy these days, it's probably a rhetorical question. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and find a night bus...
see all photos from this concert here
The Damned: http://www.officialdamned.com
In Strict Confidence: http://www.instrictconfidence.de
Killing Miranda: http://killingmiranda.pair.com
Mechanical Cabaret: http://www.mechanicalcabaret.com
The Ghost Of Lemora: http://www.theghostoflemora.co.uk
Descendants Of Cain: http://www.descendantsofcain.co.uk
Flag Promotions, promoters of the event: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
The Faces Of Sarah
June 4 2003
~photos and review by Uncle Nemesis
There's good timing, and there's bad timing. And then there's the timing of this gig.
It's on a Wednesday night, which isn't the greatest night of the week for a gig under any circumstances. Let's face it, Wednesday just doesn't say 'Party!', does it? To make things more interesting this particular Wednesday falls immediately before the largest festival on Planet Goth - the Wave Gotik Treffen - kicks off in Leipzig. That's why Ikon are here tonight: they've arranged some European tour dates around an appearance at the festival. And that is also why a large chunk of the London regulars haven't shown up - they're getting an early night before heading out to Germany. Just to put the icing on the cake, Marilyn Manson is playing tonight across town at the Brixton Academy, which pretty effectively mops up the rest of the gig's potential audience. At best, the crowd in the Underworld barely scrapes 100, and when the opening band, The Faces Of Sarah, arrive on stage, there are precisely 16 people down the front. I know this because I did a head-count...and it didn't take long!
The band wallop away regardless. As the set progresses a few more people filter through from the bar, and the audience begins to look half-way respectable once we're a few songs in, although we're never in any danger of being crushed by a seething mass of bodies. The Faces Of Sarah now have a new line-up: the band's bassist and backing vocalist unexpectedly left a few months back - taking the website with them, or so it seems. At any rate, there's a brand new FoS website up now, at a different address, and Chris, ex-of Killing Miranda, is supplying basslines on stage. The overall sound of the band hasn't changed: this is still very recognisably The Faces Of Sarah. The big wall-of-guitar is present and correct, Nick's vocal holler rings out as strongly as it's ever done. The absence of a female backing vocalist is, oddly enough, more noticeable visually than in terms of its effect on the music. The band look like a collection of scruffy rock blokes - what the hell, they've *always* looked like a collection of scruffy rock blokes - but the absence of someone on stage who unequivocally *isn't* a scruffy rock bloke is more noticeable than I would've predicted. It's a good solid set for all that, but the small audience means that the atmosphere never really takes off and it all gets stuck in the 'low key' zone. Ah, well. Here's to more favourable circumstances next time.
Go back a few years and Altered States would've been headlining the Underworld - and packing the place, too. Now, here they are in the support slot. Still around, still holding their own, still doing their thing, but inescapably not the Top Band they once were. I've told the story before, but for those who've just joined us...
Altered States are an 80s-vintage goth band who caused a genuine stir with their 1987 album 'Is Anyone Out There?', then split up a couple of years later. The band reformed in the mid-90s amid much initial interest, but never really did enough to maintain their position. They coasted through the 90s on the back of their old-skool reputation and one new single, split up again, reformed again...and now appear to be coasting through the 21st Century on the back of...well, what? The kudos the band once enjoyed as 80s survivors just doesn't seem to be there any more. Certainly, many of the diehard old-skool fans who once packed the band's gigs are no longer showing up. Meanwhile, although there are new songs in the set, there is still no sign of a new release and no sign of an influx of new fans. Tonight, although the band rattles through a solid set of abrasive alterno-rock and gains a respectful reaction from the audience, I can't help wondering if they've simply spent too long doing too little. Their momentum has gone, and it's going to require a real stomp on the gas to build it up again. Can they do it? A few years back, I would've said yes. Now, I'm not so sure. Even the new songs aren't so new. Their cover of 'Eleanor Rigby' has to my certain knowledge been in the live set since 1997. Ah, well. Time will tell. But how much time have Altered States got?
This is the first time Ikon have played in the UK. They've toured Europe twice before, but their previous visits have always blipped over our funny little island. On the face of it, that's an odd omission. After all, Ikon are an Australian band. If nothing else, you'd think they'd be interested in playing an English-speaking country. They're also heavily, and obviously, influenced by Joy Division - sorry, Ikon, you can't deny it, not with *that* vocal style and *those* basslines - and yet they've never previously visited the home territory of their prime influence. But then, this sort of thing isn't uncommon. It's quite usual for bands to put together European tours which miss out the UK. Let's be blunt here: the UK scene is small, poverty-stricken, and largely maintained by an ad-hoc bunch of enthusiastic amateurs, whereas the continental scene (particularly Germany) is large, solvent and generally operates at a level of professionalism which we in the UK just can't match. You don't have to look too far to find the reason why all those Euro-tours never reach the UK!
Still, Ikon are here now, and it's good to see them. They're a band of odd contrasts. The frontman, with his shaved head and goatee, looks like he should be in an EBM group, while the guitarist could be Daniel Ash's long-lost glammie brother. He's certainly got all the moves - it's as if he's sat up for many nights replaying Hanoi Rocks videos until he can recreate those glam-rock guitar-god shapes himself at the drop of a powerchord. And yet...there are no powerchords. Well, not in any conventional glam-rock style, anyway. Because, as I mentioned above, Ikon are heavily under the influence of Joy Division, and while they don't simply xerox the vintage Joy Division sound it has to be said they get pretty close. The vocals roll out of the PA, as deep and dark as the Manchester Ship Canal. The basslines underpin the music in exactly the way they do in JD's finest tunes, although the bass player himself doesn't adopt Hooky's low-slung stance. The overall effect is rather odd. Although the band-members have their own diverse images which don't reflect any particular band-obsession, the sound coming out of the PA is firmly rooted in Manchester, 1979. Close your eyes and you could be at the Electric Circus. Just to reinforce the Joy Division connection, the band throw in a cover of 'Ceremony', and it's a note-perfect take on the original. Paradoxically, I find myself enjoying the set immensely. Why paradoxically? Because if this was a Sisters soundalike band on stage, I'd probably be bored to tears. And yet a Joy Division soundalike band hits the spot. Ah, well, this is music. It either gets you right there or it doesn't, I suppose. Logic doesn't enter the equation!
But Ikon can also take their music in other directions. There's another cover - Death In June's 'Fall Apart' - and the band's own showstopper, 'Psychic Vampire', which introduces a loping machine-beat into the mix, and curiously hints at what Joy Division might have sounded like if the band had carried on to the present day. It's all a mash-up of the nostalgic and the contemporary, conflicting visuals and sounds that seem familiar until you realise that there are other ideas in there too. In short, Ikon are an effective package, and they deserved a bigger audience than they got at this gig. And I think they would've got one, too, if only they had slotted in their London date at the *end* of their tour, when both the WGT and Madge Manson would have been safely in the past. Timing may not be everything, but in the crazy old world of rock 'n' roll tour booking, it counts for a lot.
see all photos from this concert here
Altered States: http://www.altered-states.co.uk
The Faces Of Sarah: http://www.thefacesofsarah.net
Flag Promotions, promoters of the gig: http://www.flagpromotions.com
The Underworld: http://www.theunderworldcamden.co.uk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Revolution By Night
The Beautiful Deadly Children
Sunday June 1 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Ah, familiar territory. We're back at the Underworld again for another Flag Promotions electrogoth extravaganza. Having said that, this particular gig was originally advertised as taking place at The Garage under the auspices of PTF Promotions, the crew who brought Neuroticfish to London a while back. For reasons which remain a mystery, PTF dropped out at a relatively late stage, leaving Flag Promotions to re-organise everything at short notice, and at a different venue. Unfortunately, the overall result of these inter-promoter shennanigans is a gig which doesn't draw as much of a crowd as it really should. At precisely the point in the run-up to the show when the full-scale publicity effort should've kicked in, the two promoters were wasting time playing a game of rock 'n' roll pass-the-parcel. True blue British muddling through strikes again! L'Ame Immortelle, who like most European touring bands are accustomed to the efficiency and professionalism of the Continental circuit, must wonder what on earth they've let themselves in for.
But before we get to L'Ame Immortelle, we have our home-grown support bands. Beautiful Deadly Children open the show with a set of rumbustious electro-anthems and amiable campanology, all wrapped up in the kind of end-of-the-pier-show knockabout humour which makes me suspect that their natural home is providing the musical breaks at one of Jim Davidson's 'adult' pantomimes. Or, at any rate, anywhere but opening a Sunday night gig in a London club. The band's natural ebullience is rather squashed tonight by the circumstances - the crowd, at this early hour, is small, and the band have to work hard just to get a lukewarm reaction. The situation isn't helped by the fact that the guitarist is missing from the line-up. While there's a certain amount of guitar on the backing track (in fact, I suspect there's a certain amount of everything on the backing track) the lack of live guitar makes the sound rhythm-heavy to the point where the band almost sound like a rap outfit at times. The vocalist, as usual decked out in a costume that's almost too big for the stage, tries to jolly up the crowd with a quip or two: 'I know we're only the opening band, but, believe me, the frocks don't get any better later on!' Alas, it's an uphill struggle, and Beautiful Deadly Children don't quite reach the peak this time.
And now, please welcome Revolution By Night, old-skool UK-scene goths turned 21st-Century synth-merchants. This band is on a roll at the moment. They've signed to a German label, their EP 'Faithless' is out, and is already picking up some top 20 action in the Deutsche Alternative Charts. These references to Germany don't appear by chance, incidentally: Revolution By Night have obviously made a strategic decision to go for the German audience in a big way, and, given the vastly superior strength and profile of the German scene as a whole compared to our cottage industry-level subculture in the UK, I think they're entirely right to do so. However, despite all this positive stuff, the RBN experience at this particular gig turns out to be a little below par - the band don't seem quite as enthusiastic and full-on as you'd expect given the fact that their career seems to be moving forward rather well. In fact, at one point, Steve the vocalist remarks, 'I can't get into it tonight!', which perhaps sums it all up - the band are simply having one of those inexplicable 'off nights' where that mysterious performance-spark just doesn't want to ignite. Still, for all that, they deliver a decent set of slick, danceable electronica in which 'Faithless' (very much the band's flagship song these days) is heavily featured, along with an old Ultravox number, 'Visions In Blue' - a neat choice for a cover. There's an interlude of VNV Nation-baiting, as seems to be traditional at RBN gigs - Steve stretches his arms out in a messiah pose, and remarks, 'I'm having a VNV Nation moment!' Everyone laughs, but it's an ironic touch. RBN might take the piss out of VNV Nation, but the latter band's strategy of building up a fanbase in Germany, and then exporting themselves back to the UK as conquering heroes, is a blueprint for success I'm sure Revolution By Night would rather like to follow themselves. Now that would be a VNV Nation moment worth having.
L'Ame Immortelle come from Austria, and are essentially a duo of Thomas Rainier (keyboards and shouting) and Sonja Kraushofer (vocals and glamour). For touring purposes the band expands into a four-piece, and appears before us tonight with an additional keyboard player and guitarist, but there's no doubt who the principal people are. Thomas and Sonja share lead vocal duties and effectively carry the show between them. Or rather, they carry their own individual shows. Their vocal styles are so different it's almost as if L'Ame Immortelle are two different bands rolled into one. Thomas does that harsh chant thing, a style which sits oddly with his new-wave suit and nerd-spectacles. He looks like he should be in They Might Be Giants. He sounds like he should be in Suicide Commando. But when Sonja steps up to the mic, we're suddenly in a very different area. Her voice trips lightly through the music, and yet she can let rip when the occasion demands. She has that essential light pop touch, but she can also holler it out like vintage Siouxsie. She also provides a very effective visual focal point, and single-handedly lifts L'Ame Immortelle out of the 'bunch-of-blokes-doing-industrial-electronics' zone into which I suspect the band would slide, were she not there to save them. I can't understand why she isn't the full-time frontwoman - I mean, all due respect to Thomas Rainier, fine chap that I'm sure he is, but anyone can yell frantically through a distortion effect while dressed up as Morrissey's little brother. A singer with the talents of Sonja Kraushofer, on the other hand, doesn't come along every day. 'Betrayal', 'Life Will Never Be The Same Again', and 'Bitterkeit' are the highlights: the latter, effectively a slice of synthpop/dance on CD, is here given a more robust musical treatment than the recorded version. It almost becomes a post-punkish rock song, and hints at where L'Ame Immortelle could go if they ever decided to leave the 'bunch-of-blokes-doing-industrial-electronics' thing behind. And for all Sonja's vocal talents and eye-catching stage presence, there were times, during this set, when I wished they would do just that.
see all the photos from this concert here
L'Ame Immortelle: http://www.lameimmortelle.com
Revolution By Night: http://www.revolutionbynight.com
The Beautiful Deadly Children: http://www.beautifuldeadlychildren.fsnet.co.uk
Flag Promotions, promoters of the gig (in the end!) http://www.flagpromotions.com
The Underworld: http://www.theunderworldcamden.co.uk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Sheep On Drugs
Our Lady Of Miracles
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 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