The legion of the Cramped snakes down the side of the Astoria. It's the kind of crowd that would probably strike fear and despondency into the corporate heart of any music biz executive - pick the target-market demographic out of this lot, if you can. Old-skool rockabillies and grizzled first-wave punks. Glammed-up Varla girls, suited n' booted gangsters, crimped-up goths. Bikers stride by, ton-up boys in BSA patches, combs out, repairing the damage their helmets have done to their DAs. Two teenage girls, who look like they've been using photos of Siouxsie circa '77 as their style guide, giggle wide-eyed as they seek out the end of the queue. The costermonger cries of the touts - 'Buy or sell, any spare tickets, buy or sell!' - fill the air. Forty quid to you, squire, if you want to see the show. Two nights at the Astoria, and both sold out long ago. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cramps are back in town.
In their earlier days, The Cramps tended to be viewed as a cross between elder statesmen and wayward cousins of the British Psychobilly scene - a status the band themselves never particularly wanted or enjoyed, even though it got them an instant audience. I can remember many Cramps gigs over the years at which it seemed the support slots had been filled by whichever random bunch of quiff-merchants happened to be passing when the promoter stuck his head out of the office window - because, hey, if it's The Cramps, it's gotta be Psychobilly, right? I always imagined The Cramps themselves must have accepted these situations with a mixture of good grace and gritted teeth. Tonight, however, it seems that someone's had a sudden attack of imagination, because our support band turns out to be Queen Adreena - a freaked-out bunch of rockers who don't have much musically in common with The Cramps, but who share that same gung-ho, all-or-nothing approach to ye olde rock 'n' roll.
Queen Adreena aren't a new band. They've been around for three or four years now, during which time they've released two albums on two different labels, gone through assorted line-up changes, and generally kicked up enough of a racket in their own right to escape the 'ex-Daisy Chansaw' tag. Yep, two of the band, vocalist Katie Jane Garside and guitarist Crispin Gray, are former members of that ramshackle-but-cool 90s punk outfit, and while Queen Adreena is a very different beast, the Daisy Chainsaw connection is nevertheless worth a mention, just to establish our coordinates.
On stage tonight, Katie Jane wears a flimsy white dress and her trademark I-don't-quite-know-where-I-am expression, while the boys in the band keep their heads down and pummel at their instruments. The basslines grind and growl, the guitar crunches and howls. And Katie Jane sets up her inimitable caterwaul in that air-raid siren wail of a voice, a keening threnody which wraps itself around the hammering music like brambles round iron railings. It's a captivating noise, although I do catch myself thinking, after a few songs have gone by, 'OK - what *else* do you do?'. It has to be said that the band never really ring the changes - they set up their sound, and whump and holler it out on song after song. Once you've got your head round the *sound*, the uncomfortable fact is that none of the *songs* are particularly memorable. I find myself longing for something as simple as a singalong chorus, but Queen Adreena don't deal in such poptastic stuff. You can lose yourself in the surge and churn of the music as the band's set unfolds, but you won't walk out of the venue afterwards whistling any of Queen Adreena's tunes. Perhaps significantly, the nearest thing the band have had to a hit single thus far is a cover of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' - a song which has all the memorable hooks that Queen Adreena's own music definitely doesn't have. And they don't play it tonight!
But, in terms of sheer spectacle, Queen Adreena's live show works. Katie Jane clambers and spraws over an old garden chair, like some Berlin cabaret singer gone slightly mad. She flops and contorts herself like an overwound clockwork doll, but I suspect she's totally in control throughout. At one point, she pulls her dress down to reveal her breast (the bloke behind me takes it upon himself to shout, 'Show us yer fanny!' at this point), and although she's wearing a glazed expression, as if she's away with a very strange bunch of fairies, in reality I bet she knows *exactly* what she's doing. I've seen that tit-out pose before, in Queen Adreena publicity photos: it might *look* like Katie Jane is losing grip on reality, but I suspect she's rehearsed this schtick so often she knows exactly how far down she has to pull her dress to reveal the correct amount of boob. In short, Queen Adreena's show is probably about 20% genuine rock 'n' roll mayhem, and 80% theatre. A pretty good ratio for a cool and arresting show, but I think the band really need to write a few killer tunes before they'll reach their full potential.
The Cramps, of course, effortlessly combine 100% theatre with 100% rock 'n' roll mayhem, and *every* tune is a killer. That's why, over 20 years since the band first formed, they can effortlessly sell out two nights at a major London theatre venue with no media or industry support. Like many other bands, The Cramps have discovered that the music business is a fickle friend - but what the hell. Who needs the music industry when you've got your own label, a gung-ho attitude, and an enthusiastic international fanbase?
And then, suddenly, they're on stage. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy look as lean and cool as ever. You could almost believe that they've just driven up in a '59 Cadillac instead of just strolling out from the cruddy old dressing rooms of the Astoria. Ivy has her trademark deadpan expression, that very fine Gretsch semi-acoustic, and a fetching pair of Nice Boots. Lux looks like your slightly manic weird uncle who turns up every Christmas with inappropriate presents. And, of course, there are The Other Two, the latest in the ever-shifting roster of Cramps sidemen. Please welcome, on bass, Chopper Franklin, sporting a gleaming black quiff, so solid it looks like it's hewn from jet, and on drums, Harry Drumdini, a skinny rock urchin sporting tattoos and a necklace of bones. They launch headlong into a crazed, rumbustious set of unruly rock 'n' roll. None of that namby-pamby 'pacing' stuff here - they just hit maximum speed from a standing start. Hey, this is The Cramps. You get the full-on wrangle-gangle right from the get-go. And personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.
We get selected highlights from the back catalogue, walloped out with a fired-up glee that's almost tangible, interspersed with new stuff from the latest album. 'TV set', 'Drug Train', 'Human Fly', 'Wrong Way Ticket', 'Papa Satan Sang Louie' - all delivered in Lux's resonant rock 'n' roll holler. He may not be the world's greatest singer in staid technical terms, but he's a genuinely expressive rock vocalist, able to go from a howl to a croon at the drop of a chord - and this while attempting to swallow the microphone, or wrenching the mic stand into a kind of steel origami. And, I ask you, what other vocalist could deliver a line like 'Oowee baby, whatcha do to me' with such lascivious aplomb?
Lux makes a point of namechecking the original artists whenever the band throws in one of their covers of obscure vintage rock songs - but, ironically, stumbles over the title of the new Cramps album, referring to it as 'Dopes of Fiend Island' and then, 'Our new album, whatever the fuck that's called!' But don't be fooled by his apparent out-of-it-ness, or indeed by the barely controlled rush and swagger of the band as a whole. The Cramps always know *exactly* what they're doing. Their out-of-control moments, the stunts, the tricks, those little vignettes of craziness with which their show is liberally sprinkled, are, I suspect, rehearsed to the hilt. This is where the theatrical element of the band comes in - The Cramps aren't just a bunch of rockers, they're vaudeville board-stompers of the old school. There's one amusing give-away moment, where Lux, having clowned and posed with a bottle of wine (clearly placed on stage as a prop rather than a source of refreshment), momentarily misplaces it. For one moment, he's thrown, nonplussed: without his prop, he can't move on to the next stunt. He yells across at Ivy, 'Where's the WINE?' He's off-mic, but his shout can be heard above the racket of the band. Ivy walks over, still playing, and hands him the bottle, whereupon Lux smashes it dramatically across his mic stand. Wine splatters everywhere, including all over Ivy, who, having just crossed the stage to Lux, is closer to the action than she'd otherwise be. She drops her deadpan expression and for one brief instant looks thunderously annoyed - then recovers herself, and the band plays on. And I think to myself, aha. The wine-splattering incident clearly wasn't in the script!
In true Cramps fashion, the show speeds up and hurtles to its climax like a hot-rod heading for Dead Man's Curve. The audience, which has been in a transport of boisterous delight throughout, knows there'll be a grand finale, a final flourish of gonzoid theatrics - because this is The Cramps, dammit. *This* band doesn't just say, 'Thanks, g'night!' and walk off the stage. There's always a big finish. And so it proves: the band cranks up a rolling, thunderous version of 'Surfin' Bird', drawing out the riff, allowing Lux to improvise and scat around the lyric. He teases the audience, hesitating longer and longer and longer before finally jerking out the 'Papa Oom Mow Mow!' refrain, as if the words have just leapt out of his gut like an alien - and then he's off climbing the speaker stacks, diving down into the security pit, using the stage like an adventure playground. He rips up his PVC trousers - it just wouldn't be a Cramps show if Lux didn't get his packet out - and, as a last great trump-the-audience gesture, he rips off Ivy's mass of orange hair - prompting gasps from those members of the audience who haven't realised she's wearing a wig - and puts it on his own head, cavorting like a loon at the back of the stage as the 'Surfin' Bird' riff churns to its conclusion. Harry Drumdini collapses over his kit, sending drums rolling. Ivy, her real hair springing everywhere, calmly walks to the exit. Chopper Franklin strides across, saluting the audience. And Lux, having once again attained rock 'n' roll nirvana, staggers into the backstage darkness like a bedraggled shaman whose task is complete.
The audience is exhilarated, sated, soaked in sweat. We've been taken for a crazy ride on that big black witchcraft rock, and then dumped back into reality having glimpsed another, wilder, world. Ladies and Gentlemen, let's hear it for The Cramps. Madcap vaudeville. A roaring, ribald, rambunctious rhythm 'n' riff machine. Sex, guitars, and mangled mic stands. The best rock 'n' roll band in the world.
see all the photos from this concert here
The Cramps don't have an
official website, but these fan sites contain the essential stuff:
Queen Adreena's official site: http://www.queenadreena.com
One of many Queen Adreena fan sites: http://www.suckmykiss.org/adreena
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Sunday October 5 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Somewhere between a gig and a festival, this five-band event is intended to showcase some of the acts on the UK electronic label, Cryonica Music.That fuzzy Sunday afternoon feeling seems to be hanging heavily over Camden today, which means that the venue is slow to fill - the audience drifts in, little by little, some clutching purchases from Camden's myriad yoof-culture shops, others heading straight for the bar to hand over the beer tokens. I don't envy Mono Chrome, who are opening the show: somehow they've got to grab everyone's attention and pull the drifters and the barflies to the front. A bit of a harsh introduction to the UK gig circuit, perhaps, for this US band - but as the newest act on the bill Mono Chrome are in the tough but inevitable position of having to work their way up from the bottom. Hey, that's showbiz.
And yet, Mono Chrome aren't entirely an unknown quantity. Clint Sand, keyboard-jockey and all-round electronics-controller, is also 50% of cut.rate.box, while vocalist Victoria Lloyd is perhaps better known as a member of Claire Voyant. The opposites-attract combination of an insistent, danceable, electro-beat and a volitant female voice is, of course, highly effective, especially in an area of music where a harsh rant is often the best we can expect in the vocals department. Mono Chrome have it down to a fine art - the music drives along, a non-stop electroswirl, over which Victoria builds a tower of insistent, expressive vocals. And it works - the drifters and the barflies do indeed flock to the front and pay attention. It's smoothly impressive stuff.
Nevertheless, I'm not entirely convinced that the band we see before us is the *real* Mono Chrome. Their equipment is very obviously borrowed from the other bands (there's nary a US-spec power socket on stage, which is a bit of a give-away) and Mono Chrome even seem to have borrowed a couple of band-members, too. Filling in some stage space around Clint and Victoria are two random keyboard-mimers, one of whom, if I'm not mistaken, is on loan from Seize. Neither of them appear to be playing a note of genuine music; they're clearly only there for decoration. Indeed, Clint himself barely touches his keyboard throughout the set, preferring instead to pour himself an endless succession of plastic cups of Jack Daniels and Coke. At times, he stands behind his keyboard, swaying gently, eyes screwed shut, as if the music has transported him to a higher astral plane. Or maybe he's just rat-arsed. I'm willing to bet Mono Chrome are simply giving us a karaoke show tonight - everything's on DAT aside from Victoria's vocals, which means she has to carry the entire performance while everyone else takes it easy. She does this with great aplomb, but I confess I'm a little annoyed that the band haven't troubled to create a more convincing on-stage identity. It's not that I have any particular downer on the use of backing tracks on stage - if that's the only way to reproduce a certain studio-created sound, then by all means roll the tape. But I draw the line at pointlessly packing the stage with unconvincing mime-artists, especially if they're not even genuine members of the band!
Which brings us neatly to Void Construct. Regular readers of the StarVox CD review section will know that I'm hardly a devotee of this band, holding them to be the absolute nadir of that grimly platitudinous electro-industrial-plus-distorted-shouting sub-genre which, inexplicably, seems to have so many adherents these days. On stage, vocalist Scott Walker throws a succession of virtual martial arts shapes, looming out at the audience, fixing us with an assertive stare as he prowls about with the mic. Well, I'm no fan of the music, but it's good to see he's putting a bit of energy into the performance - although I'm a little baffled as to why he's wearing an old sock on his head. It's also good to hear the vocals a little more clearly than on the band's recorded works. Void Construct's trademark distortion-over-everything effect has been backed off to the point where Scott's voice is almost natural. Not that he does anything as dangerously radical as *singing*, you understand - the vocals are still an aggressive chant throughout. Still, at least the absence of the ubiquitous distort-o-effect means a little bit of character can come through.
But I divert my attention to Vicky Halliday, behind the equipment-rack, because there's something I want to check out here. On Void Construct's latest album, 'Sensory Division', she's credited with 'live programming'. Now, the thought of watching a band getting into the virtual nuts and bolts of their software and actually creating new programs live on stage intrigues me. This, surely, would be the direct antithesis of the stand-behind-the-DAT-machine-and-try-to-look-busy approach of most bands in this genre. Unfortunately, I think I was sold a pup. Because Vicky doesn't do any 'live programming'. In fact, as far as I can see, she, erm, just stands behind the DAT, and occasionally, when she remembers, presses a key or two on the keyboard. It's all rather unconvincing, I'm afraid, and the fact that the band are obviously sensitive enough about this aspect of their live incarnation to try and explain it away with an entirely spurious credit on their CD isn't actually much use when the truth is revealed on stage. Ho hum. Well, if *that* is all Void Construct do, I'm off to the bar.
However, I don't stay at the bar too long, because Swarf are on next. Swarf are on a roll at the moment: they've just come off a full-scale UK tour supporting John Foxx, during which they got to play to 'non-scene' audiences and scared up some very complimentary reviews in the mainstream press. As a result, Swarf probably have the highest profile of any band on this bill - certainly, they're the only band of tonight's five to have put their heads even slightly above the underground goth/industrial/whatever scene parapet. The boys in the band squint at their equipment (stop sniggering at the back, you know what I mean) while Liz supplies the glamour and the voice. It's a bit of a shaky start: the band seem a little nervous, as if anticipating some ghastly technical balls-up (then again, Chris always looks as if he's expecting his laptop to explode at any moment), but as the set unfolds and nothing untoward occurs, they hit their stride and it all starts to go seamlessly right.
There's new material in the set; I can give you no song titles, but I can report the presence of some odd, off-kilter rhythmic ideas, underpinning that effortless pop sensibility which Swarf always manage to conjure up. For the rest, it's Swarf's greatest hits, served up with the band's customary good humour. Liz cavorts about the stage, even playing air guitar at one point, and is only momentarily thrown when someone throws a pair of knickers on stage. In short, it's a top performance by a band who are looking increasingly like they've outgrown the confines of the genre from which they originally emerged. The future for Swarf looks like it could be rather interesting...
I see on the Cryo-Fest flyer that Inertia are billed as 'The UK's premier EBM outfit' - which, perhaps, isn't such a great selling point as it might first appear. Sure, in the early years of the genre, Electronic Body Music was a cool and creative offshoot of the industrial scene, and in the 80s such bands as DAF and Nitzer Ebb re-wrote the dancefloor rule book under the banner of EBM. Nowadays, however, mention EBM to most people and they'll immediately think of the banal party-party bollocks of the likes of VNV Nation, encouraging audiences of merrily bouncing cybergoths to wave their glowsticks in the air. Not, in my view, Inertia's natural territory at all. They're much more firmly rooted in the manic, abrasive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-isms of Skinny Puppy: *that* sort of area. And, on stage tonight, the band turns in exactly the kind of rip-roaring set that old-skool industrio-heads would surely dig. Inertia are a colourful explosion of energy and noise, but - crucial point coming up - their songs really *are* songs. Even at their most rampaging - 'In The Psychiatrist's Chair', 'No Defect' - there are still verses and choruses and all that good old songwriting stuff at work in the mix.
Alexys comes out from behind the drum kit to take a couple of vocals (and to bust a few moves which look alarmingly like they're going to turn into a full-on belly-dance at any moment), and the audience reacts with equal quantities of cheering, shouted encouragement, and good-natured heckling. It's a vintage performance, and, overall, a demonstration of just how good a live act Inertia are. And not a glowstick in sight!
Despite their position on the bill, it would probably be inaccurate to describe Fiction 8 as tonight's headline band. They're so much of an unknown quantity in the UK that there's no way they'd qualify for the top spot under normal circumstances. As a matter of fact, it's not easy to find out about Fiction 8 even if you try - the band seem to have abandoned large chunks of their website some years ago (check their info section: '...as the year 2000 draws to a close' - uh, what?). So, until I saw them walk out onto the stage before my very eyes, I wasn't entirely convinced they were still a going concern. However, I am happy to report that Fiction 8 are alive, well, and actually rather good. They're an incongruous bunch at this gig, given that their line-up includes guitar, bass, and electric violin: much more of an alternative rock band who just happen to include pre-programmed beats and synth-stuff in their sound, rather than any kind of 'industrial' outfit. But their strength is in their songs: very neatly-structured excursions into classic-pop-with-a-twist territory, both male and female vocals, and you're never more than a few bars away from a rousing chorus.
Main man and guitarist Michael Smith keeps on apologising for the late arrival of the band's new album, although, for most of tonight's audience, even Fiction 8's old stuff is unfamiliar enough to count as new. But they're an amiable bunch, apparently happy just to be on a UK stage, playing their music. It's a shame, then, that I have to duck out before the end of their set: the gig is over-running, and, what with this being a Sunday night, it's necessary to make a dash for the absurdly early last train home. I'm not the only one, it seems, to beat a hasty exit - the crowd has thinned out alarmingly over the last half-hour of the show, and I feel rather sorry for Fiction 8, condemned by brutal logistics to bring their set to a rousing conclusion when there is hardly enough of a crowd left to rouse.
But, for all that, it was a good gig. Sure, there were certain elements of the show which served to point up the problems and limitations of trying to present electronic music in a live setting, and I wish somebody would come up with a better idea than the ubiquitous solution of padding everything out with crashingly obvious miming non-musicians. But when all's said and done, the show is the thing, and there were some good ones tonight.
see all the photos from this concert here
Fiction 8: http://www.fiction8.com
Void Construct: http://www.voidconstruct.com
Mono Chrome: http://www.mono-chrome.net
The Cryonica Music label: http://www.cryonica.com
Virus, the Cryonica offshoot-project which organised the gig: http://www.virus-events.co.uk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
The Last Days Of Jesus
Futurum Music Bar, Prague, Czech Republic
Tuesday November 25, 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
We shall begin with a pertinent proverb. If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.
The tour of which this gig forms part is the third time Cinema Strange have taken a swing around Europe - and the third time they haven't included a show in the one country which some might regard as their spiritual home: the UK. Now, as I've remarked elsewhere, it's quite usual these days for bands to blip over our funny little island when they're putting together their Euro-tour itinaries. The UK scene these days is relatively small, and our live music circuit is run on a wing and a prayer by a rag-bag assortment of amateur enthusiasts (I know this because I was one myself, until sanity prevailed). The aimiable but somewhat shaky house of cards that is the UK scene stands in stark contrast to the seamless professionalism, larger audiences, and distinctly more corpulent pay packets which the Continental circuit can offer. It's therefore no surprise that the UK frequently isn't even considered when bands draw up their tour schedules.
Yet, for all that, I know from my own experiences that it *is* possible to put on good live shows in the UK for touring bands. Indeed, I like to think I had a few successes in this area myself over the years. If truth be told, the biggest problem I encountered was getting the bands to take an interest in the first place. So many of them seemed to greet the notion of playing a UK show with, at best, reluctance, or, at worst, outright hostility. And this is where we come to Cinema Strange: a band which, on the face of it, might be thought to have some sort of special affinity with the UK. Our early-80s post-punk scene clearly informs their aesthetic - but they've never taken it upon themselves to return to the source. That's actually quite dispiriting. Cinema Strange have a European booking agent who has arranged UK gigs for US artists in the past, and thus has all the contacts: if the band *wanted* to play in the UK, surely they could simply tell their agent to make it so? Alas, it seems they'd really rather not.
There, in a rather cracked nutshell, you have the reason Uncle Nemesis is stationed up by the stage at the Futurum Music Bar in Prague, assorted junk cameras to hand, ready to witness Cinema Strange do their thing. Because if they aren't going to come my way, I'll just have to put myself in their way. And if that means spending a few days in Prague to catch the Cinema Strange tour when it pulls through - well, *that* is certainly not a problem.
Before Cinema Strange come out and hurl their art at us, we have some support bands. The first of these, Deathcamp Project, were added to tonight's bill at a late stage - which is why they aren't mentioned on the ticket or most versions of the flyer. While I applaud the band for successfully blagging a gig so far from their home territory of Poland, I have to say that the bill is not significantly enhanced by their presence. It's not that Deathcamp Project are a *bad* band, you understand - it's just that they fall into that dreaded no-man's land of faint praise, the land of being Good At What they Do, If You Like That Sort Of Thing.
Deathcamp Project are, in short, an entirely conventional two-men-and-backing-track goth outfit. Their music is a sepulchral but essentially familiar take on that ol' Gothic Rock rumble-grumble. Drum machinery clatters along like a bicycle on cobblestones, the guitars are as dense as morning fog on the Vltava, and the standard-issue deep, dark, vocals ooze over the top like engine oil. So far, so good, but it has to be said that this kind of stuff is hardly original these days. While Deathcamp Project are perfectly competent at what they do, they don't really bring any particular spark of individuality to their chosen sub-genre. This is why, although I've never seen the band before, they seem so weirdly familiar. We used to have many, many bands of this type on the UK scene during the 90s - indeed, there are still a few around even now - competently churning out their own low-budget take on that Sisters/Nephilim sound, winning a small audience in the process, but never really pushing further forward. Deathcamp Project's music is, frankly, much of a muchness with the countless other bands I've heard do this sort of thing. The one spark of interest in the set is a cover of Christian Death's 'Spiritual Cramp' - which is an opportunity missed, given that the band simply rattle through the song in their usual, rather arid, Sisters-Of-The-Nephilim style. The audience pays them polite attention, but in truth they don't particularly capture any hearts. At the end of their set the applause is courteous, but tellingly brief.
The Last Days Of Jesus, on the other hand, obviously have the hearts of a good chunk of the audience already in their pockets. Or, at any rate, judging by the sudden cluster of keen punters who jostle their way to the front as their stage-time draws near, they have an enthusiastic fanbase in Prague. Maybe that's because Prague is close enough to the band's home city of Bratislava in Slovakia for tonight's show to almost count as a home-town gig, or maybe it's because The Last Days Of Jesus are such an entertaining bunch of loonies it's easy to like them. Psycho Mary 'O', the band's frontman, is decked out like a schoolboy on the last day of term, taking liberties with the uniform but getting away with it because the holidays start tomorrow. He's all bug eyes and odd shapes, one minute standing sternly at the microphone as if delivering a lecture on life, the next scrabbling around on the floor as if he's lost a contact lens. He and the writhing, contorting guitarist to his right provide the visual focus of the band, with the keyboard player tucked away in the shadows and the drummer obscured by his kit. The music is nervy, taut, wired: the band's performance philosophy seems to be to wind themselves up like a model aircraft powered by an elastic band - and then, when showtime rolls around, they let themselves go and zip off in all directions. But for all the nervy scratchiness of the music, there's also a solid foundation of good old rock 'n' roll power in there, too - the bass sound hammers off the ceiling, the drums wallop good and hard, the guitar is a mashed-up sweep of noise. If it's a mosh you want, The Last Days Of Jesus can oblige with an entirely suitable soundtrack. 'Army Of God' in particular is a belligerent stomp, the vocals a sardonic sneer. God, poor chap, gets a rough ride from The Last Days Of Jesus. This is definitely a band which bunked off Sunday School.
Cinema Strange are not megastars in the Czech Republic. The Futurum Music Bar isn't exactly the local Enormodome, and tonight's gig isn't even sold out. But what Cinema Strange's Prague fans might lack in sheer numbers, they make up in scary frothing-at-the-mouth enthusiasm - and all the maddest and scariest fans are down the front. There's a rib-crushing press of bodies against the stage even before the band has stepped out from the backstage area, a physical display of devotion by the diehards which is all the more disconcerting when I glance over my shoulder and realise that all this forward pressure is being exerted by a relatively small bunch of people. Further back, the crowd thins out as the unbelievers and the unconvinced observe from a safe distance. Yet the devotees at the front are pushing forward with such intensity that when Cinema Strange eventually emerge onto the stage it's almost as if the fans want to overwhelm the band and suck them in to the seething, heaving crowd-monster.
But they don't, of course. Because here's an intriguing thing about Cinema Strange. This is a band which attracts wildly intense devotion from the fans, to the point where they push forward quite dangerously in an effort to be near their heroes - and yet, there's a certain point beyond which the fans instinctively don't go. It's as if the band have established a certain distance, an intangible aura of reserve which even the most obsessive fan realises can't be breached. Answer me this: how much, really, do we know about Cinema Strange? What really lies behind their concepts, their stories, their odd little vignettes? Behind the ever-changing costumes, the make-up, and the masks - do we even know what they really look like? The fans seethe and stretch and press and crush - but only so far, and no further. For all their intense devotion, they'll only ever know so much, and no more, about their heroes. The Cinema Strange enigma remains intact, and, as if by an unspoken pact between the band and the fans, nobody tries to crack it open.
The band duck and dive through their performance, bobbing and weaving all over the stage as if dodging mischievous spirits. This time, they're variously costumed as a mummer, a maid, and a mad scientist. They look like a cross between Grand Guignol routine and the opening line of a shaggy dog story. (The drummer, hidden by his hardware, remains the ultimate enigma, inasmuch as he's hardly visible. Such, alas, is the fate of drummers). The music is like a coil spring freed from its mountings, and then suddenly clamped back down just as all its pent-up impetus is about to release. There's a sense of jangling molecules, let go and then grabbed again, tension released and then ratcheted down, forces barely under control. It's an oddly compelling spectacle: the band struggling to contain this bizarre creative energy which occasionally sounds like it might turn into good old rock 'n' roll, but never quite does. Meanwhile, the fan-crush at the front sways dangerously and sings the lyrics back to the band like a chorus of valkeries after a night in the pub. 'Lindsay's Trachea', with its declaimed-from-the-rooftops style, lends itself particularly well to the impromptu choral arrangement, but if Cinema Strange have a hit on their hands I'd say it would have to be, by popular acclaim, 'Catacomb Kittens'. This cautionary tale, part Charles Dickens, part Edward Gorey, tumbling along on tingling guitar and a gymnastic drum pattern, almost makes the fans vapourise with excitement. In their heads, I bet they're all catacomb kittens themselves.
There's a sudden moment of disconnection as a grizzled old geezer in a UK Subs hoodie strolls on stage and calmly looses off a few photos of the band in full flight. For one fleeting moment, Michael Ribiat, on guitar, wears a 'What the fuck?' expression, but in true showbiz style the band don't break stride. All the same, it's almost shocking to see some random punter calmly walk through Cinema Strange's force-field of reserve like it wasn't even there. But he's the only one - he doesn't trigger a stage invasion, although as there appears to be piss-all security there'd be nothing to stop the crowd rushing the stage. And in any case, what, I wonder, will his photos show? Will he capture the band's soul, just because he's invaded their space? I suspect not. Cinema Strange cannot be penetrated that easily. But I will say this: if Mr UK Subs hoodie had tried a stunt like that at a Nemesis gig, he would have been well and truly bounced.
The Cinema Strange art-swirl racks itself up to a conclusion. The guitar wrenches and keens, the bass pings and pops in the mix. One slightly odd element of Cinema Strange's music - and a feature which has much to do with the band's high-tension sound - is that Daniel Ribiat, on bass, keeps well away from the thick strings throughout. This creates a taut, teetering-on-a-tightrope feel around which the other instruments swoop and pirouette. A trademark trick and a trademark sound, if you will. But now we're approaching the end of the set. It's time for Herr Doktor Lanthier to reach his peroration and conclude his demonstration. His glamourous assistants flounce out; the crowd yells and screams, but it's over.
Well. How about that, then. Another gleeful collision of art and rock, another surrealist sketch, another excursion into the bizarrely-painted playground of Cinema Strange. This, in case I haven't yet laboured the point enough, is a band which doesn't play anything as blandly ordinary as a *gig*. When you see Cinema Strange, you see a bespoke performance that's part Struwwelpeter and part punk rock. Tomorrow night, they'll be in Heidelberg, for all I know costumed as telephone sanitizers or tree surgeons. After that, they'll be in Berlin, quite possibly in the guise of a barber shop quartet. And I wish I could follow them, just to see what they get up to next.
Even more than that, I wish Cinema Strange would come to the UK. It isn't going to happen this time round, but...there's always 2004. It would be nice to think that the band, or at any rate their earthly representatives, might use the next few months to extend a few feelers in the direction of the UK, check out what might be possible and who might be interested, perhaps fire off a few promo-packs in certain carefully-selected directions. It occurs to me that Jo Hampshire will be pencilling in likely contenders for the Whitby Gothic Weekends of 2004 before too long, if she hasn't done so already: now there's a door into which Cinema Strange might usefully shove their feet.
Well, there's a possible starting point, gentlemen, if you're interested. But...are you interested?
see all the photos from this concert here
Cinema Strange: http://www.nightmarezone.de/cinemastrange
The Last Days Of Jesus: http://www.lastdays.host.sk
Deathcamp Project: http://mroki.terra.pl/deathcamp
The Futurum Music Bar:
The Ghost Cafe events guide for Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic and Slovakia: http://sweb.cz/ghostCafe/main.html
The Batcave webzine of Slovakia: http://www.batcave.sk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Drop Dead Festival - NEW
The Funeral Crashers
The Memphis Morticians
The Cult of the Psychic Fetus
CBGBs - New York
August 30th, 2002
~review by Basim
(photos by Greg Fasolino)
NYDecay, wow... where do I start? It started as a regular 21+ haunt that jaded boys like yours truly frequented to get hit on by inebriated relics of the 80s Punk scene. Frequent cocaine misuse gave their eyes that "oh so desirable" sunken-in look, and their acid casualty senility made them surprisingly low maintenance. Having gotten into the scene when straight edge was the thing to be, these zonked-out wash-ups proved to be incredibly titillating. Almost all of them were an ex-wife of someone in Boston, so knowing I was smiting a complete stranger with my flirting gave it an extra thrill. Now that I'm back in Boston, I'm not sure any of this was a good idea, as I can't recount any of my NYDecay antics without getting a bloody lip! I ran into many impressive folks at NYDecay, like Polina, the frighteningly frantic though always burlesque promoter. Then there was Greg Fasolino, whose superman's chin alone warrants him a cape... and finally one very famous Cocaine addicted DJ. What is it with cocaine abuse and NYC? It seems Gotham Citi takes to Cocaine like Golum takes to the ring ("my precious... my precious"). No wonder I never succeeded in New York, I think I'll stick to the Irish drunks in Boston - it's easier to stand out when everyone else is struggling with twelve steps.
If I could change anything about the original NYDecay, It would be the over powering apathy from the entire ...New York ...rock "scene". While the bands were always great, it's hard getting people to mobilize about music in NYC. You see, this was the first experience I had with club organizing. I had a big mouth for a nineteen-year-old, and I thought the best way to get into a 21+ club was schmoozing to the organizer about being a good promoter. I never thought I'd find myself on the streets of the East Village, promoting shows up until 5 minutes of stage time in subzero temperatures. Dressing in drag, promoting an event hosted by a club allegedly connected to the Korean Mafia is not something I'd recommend. Be sure to offer this insight to your NY bound friends, it will save them a lot of trouble.
But that was then, and this is now. CBGBs is a bigger venue, and it has toilets that scream "gutter punk." Despite what past connections the Pyramid had to the early Gothic scene, this joint with its 'bad trash' atmosphere seems to fit better. I had consumed four Red bulls on my way up from Boston, and as soon as I walked through the doorway I felt a surge of manic chuckling take reign of my better judgement. Old acquaintances stood there as hapless bystanders, sifting through guest lists and riders. There for the pouncing, I shoved our resident Johnny the Slut lookalike into the stained, peeling walls for bouts of "Possum Sex" as if no time had transpired since I last saw him. Within the first faux thrusts I felt a tap on the shoulder, and halted humping Alex's leg long enough to turn and view a waking picture of decrepit undead beauty. Ai yai yai!! With her spider web bra, fishnets and perfect eye shadow Polina looked like an over-sexed Ghoul e' mon. She turned her face and gestured towards her cheek, as if inviting me to kiss it. As I leaned in to give her a peck she shoved me against the wall and ripped "Don't smear my make up, Basim!" I think my girlfriend found it very amusing...
It's fucking fantastic that this event was 16+, not because it brings the pedophiles out of the woodwork, but because of the lively crowds we had. Though the priesthood would have had a field day with all of the underage bois and grrls, I think their power in numbers made them a force to be reckoned with. I met a 16 year old lady (in braces no less!) who spent the whole Cinema Strange set molesting Daniel Ribiat's leg. I doubt he could do much about it, and incidents like this happened throughout the night. The bassist of the Brides had to literally keep his pants from being yanked off him by some chick in the front. The bar was packed, with as many as five drunks and slosh-ettes huddled around each stool, and there was really no end to the cool hairstyles I saw that night. One guy had a mohawk that looked damn near synthetic, where each strip of hair looked like the dangling bulb from illuminous deep-water fish.
The first band that caught my eye was NYC's The Funeral Crashers. Right off the bat, they get rock points for their bassist, who must have used a compass and filled pages of graph paper to carve his mohawk into a perfect semi-circle. I fancy you could roll him on it! Their singer was a lumbering funeral procession leader, whose gender I have yet to discern. This is a good thing, especially when accompanied by a deep voice! I s'pose that makes it a she, then? Well, this she had a powerful set of pipes, as she howled apocalyptic ramblings and swaggered about the stage in an entrancing manner. She'd pivot and contort in an arrestingly erratic fashion, and whenever a front woman like this is coupled with grinding bass and tribal drums the effect is always disassociating. I felt connected to their performance and detached from the venue they were playing at. I never had the opportunity to catch myself standing there, drooling and bobbing along to the Post Punk madness... I was suspended in fine mist by that point. This band makes you feel like a drunken ghost. It's as if you're hanging from the ceiling while a smooth cider warmth is being kindled in your chest. It's a shame that this was their last ever gig... At some point Mark Splatter wandered up stage till he was just a few people away from me. Namaste: The Death Rock in me bows down to the Death Rock in you.
Next up in the memorable performances category is the Memphis Morticians. With the exception of Cinema Strange, these guys probably had the best command of their instruments over all the other bands that night. Their upright bassist had impeccable form with his rockabilly slap style, and the guitarist was jagged, melodic and smooth in all the right places. Way back, the drummer kept everyone tethered to a passionately steady beat, and the singer was going CRRAAAZZZY!! Omifuck was this guy a ball of exploding rockabilly shrapnel! Throughout his set-long writhing-spree he stared us down and barked like a Southern street preacher. He was so -beyond- conviction when he lunged to warble his visions at the crowd; his swells of passion bordered on martyrdom. At one point his Mic-stand broke, so he removed the necessary portion and surged into the crowd with it. He reminded me that Death Metal and Psychobilly are essentially different means to the same end. A good Extreme vocalist knows how to vary it up between demonic growls and slaughter house shrieks the same way a solid psychobilly needs to understand when to do hair-raising caterwauls, and unhinged hollers! This wasn't just by the numbers psychobilly either. The unstable brew of lead breaks, rhythm-section gallop and impassioned vocals could only be classified as one thing: IronMaidenibilly. They need their own Eddy, I swear he'd take well to a pompadour!
Like all good things, their set list had to end, and the fetching undead flapper girls that were dancin' around me giggled their way back to the bar. Damn. Then Mark Splatter took to stage, and was greeted by applause from new fans and old friends he left behind. Mark introduced himself, what he was about and talked about his love for death rock.
I re-entered the venue and was swept to the front by a wave of eager fans. I floated on the crest of the crowd, and found myself pressed against the stage when the highlight of the night was set ablaze: The Brides took the stage! I saw them rock out in Boston some Months prior, and this - being America's biggest Death Rock festival - is the gig that matters most. It didn't take the fear of losing consciousness when pinned to the stage by legion of Bride fans chanting "Hi! Hi! Hi!" to prove that they were in top form. Not to sound like a Honda commercial, but their presence was all about precision and performance. The guitars were scathing, the bass was driving and the drums were dynamic. From marching beats to tom fills, D.W was as tight as he was full of taste (or is that tasteful?). The Brides have a virtual mascot in Gregjaw, their bassist, whose animated expressions and adorable frame suggest he could have been just as easily projected on stage via projector and any number of Saturday morning Halloween specials! Julia Ghoulia kept the horror on overdrive throughout their set of inventive, 50s inspired synth harmonies. It's difficult to break apart a powerful and moving performance, but I'm trying my hardest. I know - I'll lay out the facts: From the urgency in Corey Gorey's vocals to the various clever twists in their songwriting, it is clear that The Brides are among the most interesting bands to come out of the East Coast in years.
The next band, New Jersey's Secret Cervix, will go down the annals of Death Rock for having the coolest logo ever. A dead fetus stuck on a coat hanger? Shit! It's almost too amazing to comprehend. Actually, that was how the evening was developing by the time these abortions took stage with their intoxicating brew of Beavis and Butthead antics, 80s hip hop and disgustingly crusty punk rock. I think they opened up with "STD", which really showcases all of their identifying elements. It kick starts with a drum beat fit for the local New York B-boys to break over, while the double barrel male/female shouting push everything over the edge. A cute girl singing about losing her erection because of her girlfriend's syphilis sores makes for a very happy Basim. I feel like I should be spinning on my head and doing windmills, but I refrain... This band provides some much-needed comic relief between the multi layered and emotionally lit performance by The Brides. They're a fun band that cuts to the chase. Check out their lyrical prowess:
"Granola, Granola, you're irritating me!Let's not forget their touching opus about mixing up Toilet Paper and boil causing plant life in 'Poison Ivy':
Granola, Granola, you dirty hippie!
It's the 21st century the 60s are gone,
Jerry was wrong get a fucking JOB!!"
"AAAAHHHH!This is true Fecal-Driven Transcendentalist rock music. I was enlightened at least two times before they called Julia Ghoulia to come up front so they could dedicate their next song, "Fuck You! Fuck You! Fuck You! Your Girlfriend's Hot!" to her! It was grand. Beneath the potty humor were varied sonic landscapes where sometimes the guitars would use a warm, delay heavy tone that hearkened Bauhaus, and at other times they would distort into a rougher Gutter Punk strut. I expect great things from this band, and you should too. Check out their web site and buy their merchandise. They shirts have dead fetuses on them for crying out loud!
how could i be so careless,
scratch so hard my ass is hairless!
I got oozing sores somebody shoot me."
"Empire Strikes Back" was definitely my favorite Star Wars movie. The only issue I had with it was my finicky need to pair a band with each part of the original trilogy. The inclusion of Chewie and Biblical references gave the first one a very Manowar feel. The third one had Ewoks, and the tribal music they hammer out is alarmingly similar to what Das Ich or Wumpscutt have been releasing. I could never figure out a band for the second one. Of course, that's not a problem now because Emperor Palpatine has accessorized at your local MAC makeup dealer and taken to fronting a Gothabilly band! These guys share a birthplace with Allan Freed and it shows, as their songs have definite roots in early, riff-based rock n roll; It's driving, youthful, confrontational and full of heart. This Reverend was more "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" than the front man of The Memphis Morticians. He terrified you with his diction - the way he widened his eyes and threw his arms about was fittingly unsettling, and in a way he was very Lon Cheney. What surprised me most about him was the richness of his voice. In a genre saturated with forced, raspy ranting, his ease-throated bellow was a refreshing change. This is not to say that he wasn't intense - I was half expecting his eyes to roll back and see froth dribble down his chins! It was a treat to see them, and I'd be eager to see what they do when they can modify the stage to their liking.
Much in the same vein spiritually, Antiworld took stage. They compliment Cult of a Psychic Fetus perfectly; both were impeccably tight and riff driven. Like the reverend, Granny Fiendish was the focal point of the show, though she was madder. She bounced and pounced about the stage with various spooky props - my favorite being a toy owl with flashing red eyes - and threw Halloween treats at everyone. As good as they were, for a band that is so on top of their material I'd have liked to see more movement coming from the guitars and bass. There was some, but the racket they stormed up would suggest some frenzied stage action! Pogo! Writhe! Thrash! Same with the vocal melodies... With what I've seen and heard, Ms. Fiendish has the pipes to sing more commandingly. I’d put money on her ability to write a creative melody if she wailed less and focused on projecting. As of now, they're a well-respected Death Rock band that rests stylistically between Action Pact and 45Grave. They're incredibly solid, which is the source of my frustration: it's like they're letting their influences dictate their sound. A band as good as this is just inches from becoming timeless! I urge them to fuck with their fans a bit, and throw people some curveballs.
Speaking of curveballs, the next and final band Cinema Strange were musical indulgence personified. But that’s obvious, seeing that the prima donnas took a little more than half an hour to set up – luckily I’ve seen photos, so I’m prepared to expect nothing less than brilliance. And when Lucas finally emerged in a full wedding gown with a cow mask on his face, the Californians didn't disappoint! Everything was so lively compared to their sterile studio recordings that sound extremely remote in comparison. Daniel "the lunatic" Ribiat thrashed about the stage wildly; it was a wonder he kept the crux of the Cinema Strange sound - acrobatic bass lines - so locked in. It's dazzling to see a band that not only awes you theatrically, but keeps their technique and delivery impressive as well. Being a music geek, I felt it my duty to pick apart each song; was that 5/4? Is that a diatonic or chromatic chord change? Did they raise or flat the ninth? I don't think I've had so much to get geeked about since I saw Rush! Again, I must confess that I’d grown disenchanted with Cin's recorded material by the time of the show. It came across as non-threatening spooky cinematic music, and having immersed myself in Sex Gang Children since, the Batcave sound began to feel played out. In sharp contrast were the songs they rattled on that night in CBGBs… it was all *so* rock! The inclusion of a masterful drummer definitely helped propel their Gorey inspired yarns, as his command of the cymbals and toms added much needed color to a sound characterized by murky bass and dissonant guitar. That dissonant guitar was lot more active than I had thought before, which is hard to hear in their recordings. Mik’s approach was very 'watery', with some hair raising minor and diminished tensions nonchalantly thrown in. The bass work provided an interesting contrast as it incessantly ground and fluttered its way throughout their set.
It was the performance of the night of my year. Soon it was over, and we spilled into the street like the giddy fiends we were. Drop Dead was a complete success, so hats off to Polina, Alex, Splatter, Purp, SneakyBat and the whole slew of organizers, bands and promoters. All of their hard work culminated in the best festival I've ever seen. If this is how the first Drop Dead went over, I can only pray for the patience to wait a whole year for the second.
NY Decay/Drop Dead: http://www.nydecay.com/
No Funeral Crashers website, they’ve disbanded. Yea, I feel your pain…
The Memphis Morticians: no site for this *version of the MM
Cult of the Psychic Fetus
I must add, Antiworld helped my band load up, set up, and took the time to get to know us. They were co-operative, friendly, and deserve all the praise they get! I implore you to check them out upon my request!
These guys were also approachable and helpful when we played with them. Plus they’re about as close to Prog as Goth gets, so I urge you music majors to pick them up, and dissect their music!
Drop Dead - BOSTON
Malice In Leatherland
September 2, 2003
~review by Jenna Hex
(photo by Galgora)
Drop dead. Not you, the show. Malice in Leatherland, Antiworld, Cinema strange. I would have been a whole lot happier if the event could have taken place in my bedroom instead of a seedy bar in Allston, Ma. Oooh, that sounded naughtier than I meant it, I swear. I had to leave as the clock neared midnight after only three Cinema Strange songs to journey home. The sadness was overwhelming. I shall tattoo permenant tears of sorrow upon my brow. Not to mention that the Cinema Strange gents are so precious and adorable, I wanted to stuff them and name them and keep them as pets! Most of the nights deathrock dancing was inspired by Miss Polina NYdecay. which was great because with the audience so close to the stage, you want to be moving. Dancing and handclaps are appreciated. Thank you.
Malice in Leatherland were quite promising in their second performance. Lively, humorous and ever so fun. Viva la 1980ies! I picture them playing on all hallows eve in The Howling X: Werewolves Take Los Angeles. In Basim's vox hints of Fate Fatal, a little Danzig and almost a bit of Elvis were heard through my ears. Very well received by the audience. favorite song: Code Blue. And it's necromantic chorus, very cute. Basim's enthusiasm was infectious and refreshing. hand. staple. forward.
Antiworld were fabulously ghastly and great! oh my. They were all so adorable with their corpse-like appearence. I'd like some death with my rock, please. Miss grandma fiendish was simply charming with her lovely black & white funereal veil and pretty voice. She reminded me a bit of X's Exene Cervenka: spooky, sassy and sweet; captivating to watch. Terrific little props- from a flashing eyed owl to a head on a platter to a coffin with spooky treats thrown out into the audience. I have taken to wearing the halloween skull ring.
Cinema Strange. Sigh. I caught glimpses of through-out the evening. Lucas with his little top hat, pretty as a picture like a marionette doll. I couldn't stop staring. I saw Daniel in his precious party dress, feather boa and abstract make-up briefly on stage. The songs I witnessed were fantastic. Such atmosphere. Such Wagnerian drama with the band decked in amazingly creative costumes, playing the piano and static emanating from well-worn records coming from the stage. " 'ere the flowers unfold' was particularly intense. At least I believe they played that song. Perhaps I was just lucid dreaming, halluncinating, 'I will chew on your face'. Next time around, I hope to catch them for longer, they really were compelling. Midnight arrived. I listened to Cinema Strange the whole way home dreaming of pretty little fanged dolls while traveling the underground subway sights of dark cavernous tunnels conjured up visons of bemused rats, mimes in Parisian catacombs and Edwardian spectres. was it all a dream?
Malice In Leatherland
Faith And The Muse
Sunday October 12 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
'First UK Show For Five Years!' says the strapline on the ticket. Yes, really. It's been half a decade since we last saw Faith And The Muse in our funny little island. Half a decade, during which the band has released three albums, played almost 100 gigs and festivals all over the world, changed the on-stage line-up more times than I've had Linda McCartney's veggie pies for dinner, and has generally moved onwards and upwards. It's been a busy and successful five years for Faith And The Muse - but, in all that time, they haven't played in the UK. After their first (and, up to now, last) visit in 1998 they never came back. Now there's an irony. A band which came to include Olde English folk songs in their repertoire never actually played those songs in Olde England!
But then, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that F&TM eschewed any further UK shows after that 1998 visit. As I've remarked before in other contexts, we in the UK have become accustomed to being permanently at the bottom of the priority list when tour schedules are arranged. Our scene is small, and run on the thinnest of shoestrings by an ad-hoc bunch of (mostly) enthusiastic amateurs. Contrast this with the bigger audiences, greater professionalism, and - yes - larger sums of money on offer elsewhere on the international circuit, and it's no surprise that UK shows are seldom considered when bands draw up their touring plans.
It's not like nobody wanted Faith And The Muse to return to the UK. Quite the reverse. The band won many fans and made many friends during their '98 go-around, and they enjoyed some successful gigs. Their London show - promoted by some nerve-wracked idiot called Uncle Nemesis, as I recall - was a marvellous, celebratory affair, and the audience was only a spit away from a sell-out. Not bad going, when you consider the band was on a full-scale UK tour *and* playing the Whitby Gothic Weekend that year. Normally, these factors would result in a much reduced audience for a London gig, but Faith And The Muse effortlessly bucked that trend. As a fan, I was captivated. As a promoter, I was impressed. This lot can really do the business, I thought. Next time round maybe we'll be looking at a bigger venue. Next time, I can *really* push the boat out for this band.
Alas, as it turned out, there wasn't a next time. Faith And The Muse's subsequent outing to Europe - the 'Evidence Of Heaven' tour of 2000 - didn't include the UK. Perhaps naively, I'd assumed that the band, or their booking agent, would contact me at an early stage of the arrangements and invite me to pitch for a London date. Well, that didn't happen. The first I knew of the tour was when I glanced at the band's website - and was confronted with a list of tour dates from which the UK was pointedly excluded, an experience which put me in my place in no uncertain fashion. More in hope than expectation, I fired off a few emails to see if a London show could be added, but, after some frustratingly inconclusive to-ing and fro-ing between the band, the booking agent, and Nemesis Head Office, it became apparent that this one was heading straight into the 'It ain't gonna happen' file.
Later that year, when F&TM returned to Europe for some festival dates, I tried again to persuade them to slot in a London show while they were in the area, as 'twere. Everyone seemed keen in theory, but, to be blunt about it, trying to get all the practical stuff confirmed was like trying to nail scrambled eggs to the wall. In the end, another chance to see Faith And The Muse in the UK slipped through our fingers.
About a year after all this, I gracefully retired from the glittering world of showbiz - but I've still got some of the emails from those abortive negotiations. I keep them just in case I ever want to remind myself how pleasant it is not to have to jump through these logistical hoops any more; how much of a relief it is not to have to negotiate from the position of the outsider, the underdog, the promoter who represents a city where nobody *really* wants to play in the first place - not when much better deals are available elsewhere. Am I being unfair to Faith And The Muse here? Well, maybe - after all, they're hardly the only band to blip over the UK on their tours. But then again, the mocking evidence of my failure to bring the band back to London is right there on tonight's gig ticket: 'First UK Show For Five Years'. Dammit, that *hurts*. They said yes to Flag Promotions when they wouldn't say yes to Nemesis Promotions! Give me a break here. I'm only human. I'd have to be a saint not to feel a little miffed by this situation. I tried, I really tried, and I just couldn't make it happen. And then Frank of Flag Promotions gets 'em on a plate!
OK, enough of this. I'm supposed to be writing a *review* here, not giving you an extended dissertation on the loneliness of the long-distance promoter. Faith And The Muse are in town tonight, so let's cut the crap and go to the show. But at least now you'll understand that this is one gig that I attend with somewhat mixed feelings.
In true Flag Promotions 'pick the names out of a hat' style there are a motley bunch of support bands propping up tonight's bill. Misnomer, our opening band, are at first glance an incongruous choice, being an indie-ish bunch of popsters who run the gamut of styles from introspective, almost trip-hoppy stuff to Chumbawamba-style romps, interspersed with robust rockers featuring Sonic Youth-like guitar thrashing. It's almost as if Misnomer have deliberately decided to make it difficult to get a handle on what sort of band they are. Just when you think you've got them nailed, they go off on another tangent. There are six people on stage (including, on drums, Caroline from Seventh Harmonic), three of whom take lead vocals at different times. That, I think, contributes to the musical mish-mash. If every song had the common factor of the same principal voice, the band's style would instantly become more consistent. As it is, watching Misnomer go through their paces is a bit like watching three different bands having a joint jam session. Not at all a bad experience in itself, I hasten to add, but when you're the opening band at a gig, and you've got a brief half-hour slot to get your point across to a bunch of people who've probably never seen you before, I think you really need to stomp on the Instant Recognition Factor pedal. Misnomer have a lot of good ideas, but they fire those ideas in all directions like a musical blunderbuss, when the straight-to-your-head precision of a sniper's rifle might work a little better.
Who on earth would think of the Scary Bitches as a suitable support band for Faith And The Muse? I mean, c'mon - can we say 'from the sublime to the ridiculous' here? Yes, I think we can. The Scary Bitches' tub-thumping pub rock and novelty pantomime dame humour is the kind of stuff that's mildly amusing once, and gormlessly annoying ever afterwards. If Misnomer suffer from an excess of ideas, then the Scary Bitches have entirely the opposite problem. They're a one-idea band, and that idea is starting to wear rather thin now. I've seen their wacky costumes and heard their clunky 'comedy' lyrics and scripted between-song patter too many times now to be impressed - not that I was particularly knocked out the first time, you understand. This also seems to be the view of a substantial chunk of the audience, who make a dash for the bar as soon as the band comes on. But the Scary Bitches do have fans: there's a bunch of enthusiastic people bopping away down the front, all wearing goofy grins, as if the band's patent brand of 'zany' humour is the best thing they've seen since ITV cancelled Russ Abbot's Madhouse. I suppose, if a band which combines Chas 'n' Dave style knees-ups with a kind of Hallowe'en take on Hinge And Bracket is your thing, the Scary Bitches represent the realisation of all your dreams. But I'm going to the bar, and I fully intend to remain there until Killing Miranda come on.
It's a bit of a surprise to find Killing Miranda on this bill. After all, this is a band which can get a good crowd in to the Underworld as a headliner - what are they doing here as a support band? What's more, they were added to the gig at a very late stage - they aren't even mentioned on the ticket. Do I sense some sort of last-minute panic behind the scenes? Apparently so. It seems Frank of Flag Promotions neglected to check out Faith And The Muse's technical rider until rather late in the day, and was thus unaware that he was under contract to provide backline and drumkit for the band, who were travelling light, without their own gear. When the penny finally dropped, Frank's solution was to hastily recruit Killing Miranda - one of only a few 'full line-up' bands on the London goth scene - so that F&TM could borrow their equipment. (I suspect, if Killing Miranda had been unable to do the gig, we'd have ended up with Altered States or The Faces Of Sarah instead). I can't help feeling rather pissed off on behalf of F&TM. If this had been a Nemesis gig, I would have rented exactly the gear mentioned on the tech sheet, and had it set up and waiting at the venue when the band arrived - and I would've probably spent less money on the rentals than Frank paid Killing Miranda to act as impromptu equipment providers!
So, it's all a bit of an eleventh-hour scrabble-about, but what the hell. Killing Miranda stomp out and launch themselves into a set of riff-heavy rockers, big, grinding, thumping tunes which shake the stage. There is, apparently, a new Killing Miranda album in the works, and a good chunk of tonight's set is taken from it - although the band's recent virtual hit single, 'Enter The Dragon' doesn't appear. Of the old faves, we get the goth-club anthem, 'Discotheque Necronomicon' and the irreverent cheese-fest that is 'Teenage Vampire', and the crowd down the front leap around in a suitably manic manner. It's interesting to note that Killing Miranda seem to attract a bunch of younger fans compared to most other Brit-goth bands around today. As I try to get a good angle on the band for photos I'm jostled by a couple of teenage nu-metal girls, all half-nervous, half-excited giggles, who are keen to push to the front to see their heroes. Possibly this indicates Killing Miranda's unique niche. They've staked a claim to the crossover zone where the underground goth scene and mainstream-friendly metal meet - and where, importantly for any band with an eye on the future, it's possible to reach a younger fanbase. Having mentioned this, maybe it's some sort of 'gotta be down with the kidz' notion that prompts vocalist Rikky to shout 'Let's see your hands in the air!' - and, sure enough, a forest of hands erupts from the crowd. Well, there's proof that the band have the audience in their pockets, but, cantankerous old curmudgeon that I am, I'm unimpressed by this tiresome gimmick. Surely only cheesy EBM bands resort to this kind of desperate jolly-up. If *every* band is going to start trotting out the same old crowd-pleasing schtick, I'm outta here.
Then, at last, it's time for Faith And The Muse. No great ceremony, no dramatic intro: they simply stroll out, pick up their instruments, and play. And, against the odds, it's a gloriously flawless performance, delivered with such casual, good-humoured professionalism that you'd never guess the band was riding out all manner of last-minute behind the scenes shennanigans, and using another band's equipment, upon which they hadn't even set eyes until that afternoon. I hereby hand Faith And The Muse the 2003 Uncle Nemesis Award for grace under pressure. My annoyance at the rather half-arsed arrangements at this gig is tempered by my appreciation of how well the band handle it all. The very first song sets the assembled company on a roar. It's the sudden thunder of 'Bait & Switch' which, just like it does on the album, seamlessly segues into 'Sredni Vashtar', Faith And the Muse's rolling-with-the-chaos anthem: 'I am here to reassure, we never really had control'. A useful philosophy when dealing with Flag Promotions, I'll warrant. Then it's straight in to 'Shattered in Aspect', and it's noticeable that the band are pushing things forward with a distinct no-messing-about approach. Although William never loses an opportunity to tweak his equipment in any convenient lull, the frequent intermissions for technical adjustments which were such a feature of the band's Leipzig show have been ruthlessly expunged from this revised set. It all powers ahead like a train, the old songs and the new songs dovetailing so neatly that I'm bemused by all the fuss surrounding Faith and The Muse's 'new direction' - in truth, all they've done is polish up the chrome a bit, and I for one am very happy with the way it gleams.
There's a break in which Monica gives us a solo number - this is the cryptic interlude noted on the set list simply as 'M Vocal' - during the entirety of which, I notice, William busies himself with technical tweaks at the side of the stage. I half suspect that this aspect of the set has been deliberately included to allow him to spend quality time with his appliances. A bit of showbiz subterfuge, perhaps, but it works, because directly afterwards the band go full tilt at 'Running Up That Hill', the bass rumbling like loose floorboards, and it's a gloriously gleeful sprint. Now this is more like it: I confess I was rather worried about Faith And The Muse after seeing them play at the Wave Gotik Treffen. Then, they seemed oddly hesitant, unsure of themselves, one band among too many, failing to thrive. But here, they're clearly on a roll. This is a vintage performance; my faith is restored. It's an effortless dash to the finish with 'Scars Flown Proud' and 'Sparks', and 'Anwyn, Beneath The Waves' as a lap of honour. Then it's all over. I can hardly believe the one-hour set is over already. It seems to have gone so quickly.
So. Was it worth a five-year wait? Of course it was - although this does not, however, excuse the band from making us wait that long in the first place. They're not getting off *that* hook so lightly! As I wander out of the venue, exchanging almost post-coital grins with other fans who are, like me, clearly on a post-gig high, I'm still a little frustrated that it's taken five years for this show to happen. Five years just for the band to come back to the very same London venue that they played in 1998, when they should have been - *could* have been - playing somewhere bigger and better by now. But we are where we are. Back with a bang; now let's move ahead. And let's *not* leave it five years until the next gig!
see all the photos from this concert here
Faith And The Muse:
Killing Miranda: http://www.killingmiranda.com
Scary Bitches: http://www.scarybitches.com
Flag Promotions: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Uncle N's baffling cultural references explained:
Russ Abbot's Madhouse - Would-be wacky TV comedy show which was never as funny as they'd have you believe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/r/russabbotsmadhou_7770010.shtml
Chas 'n' Dave - loveable cockney minstrels, who inexplicably had a string of hits in the 80s with novelty pub-singalong numbers: http://www.chasndave.freeserve.co.uk
Hinge And Bracket - deliberately over-contrived comedy of manners, featuring a couple of drag stars as two musical ladies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/h/hingeandbracket_1299001477.shtml
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
The Legendary Pink Dots
Palac Akropolis, Prague, Czech Republic
Monday November 24 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Here's a confession. I have never seen The Legendary Pink Dots play live before. In fact, before this gig, I don't think I'd ever heard a note of their music. I'm frankly embarrassed to admit this, and I'm not even sure how this state of affairs came about. After all, the band are essentially a bunch of 80s-vintage alterno-heads just like me; they've been on the live circuit and all over the alternative press for more years than I suspect any of us care to contemplate, they've put out a stack of releases, and have even done John Peel sessions in their time. In short, they've moved in much the same circles, and inhabited much the same cultural territory, as I have. And yet, our paths have never crossed. Now, how did that happen?
For this reason, tonight's gig is all very much a new experience for me, so perhaps it's appropriate that it's all taking place in a city I've never visited before. The Palac Akropolis turns out to be a late art deco-styled theatre turned rock 'n' roll hole, incongruously located in the basement of an apartment block somewhere among the Skoda-strewn residential streets of Praha 3. Everything seems to be run with a laid-back informality - the ticket desk is a trestle table temporarily set up in the foyer, and there's nary a bouncer in sight. Curiously, there's a strange mismatch between certain elements of the audiene. Most of the crowd seem to be latter-day bohemians, all hippyish long hair and just-woke-up dishevelled clothing, like a bunch of delegates at a Frank Zappa convention. Appropriately enough, there's more than a whiff of jazz cigarettes in the air. But there's also a bunch of post-industrial heads in the house, all sporting severely cropped barnets and Skinny Puppy T-shirts. Yep, they *all* seem to be wearing Skinny Puppy T-shirts. Skinny Puppy must've done great business on the merchandise stall last time they came through Prague.
There are no support bands. Assorted Dots simply stroll out and start the show. There are four of them, and right from the start it's clear that we're not in for a night of straightforward rock 'n' roll. There's an electronics-boffin behind bank upon bank of vintage analogue synths (his gear-stack seems to include the dismembered innards of a theremin, among other arcane noisemaking technology), a guitarist at the back, squinting at his fearsome array of effects pedals, a saxophonist, who's obviously the joker in the pack, shamelessly mugging for the audience - and, at the microphone, the man who is arguably the principal Dot: Edward Ka-Spel, looking like a dishevelled economics professor who's wandered into a poetry reading by mistake, and then decided to stay because, hey, he writes poetry, too.
The Dots' performance is a wayward amalgam of avant-rock and Edward Lear. They take us on excursions into jazz, and package tours to odd corners of indie-land; they build towering pile-ups of noise and then take time out to tell tall tales. They have strange little songs like folk-club laments - but the next minute they're off into a free-form noisefest, racking up a racket as fearsome as anything created by any 'ardcore industrial noiseniks you care to name. The audience hangs on every word Edward Ka-Spel utters - he has everyone in the place rapt with attention, no mean feat when you consider the fact that everything is in English and the audience thus have to get their heads round a second language before they can really twig what's going on. He tells a bizarre tale which starts, innocently enough, as a straightforward account of the band's trip to Prague in their van, ranges over philosophical musings on cause and effect, seamlessly incorporates intergalactic warfare with unsuspecting aliens, and climaxes with a 'gelatinous birthday cake with 180 eyes' coming up through his bathroom drain. Just another day at the Legendary Pink Dots office, then. As he's telling the tale, the band crank up a jazz-punk workout which soundtracks the story quite brilliantly. I'm not sure how much of this stuff is improvised, and how much is rehearsed to the hilt, but it all hangs together with the surreal precision of umbrella and a sewing machine meeting on an operating table.
The main visual element of the Dots, however, is the saxophonist, who also doubles on clarinet, electronoise gear, and toys. He wanders the stage, dropping in squalls and honks and quirky little melody lines, but always with a quizzically arched eyebrow, and a knowing grin cast in the direction of the audience between blows. He spies a photographer who's climbed up onto the stage to grab a pic or two, creeps up behind him, and lets loose a sonorous sax-blast which has the poor chap almost dropping his camera. Then, while the rest of the band set up a rolling groove on stage, he descends into the audience, trailing wires behind him. The stage lighting is dimmed, and, from out of the pitch darkness, there comes a succession of foghorn blasts on the saxophone, each one accompanied by a sudden burst of white light. Those trailing wires aren't just for the instrument microphone - there's a spotlight concealed inside the bell of the sax, triggered to light up every time a note is played. It's a delightfully unexpected stunt, a genuine surprise, and yet it's not just a gimmick because the instrumental number which accompanies these antics stands up as a cool piece of music in its own right.
There's an encore, of course, and the Dots look genuinely gratified that the audience appreciate what they do. Afterwards, the band hang out in the foyer, shooting the breeze with passing fans, and signing all manner of merchandise. It's been a great gig, and I'm kicking myself for not picking up on this engagingly surreal weird-noise-pop group before. Well, one night in Prague is all it's taken to put me wise. The Legendary Pink Dots fanbase has hereby increased by one.
see all the photos from this concert here
The Legendary Pink dots website: http://www.brainwashed.com/lpd
The Palac Akropolis website (English version): http://www.palacakropolis.cz/pakr/pub/home/english/Main/index.jet
Reviewed by uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
Saturday October 4 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Bit of an old goths' reunion gig, this one. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry are, of course, an original 80s-vintage outfit, now reformed and back on the circuit. And tonight's two support bands, although relative newcomers to the fray, also have a bit of history behind them in that both contain ex-members of stalwart Brit-scene bands of the 90s. It's no surprise, then, to find that tonight's audience also contains more than a smattering of faces from yesteryear. But nostalgia isn't what it used to be. If the bands on this bill are going to hit any kind of paydirt, they're going to have to do it on the basis of the contemporary scene. They'll need to build up a 2003 audience, rather than rely on tempting the school of '83 or '93 out of the woodwork once more. So, let's cast a twenty-first century eye over the proceedings.
First we have Excession, who seem to be moving away from the ethereal-isms of their early work, towards a more solid, angular sound, somewhat reminiscent of X-mal Deutschland. The vocals have become stronger, and the guitar lays a glassy surface beneath them. Meanwhile, the band have recruited a new bassist - Greg Ferrari of Womb - whose nimble basslines beef up the rhythm quite a bit and underpin Excession's new, more robust, driving sound. It all sounds encouraging, although I can't help noticing that the drum machine beats in the background are starting to sound a little dated and weak, amid the increasingly assertive sound of the band as a whole. Maybe this should be the next area for an upgrade?
Adoration have a name which sounds like it was chosen by the Microsoft Brit-Goth band name generator. Scroll down, click to select: Restoration, Empyrean, Corrosion, Vendemmian... Adoration! Hmm. I wonder, is there any meaning behind the name, or was it simply chosen because...well, it sounds like a goth band? Who knows, but here they are. Four people, all with a bit of previous, for Adoration comprises ex-members of The Faces Of Sarah and This Burning Effigy - only the vocalist is a newcomer, and yet in a way he's the best-known member of the band. John Stone has, for a good few years now, been one of those behind the scenes people who tie all the loose ends together and make everything work. In his time, he's managed assorted 90s goth bands, run fanzines, put in a stint or two as a DJ, and even promoted gigs. The one thing he's never done is actually be in a band himself - until now. And, in a development which completely wrong-foots all the London-scene reprobates who've gathered at the front to heckle, he actually turns out to be rather good. He's got a rip-roaring rock vocal style, and he belts out the lyrics as if he's been doing this all his life. Meanwhile, the band whip up a right old rock storm, which occasionally nods towards Mish-style trad-goth, but more frequently heads off on its own, more contemporary path. This ain't no retro outfit. The sound is punchy, rhythmic - the drum programming in particular is hard-hitting and creative. Yep, it's a result. We'll give Adoration the thumbs up.
And now, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, who announce their set as 'One of our rare London gigs.' Well, given that the band split up over ten years ago, and thus haven't played London for more than a decade, 'rare' is, I suppose, one way of putting it! Without ceremony, the band pitch in to a set which, as far as I can tell, is exactly the same as their Whitby performance a few months back. Not that this is a problem at all, because songs such as 'Crawling Mantra' and 'Walking On Your Hands' are taut, minimalist masterpieces however often you hear them. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry's particular genius is to create a dense, implacable wall of steampunk sound; no grandstanding, no showing off, just that relentlessly rolling beat and Chris Reed's Marmite-dark vocals running through everything like soup. And, of course, it's all delivered with that glowering, here-we-stand-we-can-do-no-other demeanour, as if the band don't care whether they're loved or hated - they'll just keep on doing their thing, because it *is* their thing. Paradoxically, perhaps, that's quite an attractive stance.
Towards the end of the set,
Chris Reed drops a hint that a new album will be along in 2004, so it looks
as if the Lorries are back for the long haul. That's welcome news, although
it would be nice to be able to get a bit more info about the band's future
plans than one cryptic on-stage remark. RLYL still have no web-presence
(aside from a variety of outdated fan sites, none of which seem to have
noticed that the band are back), and, it seems, no readily available point
of contact, or source of information and publicity. I suspect that the
band themselves, coming as they do from a period in which all this stuff
could be safely left to the record label and the music media, don't realise
how essential it is now to take on this kind of work at first hand. The
days when the NME would dutifully beat a path to your door at the behest
of your PR people are gone, gentlemen. This time round, it's all going
to be down to YOU!
see all the photos from this concert here
One of many Red Lorry Yellow Lorry fan sites. Does not contain any up-to-date info, although there is some discussion about RLYL's current activities in the 'Forum' section: http://www.hff.gu.se/~marc_l/relo/index.shtml
Flag Promotions, promoters of the gig: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
The Ghost Of Lemora
Living With Eating Disorders
Friday October 17 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
This is the fourth gig I've attended at the Underworld in three weeks. I'm beginning to think I should just set up a camp bed under the mixing desk, and take up permanent residence in the venue. Tonight, it's yet another Flag Promotions extravaganza, another show on the endlessly rolling conveyor belt of Flag's goth-gig production line. It's not exactly a blockbuster turn-out - significantly, the Underworld has closed the main bar, something which is only done if the venue management don't anticipate a big crowd. Tonight, a significant number of London gig-regulars have chosen to catch Diamanda Galas, who is playing the Royal Festival Hall. Their absence from the Underworld crowd is noticeable.
Fortunately, the audience is boosted somewhat by an influx of scruffy indie types. This, it seems, is the Living With Eating Disorders following. They're not a goth band, and therefore don't have to rely on the goth-scene audience (although I suspect they'd give their eye teeth to support Diamanda Galas). They do, however, neatly fit in with the below-stairs bedraggled glamour which has always been a part of the goth aesthetic - and which, incidentally, I think we need more of these days. They have an individual, left-field, out-there sound, which, if you ask me, is also highly necessary in these troubled times. They're a four piece: a keyboard player, a guitarist, and a minimalist drummer who clearly doesn't hold with any of that fancy tom-tom stuff. Nevertheless, he whacks out a frightening racket, punctuated by odd skirls and growls from the guitar. It's a weird, but somehow exhilarating noise, which owes little to conventionally-structured rock 'n' roll.
The focus of everyone's attention, however, is the singer - a waif-like girl in a bizarre outfit which looks like a half-dismantled wedding dress. She's a cross between Miss Havisham and Violet Elizabeth Bott. She looks around vaguely as if not quite sure where she is, tosses her hair, stamps her feet, plucks at her wedding dress, and generally creates the impression of being somewhere else inside her head. Between songs, she doesn't speak - instead, she makes odd little whimpering sounds, like a small animal in need of food. I feel a strong urge to offer her a saucer of lightly-warmed milk. Her vocals, however, are not the ear-shredding screech I was expecting: instead, they're a wistful croon, a tiny little sound that's oddly incongruous amid the shudder and bash of the music. It's almost as if the band have seen Queen Adreena, and thought, 'Hey - we can do that!' And then they saw the Cranes, and thought 'Hey - we can do *that*, as well!' OK, these are easy comparisons, but I suspect Living With Eating Disorders will find themselves fielding references like these quite a bit in the future - I'm just getting in early here. The band, in short, is a half-intriguing, half-irritating mix of creativity and contrivance. I'm not *quite* sure if I like them or not, but I'd be interested to see them play again, just to find out if my initial reactions are confirmed or confounded.
And now, here come The Ghost Of Lemora, who are regular contenders on the London goth circuit these days. And, of course, they practically wrote the book on below-stairs bedraggled glamour. Tonight, they unveil new songs, but as I seem to have mysteriously lost my carefully-purloined set list between the Underworld and home, I fear I can't give you any titles. But it's a classic Ghost Of Lemora set of swaggering, staggering glam-pop tunes, Twinkle's dry, offhand vocals leavened by Swifty's between-song quips. For no particular reason, he remarks that Prince has become a Jehovah's Witness. 'If he ever knocks on my door, I'll set the dwarfs on him.' And then off they go into another late-night musical alley, with Twinkle throwing poses all over the stage - and, sometimes, off it. He climbs down and invites members of the audience to dance, taking random fans on an impromptu foxtrot around the floor. Ha, The Cruxshadows never did it like *that*! The drum machinery whacks out the beat, the keyboards trill and tumble; it's all a delightfully English take on sleazy rock 'n' roll. That, if you're looking for a metaphor, is probably a neat way to sum up The Ghost of Lemora's appeal. They're equal parts Jack Daniels and cucumber sandwiches, leather trousers and cricketing blazers.
Last time I saw the reformed Skeletal Family, at the Slimelight a while back, I came away feeling rather unsure about the band's new incarnation. With a new vocalist, the entire identity of the band has changed, and while I thought the gig was good, I wasn't quite able to reconcile the nu-skool Skeletal Family I saw on stage with the old-skool Skeletal Family inside my head. Well, I'm happy to report that the band's set tonight nails all these doubts in no uncertain fashion. I've come to the probably rather obvious conclusion that fretting about the style of the band now, versus the style of the band then, is a pointless exercise - at least until time travel becomes widely available. And anyway, seeing the 21st Century version of the band here, in a proper live music venue where they can really let rip, makes all those worries seem irrelevant. The Underworld isn't exactly the enormodome, but its facilities are a cut above the Slimelight's rather gimcrack gear (the stage doesn't wobble, for a start) and the band can turn it on a bit more. And this time round, it really does work.
Which doesn't mean that the boys in the band have suddenly gone all pogo-tastic, you understand: their onstage presence is still very much heads-down, here-come-the-riffs. They're musicians rather than showmen, although having said that Karlheinz grabs the attention of the audience when he picks up his sax and blows a tune or two. It's also noticeable that, when he gets on the keyboard, he's really *playing*. These days, when so many bands use a keyboard as a non-operating prop to disguise the fact that much of their 'live' music is pre-recorded, that's good to see. In fact, all three bands tonight have featured keyboard players who genuinely play. The Campaign For Real Keyboard Players starts here!
But the centre of everything, the element which makes it all hang together, is Claire, the band's new singer. Who, you may recall, I didn't even know by name last time round - but that's another thing that's been sorted. She has a cool, almost detatched stage persona; very confident, always in control, but she never relies on that kind of 'Hello London!' ersatz bonhomie which so many singers employ to strike up a rapport with their audiences. And she paces herself, too. At the start of the set, she's holding back, slinking into the songs gently - then, as the set progresses, she injects more and more energy, until by 'She Cries Alone' and 'Just A Minute' she looks like she's exorcising all sorts of inner demons - falling in a crumpled heap on the stage, then leaping up with a screech which has the fans at the front twitching nervously. Oddly enough, I'd never particularly taken to 'Just A Minute' originally, but watching Claire rip through the song now, I find myself thinking, 'Hang on - this is *good*!' And then it's encore time. The band push things to a climax with 'Black Ju Ju', a thundering slice of tribal noise...although perhaps that's not entirely intentional, since Stan's guitar conks out for this song, leading to an impromptu 'drum and bass' arrangement. Still, it works, and everything crunches and tumbles to a close. Yep, that was a good 'un. I'm converted and convinced.
Skeletal Family are back - and, yes, they're different. But it *works*.
see all the photos from this concert here
Skeletal Family - official website: http://www.skeletalfamily.com
A potted history of Skeletal Family on the Leeds Music Scene site: http://www.leedsmusicscene2.co.uk/bands/383/
The Ghost Of Lemora: http://www.theghostoflemora.co.uk
Living With Eating Disorders - official website: http://www.livingwitheatingdisorders.co.uk
An interview with Living With Eating Disorders on the Organ website (scroll down!): http://www.organart.demon.co.uk/newfavouriteband.htm
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Ju Ju Babies
Sunday December 7 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Another gig from Virus Events, the live promotions offshoot of the London-based electronix label, Cryonica Music. This particular show rings the changes somewhat, in that one of tonight's bands, the Ju Ju Babies, aren't really part of the electronic scene. However, their trash 'n' vaudeville approach fits in quite neatly with the tounge-in-cheek style of both Goteki and S.P.O.C.K - in fact, this gig as a whole works well as a kind of interlude of light relief amid the more serious stuff of the London gig circuit. Tonight is a night for having *fun*.
The ever-shifting line-up of the Ju Ju Babies has changed again since I last saw the band. They seem to have lost a guitarist and gained a theremin player and an extra cheerleader. The band launch into their patent brand of energetic, if sometimes ramshackle, new-wave glam-pop, and the stage becomes a blur of movement and colour as pom-poms are thrust enthusiastically to and fro. Notwithstanding the pom-poms, this is a somewhat restrained show by the Ju Ju Babies' usual standards (for a start, there's hardly any simulated sex) and sometimes the sound seems a little shaky. That's probably because the band are playing without a soundcheck: the Underworld ran a mid-afternoon nu-metal gig earlier today, and apparently there wasn't time to prepare for the evening gig properly. The Ju Ju Babies are winging it on a two-minute line-check and no monitors, but they battle through with their usual manic charm. They're a strange combination of amiable pop fun and slightly on-the-edge potential danger. When the lead singer and her two backing-cheerleaders suddenly brandish replica guns as part of their stage routine, on the face of it it's a light-hearted Bond girl moment - but then I see the crazed glint in the singer's eye, and I'm suddenly glad those guns aren't real. This odd juxtaposition of innocent fun and incipient madness is illustrated again when the band reach their theme song, 'Ju Ju Time'. Once, this was a jaunty little pop number, a cheerful calling card. Tonight, the song has been given a walloping great beat and the lyrics are snarled out with real belligerence. 'It's TIME! It's JU JU TIME!' hollers the vocalist, as if daring us to say that it's not. It's never easy to encapsulate the Ju Ju Babies' sound and style (not least because the band line-up never seems to stay the same for two gigs in a row) but try this for size: they're equal parts trash, flash, and car crash. They're fun to watch on stage, but you wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with them. And that's what makes the band a weirdly compelling spectacle.
Goteki appear before us in their new-look two piece incarnation. Doctor A, the band's former stage-right keyboard player, cartoonist, action-figure maker and all-round visual-realisation man, played his last gig with Goteki at the Whitby Gothic Weekend a month or so back. If we're to believe the comments he made in the recent issue of Meltdown magazine, his departure from the band was a case of being pushed rather than a jump. While this is not the place to ponder internal band-politics, it must be said that his absence doesn't just rob the band of 33% of their stage presence - they've also lost the man who did much to bring the whacko space age toy shop aesthetic of Goteki into reality. Presumably Goteki have plans to reinvent themselves for the future, but tonight we get what is, essentially, an economy version of the band. The remaining two Gotekis bounce about with their usual cheery aplomb, but there's no disguising the large expanse of empty stage space where their third member isn't. The band have some cool and witty songs in their repertoire; in particular 'Do Not Listen To Goteki', which is a neat-as-you-like slice of synthpop, with a nice line in dryly humourous irony - '....you will destroy your stereo!' - but the band really have to think up a way of presenting their material in a live situation that's a little more substantial than two blokes jigging about on an otherwise empty stage. The visual presence of Doctor A, who could usually be relied upon to dress up like he'd just beamed down from planet Thaaaarg, delicately picking away at a little keyboard adorned with LEDS, lifted the visual side of things in a way that is perhaps only apparent now he's no longer there. If Goteki have now decided to move away from that kind of image - well, fair enough. But if the only thing the band can think of to do now is to become a standard two-men-and-a-backing-track synthpop outfit, then I fear a certain spark of quirky individuality which Goteki used to possess has died.
S.P.O.C.K have been getting away with murder for fifteen years. And it's not me saying that - this seems to be the band's own view. Tonight's gig, apparently, marks the band's fifteenth anniversary. Yep, they've been around for that long. The band's early years in Sweden are, of course, more or less unknown to us in the UK. It wasn't until much later that S.P.O.C.K began to build up a UK following. But here they are, playing to a crush of enthusiastic fans, and from their self-deprecating comments between the songs it's clear that the band themselves are slightly surprised to be here. Who would have thought that their jokey concept - playing upbeat synthpop songs about science fiction characters, chiefly those from Star Trek - would have turned into a fifteen-year career? Yep, I kid you not, that's what S.P.O.C.K do. If you're looking for serious songs about politics, relationships, the human condition - look elsewhere. That's just not S.P.O.C.K's territory. But if you want an anthem of praise to Doctor McCoy ('He's the doctor! He's Doctor McCoy!'), or an alternative theme song to the ET movie - why, then, S.P.O.C.K will be pleased to deliver. If you think that makes S.P.O.C.K sound like a rather cheesy novelty act, you wouldn't be far wrong in that assessment. But the fact that the band are entirely aware of the flimsiness of their concept, to the point where they happily joke about it with the audience, lets them off the hook. And anyway, while the subject matter of their songs is deliberately foolish, the songs themselves are constructed with a genuine ear for a winning pop melody. This band may play it for laughs in the lyrical department, but they're entirely serious when it comes to putting together a groovy tune or two. The overall result is that S.P.O.C.K come across as both a fully-functional synthpop experience and an endearingly unpretentious good-time outfit. Look at them, throwing cod-dramatic shapes in their matching space suits and deliberately hamming it up for the crowd - in spite of myself, I can't help enjoying the spectacle. I can't say I'll be rushing out to buy S.P.O.C.K albums for intense home listening, but the on-stage experience is disarmingly effective, and sends me home with a cheesy grin on my face.
see all the photos from this concert here
S.P.O.C.K don't seem to have an official website (or if they do, they keep it well hidden) but try these fan sites for the essential stuff: http://www.subspace.se/spock and http://www.interlog.com/~costan/intro.html
Ju Ju Babies: http://www.jujubabies.co.uk
Virus Promotions: http://www.virus-events.co.uk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
Terra Gotha Festival:
Faith And The Muse
The Breath Of Life
Cold Pop Culture
Arsenal Theatre, Vlissingen, The Netherlands
October 25, 2003
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Vlissingen. A picturesque harbour town in the south of Holland. Not, perhaps, the first name which springs to mind when one contemplates the European goth-tour circuit. And yet, this pin-neat little town is rapidly becoming one of the principal stop-offs for touring bands. Vlissingen may not be a major city, but its trump card is its location. It's ideally placed to trawl in an audience not only from the home country, but also from neighbouring Belgium, with France and Germany also within easy travelling distance. This means any gig in Vlissingen has an extremely wide catchment area, and thus potentially an audience easily the equal of a big-city show. The advantages of the Vlissingen's location were noted by photographer turned promoter Wim de Nooyer, who since 2001 has been running an increasingly successful series of gigs and festivals in the town, under the name Terra Gotha.
This particular event is the sixth Terra Gotha so far; a one-day festival that's big enough to count as a special event, yet small enough to feel relaxed and informal. Or perhaps that's just the Dutch way of doing things - everything in Holland seems relaxed and informal, especially when you've just flown in from the uptight chaos of London. The venue is the Arsenal Theatre, a splendidly maintained harbourside building which, it seems, is the focal point for all sorts of arts and entertainment events in Vlissingen. In the front, there's a friendly bar and restaurant, where the staff regard the sudden influx of black-clad weirdos with easy-going good humour. At the back, there's a bona-fide theatre auditorium, complete with red velvet drapes and glittering chandeliers. The traditional tip-up seats have been winched out of the way by means of a curious mechanical device which literally folds up the entire array of seats, plus the tiered floor onto which they're fixed. This reveals a flat dancefloor - all that's necessary now is to wheel in a PA, and the Arsenal Theatre becomes an appropriately glamourous gig venue. Terra Gotha is ready to rock.
As the crowd filters in, I'm struck by the wide range of ages represented. Everyone from teenage spookykids to fortysomething veterans of the old school are here today. It seems that Terra Gotha events are everyone's opportunity to meet and mingle on equal terms. If you fancy a drink, a bizarre system applies whereby you buy blue plastic tokens like oversized tiddleywinks at a booth, and then exchange these for drinks at the bar. Presumably this is to exert some sort of control over under-age drinking, although there's nothing to stop the old-skoolers from buying drinks for their younger counterparts. At any rate, one tiddleywink gets you a plastic glass of unspecified capacity, which is filled to a random level by a barman standing at a Heineken pump. It all seems bizarrely vague from a UK perspective - exactly how much booze we get for our money is sternly regulated by law, and woe betide the barman who doesn't fill our regulation pint glasses up to the required level! Here in the Netherlands, the precise level of beer in your glass seems to depend on nothing more scientific than whether the bar staff like your face. Still, a few tiddleywinks and