Dresden Dolls
Noblesse Oblige
Custard Factory Theatre, Birmingham
Thursday December 9 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

That’s right: tonight’s venue really is called the Custard Factory, for the simple reason that back in the days when Birmingham was the custard manufacturing capital of Britain, this 19th century industrial building was where the yellow goo spewed forth by the gallon. Today, the Custard Factory has been re-invented for the post-industrial age, and transformed into a designer arts centre, a network of shops and performance spaces where all manner of strange entertainment can take place.

Tonight’s strange entertainment comes from the Dresden Dolls, who don’t come from Dresden, but from Boston, a city in the top-right corner of the USA. I recall, on my travels through Boston back in 2001, picking up a scrappy local punkzine from Newbury Comics, and reading what must have been one of the band’s first pieces of press. Now this looks interesting, I mused: a two-piece, costumed as if they’d just escaped from a travelling carny circa 1920, performing, in their own words, ‘Brechtian punk cabaret’ with just piano, drums, and voice. I resolved there and then that I would have to see this band. Well, two years and several thousand miles later, I’m finally able to do just that.

The Dresden Dolls have come a long way themselves in those two years - from a quirky Boston alt-scene phenomenon to their present status of superstar contenders, only one push away from the big time. Now, you might think I’m exaggerating here. After all, tonight’s venue is small and not especially well-equipped. The band clearly haven’t hit the big time just yet. But consider this. Tonight’s show is promoted by Clear Channel, pretty much the biggest corporate player in music these days, and is just one stop on a massive tour, a trans-global escapade which has already covered the USA, large chunks of Continental Europe, and heads out to New Zealand immediately after this gig. The band are travelling in their own nightliner bus with their own crew and all the trimmings. Plus they’re picking up radio play and MTV interest, which, in these corporate-controlled times, just doesn’t happen unless somebody with big-league resources is getting busy with the plugging and the PR. Conclusion: someone’s putting major money behind the Dresden Dolls. And that someone is going to want a return on their investment before too long. The Dresden Dolls are doing well, that’s for sure. But the pressure’s on. It’s big-time or bust.

Before the Dresden Dolls themselves arrive on stage, we have a support band. Noblesse Oblige are a cabaret duo themselves, of sorts. At any rate, they’re certainly not your usual rock ‘n’ roll outfit. A boy, a girl, a bass guitar, a backing track and a selection of intense, punky, songs-cum-performance art pieces, most of which involve dramatic gestures, mock-fights, simulated sex, and confrontational stances in front of the audience. But the confrontation stops short at the lip of the stage.  Noblesse Oblige are all about the performance: they don’t really want to challenge anyone to a bout of fisticuffs.

Nevertheless, Noblesse Oblige still manage to be suitably manic and scary, and the bass guitar has a nice, gritty, distorted sound. The male half of the band hollers and yells out vocals about who knows what, staring bug-eyed at the audience as if it’s all our fault. On one song he bashes himself on the head at strategic intervals with the microphone to create a percussive effect - aha, art in action! Some of the lyrics are in German, presumably for that decadent cabaret in Berlin atmosphere, although a girl from Austria who happens to be in the audience isn’t impressed: the German-language stuff is ‘mostly nonsense’, apparently. Still, it has the right kind of feel. The female half of Noblesse Oblige is by far the better singer, and when she steps up to the mic the band reveals an unexpected pop sensibility. Lurking behind all the writhing and screeching and performance-art antagonism, Noblesse Oblige actually have some rather neat songs, which feature structure and hooks and all that ‘songwriting’ stuff.  This is the element that helps the band rise above the level of simply being art-fetish hoodlums, entertaining though they are in this respect.  Somewhere underneath all the conceptual weirdness, there’s a pop group struggling to get out.

And now, the main event. And a surprise: for all their quirky cabaret schtick, the Dresden Dolls are a reassuringly ordinary couple. They’re chatty and engaging, greeting the audience in down-to-earth tones and generally coming across like two normal people up for a bit of zany fun.  Even their names - Brian and Amanda - sound so blandly everyday they could almost be characters in Abigail’s Party. I must admit I wasn’t expecting this. I had assumed, from the band’s artfully surreal publicity photos, and their erudite references to Weimar era cabaret and what-not, that the Dresden Dolls would be an all-encompassing concept, with the musicians remaining in character throughout the show, and putting on a structured, scripted, piece of surrealist musical theatre. In short, I was expecting Boston’s answer to the Tiger Lillies. But that, as it turns out, is not quite what the Dresden Dolls do. For all the unusual line-up, the carefully-constructed image, and the recondite influences, the Dresden Dolls are, underneath it all, a rock band, and they’re simply here to rock.

So, they get stuck in. Amanda plunges into her keyboard as if jumping into a swimming pool. I’m amused to note that she’s changed the manufacturer’s name on the back of the instrument from Kurzweil to Kurt Weill, although any influence of the bleakly rhythmic low life-isms of Weill’s music is not, it must be said, particularly apparent in the Dresden Dolls’ own tunes. It’s all too fast and furious for that. Amanda hammers manically away, writhing around on her piano stool as if goosed by the ghost of Elton John. She sings in a full-throated holler, every song a geyser of emotion and angst. It all gets a bit Andrew Lloyd Webber at times, especially on the big, over-emotional ballads which seem to be a Dresden Dolls speciality. All those climactic keyboard runs, and that high-drama vocal - it’s as if she’s trying to make up for the fact that she’s stuck behind a keyboard towards the back of the stage, and thus can’t front the band in the traditional way, by injecting sheer force into her vocals. All of which is impressive enough in itself, although, again, I’m not sure how this tour de force of rampant diva freaking is supposed to dovetail with the band’s supposed ‘Brechtian’ ethic. Frankly, Amanda comes across as more Mama Cass than Mother Courage.

Meanwhile, Brian-on-the-drums flails and batters at his kit as if powering a band of heavy metal megastars to Enormodome glory, the sheer force of his playing entirely unmoderated by the fact that this is a small venue and the audience is barely a drumstick’s length away. The acoustic sound coming off the kit is so loud, in fact, that it rather swamps the amplified sound and smothers the soundmix in a maelstrom of crashing and walloping. Brian, it seems, has two playing styles: loud, and even louder. He’s the only drummer I’ve ever seen who can conjure hefty thuds and rifle-shot cracks out of his kit even when he’s using brushes. Sometimes, this hit ‘em hard approach is appropriate, as on the cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ - a number with which the Dresden Dolls sound revealingly comfortable as they pile in to the song like the closet rockers I suspect they are. But other songs, particularly the band’s own more wistful, melancholy numbers, demand a certain restraint, a touch of subtlety, which we don’t really get tonight.  Subtlety tends to go by the board when you’ve got a manic Mrs Mills thumpin’ and hollerin’ at the keyboard, and an overdriven Cozy Powell flailing away right in front of your face.

All this means that the Dresden Dolls live experience is a bit like being mown down by an armoured personnel carrier. It’s all such a frantic rush and blatter that the songs tend to blur into each other, although there are a number of diehard fans in the audience (including a few Amanda lookalikes) who clearly know the material well enough to pick out - and cheer for - individual faves. ‘Coin Operated Boy’ gets a good reaction, but it’s ‘Girl, Anachronism’ - that jerky, pounding, anthem to freaked-out-ness - that gets the biggest cheer, especially from the Amanda lookalikes, who doubtless think they’re all girl anachronisms themselves. In a rare break from all the pounding and hollering an acoustic guitar makes an appearance, Amanda comes forward, and the Dolls give us a swift and incongruously hearty run-through of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’. As it happens, this is one of my favourite songs, so I’m happy to hear it, although I note with alarm that the band have given Brel’s austere lament a typical Dresden Dolls Big Emotional Showstopper make-over. Amanda belts out the lyrics with such gusto that when she gets to the line ‘Who’ve given their bodies to a thousand other men’ - which surely should be sung with a bleak, washed-out melancholy - I half expect her to nudge Brian with her elbow and interject a cheery ‘Hubba-hubba!’

So, the Dresden Dolls were not what I was expecting. I thought I was going to get - well, what it says on the tin: Brechtian punk cabaret. Instead, I found myself steamrollered by a rampaging rock band, their essential rock-ness entirely unaffected by the fact that the Dolls don’t have the usual rock line-up. Occasionally, when they take things down a bit and allow some subtlety to come though, there are moments when it’s possible to see what the Dresden Dolls could be, moments when a small glimmer of that much-vaunted Weimar Berlin influence peeks through, only to be knocked flat as the rock machine powers up once more. I suppose I should’ve expected this: after all, the fact that the likes of Clear Channel and MTV are taking an interest in the Dresden Dolls indicates the essential mainstream rock-scene compatibility of the band. By their music industry partners ye shall know them. I wish the Dresden Dolls well, as they scrabble up the ladder of rock scene success, but will I be a regular customer at this cabaret? Put it this way: don’t keep my table waiting.

see all the photos from this concert here

Dresden Dolls:  http://www.dresdendolls.com

Noblesse Oblige:  http://www.noblesseoblige.co.uk

Kurt Weill: http://www.kwf.org

Bertolt Brecht:  http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc15.htm

Mrs Mills: http://www.bizarrerecords.com/pages/OldMrsmills.html

Cozy Powell:  http://www.cozypowell.com

Abigail's Party:  http://www.dollsoup.co.uk/abigail.htm

Clear Channel:  http://www.clearchanneleurope.com

The Custard Factory:  http://www.custardfactory.com

The Custard:  http://www.londonancestor.com/iln/birds-custard.htm

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis:  http://www.nemesis.to

Devilish Presley
New Days Delay
Dead & Buried, London
Friday February 4 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

The blue neon sign of the Lord Nelson pub casts its incongruous light over the Holloway Road. Tonight, the Dead & Buried crew invades this north London boozer for the latest instalment of what, over the last couple of years, has become one of London’s most successful club nights. At a time when the standard goth club format - you know, the usual gothic top 40, EBM and 80s playlist - is starting to look stale and unimaginative, and the clubs which still churn out this kind of default music mix are starting to wonder where all their punters are disappearing to, Dead & Buried demonstrates that thinking out of the usual goth box can pay off handsomely.

Tonight is also one of the club’s sporadic live band nights, and here comes our opening act. The two Katscan gentlemen are blood-spattered and intense, frontman Martin favouring the crowd with an appraising gaze, as if sizing us all up for corrective surgery. They conjure up a stomping, rollicking racket, steering well clear of the usual EBM-isms which their two-men-and-electronics line-up might at first suggest we’ll get. Katscan are far too punk rock for any of that - as even the most casual observer might discern when they launch into the splendidly titled song ‘You Love It, You Schlaags’, in which the lyrics systematically demolish the current EBM scene, pointed references to ‘Ibiza Nietzche nursery rhymes’ and all.  This might amount to a case of - well, maybe not actually biting the hand that feeds you, but it certainly counts as a bit of a bared-teeth snarl in the direction of the very electro-heads who might be thought to comprise Katscan’s natural audience. But Katscan seem to be fuelled by a magnificent disregard for convention and careerist common sense, and if you ask me we could do with more bands with this kind of wayward attitude.

When I reviewed New Days Delay’s performance at the Wave Gotik Treffen last year, I asked - not entirely rhetorically - which promoter would be the first to bring the band to the UK. Well, now we know. Cavey Nik snapped them up for this show, and from the sudden audience-surge to the front that takes place as the band come out to set up their gear, it seems he was wise to do so. There’s a lot of interest in New Days Delay in the UK, and maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, for the band plays exactly the kind of spiky, spunky, punky pop that would give the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a good run for their money. Tonight, the small size of the stage makes for a rather awkward soundmix - the drums are so close to the audience that the drummer’s snap and clatter tends to dominate the sound: the acoustic racket coming off the kit at times threatens to overwhelm the PA. But the engineer whacks it all up loud, the bass gets a good old growl on, and guitar slices the mix like a circular saw going through a kitchen worktop. Over all this, vocalist Insa, an animated mop of blue hair and distressed fishnet, delivers a new-wave wail with her characteristic quirky verve, casting sidelong glances at her band-mates as if slightly unsure what they’ll do next. What they do next, by and large, is simply pile in to the next song, rattling through the set like a go-cart on a cobbled street. Insa has the additional advantage of a personality that’s as sparky and immediate as her band’s music. She snatches a minute here and there to talk to the crowd with endearingly nervous amiability, and by last-song time there’s not a doubter in the house. I reckon New Days Delay could do well in the UK, and not just in goth circles. In fact, I’m tempted to say especially not in goth circles, for they have a much broader appeal than that. As the indie scene rediscovers its post-punk roots, New Days Delay find themselves making exactly the right racket at exactly the right time.

Devilish Presley are making a video tonight, for their soon-come single ‘Hammer Horror Glamour’, which explains the presence of the random bloke with a camera, wandering about on stage. Devilish Presley are also well known now as purveyors of a no-shit, bug-eyed rock ‘n’ roll show, which explains the presence of a mob of moshers down the front. The band hurls itself into ‘She’s Not America’ by way of an introduction, and as ever it’s full volume, full speed, and damn the torpedoes right from the word go. New songs make an appearance - ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ being, apparently, a blast at DJs who have proved reluctant to give the Devilish Presley sound a spin, a sentiment Johnny Navarro amplifies with an impromptu rant. ‘Hammer Horror Glamour’ itself enters the fray like a bovver boy gatecrashing the vicar’s fancy dress do. Now here’s a paradox: in all their songs so far Devilish Presley have always made a point of steering clear of all the schlocky horror imagery which festoons the deathrock scene like the Hallowe’en party that time forgot. But here, they chuck it all in as if they’ve just done a trolley dash up the Hallowe’en tat aisle at their local novelty shop. ‘I was born in Highgate Cemetery...’ asserts Johnny Navarro, and it all gets significantly more spooky-silly from that point on. I can’t quite decide if this amounts to the band engineering a deliberate head-on clash with deathrock, or if it’s some sort of deliberately OTT double-bluff: hey, you horror-heads - you want deathrock? OK, we’ll give you deathrock! Either way it’s an unexpected departure - although, musically, the song is a typically barnstorming rocker. But I can’t help wondering, given that ‘Hammer Horror Glamour’ is coming out as a single, video and all, and will therefore probably end up being Devilish Presley’s all-purpose calling card to potential new fans, if it won’t end up becoming a bit of a millstone around the band’s necks. Will they end up having to explain for evermore that the song is not a representative Devilish Presley number, and their material in general just isn’t like that? Ah, well, time will tell. Tonight, the band simply steam into their set as if an entire pack of rabid hellhounds were on their tails, and you just can’t argue with that kind of righteous rock ‘n’ roll blast.

see all the photos from this concert here

Devilish Presley:  http://www.devilishpresley.com

New Days Delay - band's own site (still chronically out of date):  http://www.newdaysdelay.de

Info page from New Days Delay's record label (last updated late 2004, and apparently the nearest thing to a current source of New Days Delay info): http://www.deadcentrerecords.com/NewDayDelay.html

Katscan: http://www.katscan.net

Dead And Buried: http://www.dancefloorpoison.com

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Gang Of Four
The Departure
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday January 18 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Another day, another old band gets back together. It’s getting to the point where you can hardly step into the gig circuit without falling over yet another bunch of superannuated old codgers trying to relive their heyday.  But some reformations are more welcome - and more relevant - than others, and the return of those magnificently stroppy punk-funk polemicists, the Gang Of Four, is definitely a comeback that just had to happen.

Possibly somewhat to their surprise, the Gang Of Four find themselves in the odd position of being the mentors and inspiration behind half the twenty-first century indie scene. The post-Franz Ferdinand frenzy of angular, left-field, punky-funky bands that seems to be breaking out all over the place can be directly traced to the Gang Of Four’s influence.  Indeed, there’s no ‘trace’ about it: today’s bands are falling over themselves to namecheck their heroes, and in this way the originators have found themselves with a whole new audience, as well as renewed interest from older fans who probably thought the Gang had gone for good.

The Gang Of Four’s original career spanned 13 years - from 1978 to 1995, with sundry splits and regroupings along the way - and an assortment of different line-ups, which, in the 90s, culminated in the surviving original members, vocalist Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, going out with anonymous session musos taking care of the rhythm section. The live experience was still good - I recall a gig at the Venue in New Cross in ‘94, which, notwithstanding the ‘Gang Of Two plus two’ line-up, was an authentically rafter-rattling experience. But, fortunately for the for-real factor, this latest reformation of the band brings together the original line-up once more: Hugo Burnham, taking time off from his day job as an art teacher, on drums, and Dave Allen, better known in latter years as a member of Shriekback, now involved in some sort of arcane and hi-tech music download company, on bass. The audience runs the gamut from battle-hardened veterans of late-seventies moshpits (most of them now keeping a safe distance from any suggestion of boisterousness) to youthful indie kids, anxious to catch the band that everyone agrees started it all.

The band that starts it all tonight is The Departure - a new bunch of indie chancers, so young, neat, and fresh-faced their appearance borders on the surreal. They look like they should be in school rather than on stage. The bassist even seems to be wearing his school uniform. Wait a minute - did I say ‘indie’? Well, The Departure certainly have the indie sound of now nailed down. That solid rhythm, those splashes of guitar-colour - very...well, Gang Of Four-esque, in a way, and I’m sure that’s not accidental. I bet they were booked precisely because they illustrate how the Gang Of Four’s influence has percolated down to current bands. But they’re definitely not indie in, erm, business terms. They’re on a major label, they’re touring internationally, and generally getting a big music biz boost in all the right career-areas. I suspect Parlophone - their label - thinks it’s got the new Franz Ferdinand on its hands. In musical terms, they may be right, although The Departure are, at heart, far more of an elementary pop group. Their songs are straightforward and accessible, and never stray too far from rousing chorus-land, while the lyrics seem to be based very firmly around Relationship Stuff - no oblique art references or political sideswipes here. The Departure make the right kind of racket, and doubtless the pop kids will love ‘em, but they’re a bit too well-groomed and nicely-nicely to light a fire in my ragged old heart.

The Gang Of Four definitely don’t do ‘well-groomed’. They’re scruffy and intense and loud, and they burst onto the stage, laying into ‘What We All Want’ as if it’s 1979 all over again, and they’re trying to convince a pub full of punks that this is where the future starts. Jon King is nervy and manic, while Andy Gill is implacable and focused as he smashes out precise shards of guitar, attacking the music with a combination of force and control, like a geologist might hammer rocks. Dave Allen swings his FACT bass - an instrument I haven’t seen since Shriekback played the Astoria in 1987 - as if hurling each note bodily into the crowd. And, on drums, Hugo Burnham, looking disturbingly like a rotund and bespectacled Harry Secombe, slams his kit with an economy of style that makes the staccato thunder he generates sound almost uncanny. The stage is full of movement, as King, Gill and Allen swap places and microphones, constantly shifting to and fro, upstage and down. Jon King in particular experiences moments of freaked-out-ness in which he falls to his knees and scrabbles across the width of the stage, before rising again just in time to grab a mic and yell out the next line of vocal. He bashes up a microwave oven, by way of providing percussion; he stands, quivering and dishevelled, conjuring an agonised, passionate vocal out of his throat as the band swirl and roar around him. There’s so much motion and energy going on you’d almost believe someone had hard-wired the Shepherd’s Bush Empire stage to the mains, and is sending electricity straight up into the Gang Of Four’s feet.

This being the original Gang Of Four line-up, which only appeared on the band’s first two albums, tonight’s set is very much biased towards ancient history: lots of tracks from those early days - ‘At Home He’s A Tourist’, ‘Anthrax’, an astounding, storming, ‘To Hell With Poverty’ - and nothing from the latter incarnations of the band. Aside, that is, from a sprint through ‘We Live, As We Dream, Alone’, a third-album number and a song which Dave Allen, who had left the band by the time it was recorded, now finds himself playing for the first time. It’s a pity, in a way, that the Gang Of Four’s later material is not represented, because I for one would have given much to hear such late-model gems as ‘I Love A Man In Uniform’ rolled out tonight, but it seems that the band have elected to keep the set pretty much authentic to the line-up. Not that I’m complaining, mind: to experience the band battering through their early repertoire with such crazed energy is unquestionably a Good Thing, and demonstrates that the Gang of Four still have a definite edge over the smoother, poppier, present-day exponents of the punk-funk sound. Nobody ever took it to the edge of madness like this: certainly, nobody’s doing it like this now. The Gang Of Four’s comeback is, we’re told, a limited-time-only project, but while they’re with us, they’re going to provide a very necessary energy transfusion.

see all photos from this concert here

Gang Of Four official site - based around current activities of the reformed band: http://www.gangoffour.co.uk

Gang Of Four fan site - by that master of arcane detail, Phil Hetherington. Best for history & background. Contains the mother of all discographies: http://www.emdac.demon.co.uk/phil/gof/gof_indx.html

Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill's own site. Much info on current production work, etc. Contains Gang Of Four section: http://www.gillmusic.com

The Departure:  http://www.thedeparture.com

Shepherd's Bush Empire:  http://www.shepherds-bush-empire.co.uk

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Killing Joke
Alex Paterson
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Thursday February 24 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

OK, all you punk rock mathematicians, riddle me this. Killing Joke released their first single, the very fine ‘Nervous System/Turn To Red’ in 1979. I know this because a copy of that classic waxing sits on my record shelf to this very day. If we assume from this that ‘79 represents Killing Joke’s year zero - the point at which it all began - why, then, is this gig billed as the band’s 25th anniversary show? From 1979 to 2005 is 27 years, so if Killing Joke really are celebrating their silver jubilee, they’re a couple of years too late. Nevertheless, the band’s two nights (of which this is the first) at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire are being filmed for an anniversary DVD, and the old-skool fans have turned out in force. It’s a slight surprise to see the venue packed with grizzled veterans of the post-punk wars - for Killing Joke released a new album in 2003, and for a while looked set to re-invent themselves as a contemporary, if more than usually stroppy, rock act. But if they did win any current-scene kudos during this episode, it seems to have evaporated. The vast majority of tonight’s crowd look like they’ve been in on the Joke for years. That’s not a bad thing, of course: indeed, it’s the presence of this loyal fanbase that has stuck with the band since the early days that has enabled Killing Joke to continue for 25 (or 27) years. But I can’t help wishing the gig looked a little less like a retro event, and a bit more like the current music scene.

Alex Paterson, the main man from The Orb, and a Killing Joke roadie before he sold his soul for ambient space-techno, fills the support slot with a DJ set. Perhaps aware of the crowd he’s playing to, he steers clear of ambient space-techno in favour of vintage punk (Clash, pre-pop star Adam And The Ants), post-punk obscurities (Jah Wobble), and plenty of warm, loping, dub reggae. This in itself is a bit of a throwback, for reggae was almost always the between-bands music in ye old punk days and after. The assembled old-skoolers seem happy enough with his selections, but it’s Killing Joke everyone really wants - and, at length, it’s Killing Joke that we get.

The band strolls on stage - no fuss or intro tapes. Suddenly, they’re just there. Who’s in the line-up this time? We get a random drummer, and the usual hired-hand keyboard player discreetly tucked into the side of the stage. There’s latter-day bassist Paul Raven, sporting his lunkhead rocker look in a beanie hat, and the two originals - Geordie, as ever lean and reserved, toting his old semi-acoustic guitar, and, up front, bug-eyed, face-painted, and brandishing the microphone like a shamanistic totem, Jaz Coleman himself - vocalist, ranter, and all-purpose prophet of the apocalypse. The rhythm cranks up, a big, rumbling monster of a noise, the bass thudding like doom, the drums forcing everything forward. Geordie’s guitar breaks over the top like surf, while Jazz saucers his eyes and lets rip. It’s the classic Killing Joke sound, and - it’s quickly apparent - we’re in for a set which pulls all sorts of obscure tunes out of the band’s repertoire. ‘Bloodsport’ allows Jazz to deliver a brief polemic on the subject at hand (bloodsports are a bad thing, essentially) before the tune - it’s an instrumental, with interludes of shouting - kicks in. ‘Primitive’ is a thing of glory, all stark, minimal drums, the guitar ebbing and flowing like tides. ‘Psyche’ is a frantic rush, and - a rare nod to the newer songs, this - ‘Asteroid’ is a crazed moment of anthemic singalong glory. The mosh kicks off like it’s 1982 and we’re all laying waste to the Lyceum, stage-divers passing overhead like DM-booted shooting stars.

As always when I’ve caught any of the post-Youth Killing Joke line-ups, I find myself missing the nimble, agile basslines of Joke’s original four-string man. Raven can always be relied upon to give it loads in the bottom end, but when all’s said and done he’s a rock player. You’d never call his playing funky. And that was always Killing Joke’s unique schtick: their gritty, funky, tautly rhythmic take on post-punk rock. The band we see before us tonight is definitely Killing Joke wearing their more mainstream rock band identity, and while I’m enjoying this set, I allow myself a twinge of regret that it’s not the classic early line-up on stage.  But then it’s encore time. By now Jaz is in an oddly relaxed mood. He drops his seething shaman persona sufficiently to chat in amiable tones to the crowd, introducing the drummer - ‘Ben, and he’s only twenty-two!’ - and asking if anyone has any requests. The other Jokers stand around casually, letting Jaz rabbit away. I get the impression that the band are using this first gig of their two-nighter as a warm-up for the main video shoot tomorrow - when, I suspect, they will be sternly in effect throughout, the set will be far more ‘greatest hits’, and Jaz’s matey chats with the audience will definitely not be forthcoming. They pull ‘The Pandys Are Coming’ out of the bag (‘We haven’t played this one for about nineteen years!’ chortles Jaz) and hurtle through a storming ‘Are You Receiving?’, one of those classic Killing Joke anthems of doom which, in these times of disintegrating civil liberties, are starting to sound uncannily like prophecies come true. We even have detention without trial in the UK now, just like the song says. Maybe dear old Jaz wasn’t so paranoid as he always seemed, back in those early days.

Almost unexpectedly - there’s no sense that the set is coming to any kind of climax - it’s the end of the show. The band take a bow, another curiously untypical piece of showboating, and they’re gone. That was...well, quite an odd performance, in a way. Odd to see Killing Joke so relaxed and informal; odd to see Jaz, normally implacable, stern and taciturn throughout, in such a friendly, easy-going mood. In a sense, it’s good to know that after 25 (or 27) years, Killing Joke can still surprise me. But I never thought they’d catch me out simply by being nice.

see all photos from this concert review here

Killing Joke:  http://www.killingjoke.com

The Orb:  http://www.theorb.com

Shepherd's Bush Empire:  http://www.shepherds-bush-empire.co.uk

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Bonfire Madigan
Electric Ballroom, London
Thursday December 16 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

It’s the return of the conceptual nutters. Yep, Laibach are back in town, stopping off in London as part of their world tour, which is, in turn, an inducement for us all to go out and buy their new compilation album, Anthems. The Electric Ballroom is seething with the kind of varied crowd that many bands must secretly yearn for: grizzled old industrio-heads, be-uniformed fetishists, curious indie kids, goths. Laibach are one of those select few bands who seem able to induce everyone to come out and play. Not that this ability has made them megastars, of course, but maintaining a trans-genre cult following for more than 20 years is nothing to be sneezed at in these troubled times.

Unbilled and unexpected, we have a support act. Bonfire Madigan is a girl with a cello, a backing track, and a chirpy, ditzy, talkative style - a direct collision with Laibach’s dour, taciturn demeanour. I suspect this was half the reason she got the support slot, for Laibach are nothing if not masters of the incongruous juxtaposition. Madigan (or can I call her Bonfire?) brightly informs us that she comes from San Fransisco, although she’s so much of a flower child that we might’ve guessed, and promptly launches into a set of minimalist weirdpop, mood pieces in which the cello tip-toes through some quirky melodies while the backing track churns and clonks. It’s odd and engaging stuff, on occasions recalling a chamber music version of the Sugarcubes, although at times the backing track is so quiet it’s sometimes hard to figure out just what’s coming through the PA. But the crowd, intrigued, clusters to the front and pays attention. David Coulter, a man I remember from years back as part of Test Dept, comes out, enigmatic and behatted, to wail spookily on a bowed saw. Madigan introduces him (twice!) as being ‘from the Pogues’, which momentarily throws me. But yes, according to a swift web search, he did indeed spend six years in the Pogues (it would’ve been longer, but he got time off for good behaviour).  The cello and saw, groaning and keening like ghosts in the woodwork, entwine and mesh together, and Madigan’s personality, bubbling all over it like hot soup, provides a nice stylistic counterpoint. Verdict: curious but cool. We’ll mark Bonfire Madigan as one to catch again.

Laibach aren’t so much a band as an ongoing art experiment. Their schtick, in a nutshell, is to cast a cynical, deadpan glance at ideology, government, organisation and control - and set their observations to a thumping great industrial-opera racket. If truth be told, it’s the thumping great industrial-opera racket that’s brought tonight’s crowd through the doors: all the art stuff, fascinating though it might be, is really a side issue when there’s industrial-strength moshing to be done. And then, of course, there are the cover versions. Laibach have devoted a large chunk of their career to re-interpreting the big pop tunes of our time, transforming them into dark and alarming things. This may be a savage indictment of the dark heart of our superficial culture, or it might be Laibach’s idea of a laugh, but either way, they open up with Status Quo’s ‘In The Army Now’ and the place goes wild. Laibach themselves, as ever a bunch of costumed enigmas, stand in the smoke and the lights like slightly stroppy gods who’ve descended from the mountain to point out where we’re all going wrong. The vocals are a growling, dramatic (if entirely incomprehensible) rumble, the guitar a Berlin wall of sound. The rhythms thunder like tanks entering Prague, and, on the occasions when the cover songs come up, it all gets quite splendidly surreal. ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ comes at us in a slow, sinister lope, the bassline a back-alley stalker, delightfully devilish. Meanwhile, the twin drummer girls, stage right and left (who quite possibly are supposed to represent the Laibach Pure Youth Front, or somesuch archly knowing concept) contrive to look glacial and aloof throughout. Although the principal musicians remain half-hidden in the background all the while, there’s no shortage of spectacle. Laibach, for all their cerebral art ‘n’ ideology underpinnings, are nevertheless a consummate bunch of showbiz flim-flammers. If the kids want a stomping great rock show, Laibach are perfectly willing to provide.

But there’s a pertinent point. The last time I saw Laibach was back in 1996, at this very same venue. And, frankly, I have to say that not a huge amount has changed in the intervening seven years. The show they give us is, in all essential respects, the same now as it was then. Laibach still look the much same as they ever did, they still do that big bad industrial-opera thing, they still play those crazy cover versions. The merchandise stall is still offering spoof-political posters, and pretend passports to Laibach’s imaginary country. Laibach, in short, have established themselves in their niche, they’ve got their faithful cult following, and, on tonight’s evidence, it seems they don’t particularly see why they should move on. And that’s fine as far as it goes, because, as I say, the show is still good. But all the conceptual stuff is looking rather well-worn these days, and if I were Laibach, I’d be a bit concerned about that. The one essential fact about art is that it always moves forward, and I have an awkward feeling that Laibach’s stompy boots are starting to mark time.

see all the photos from this concert here

Laibach:  http://www.laibach.nsk.si

Visit Laibach at home:  http://www.nskstate.com

Legendary Laibach video clip (Warning - not for the fainthearted!):  http://www.rathergood.com/laibach

Bonfire Madigan:  http://www.bonfiremadigan.com

Electric Ballroom:  http://www.electric-ballroom.co.uk

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Cubic Space Division
No Hope For New Jersey
The Marquee, London
Tuesday February 8 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

We’re up the Marquee again, for another gig put together by the Organ webzine to plug their latest compilation album, Organ Radio 21: This Is Why I Bookmarked You. It’s a slightly weird experience, entering this latest Marquee venue. We’re three floors up, in a building which previously hosted the glitzy celebs-and-paparazzi superclub Home. The self-consciously upmarket decor and furniture, left over from the club, looks rather odd now that the place plays host to rough ‘n’ tumble rock gigs, while the toilets, specially designed to make it difficult for druggie clubbers to suck up their substances, are more like a bizarre art installation than a karzi.  There’s another layer of weirdness to this particular evening, because, earlier in the day, the Marquee hosted the press launch of the Download festival. My showbiz spies tell me that Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol were in attendance, although it would seem they buggered off sharpish before there was any danger that they’d catch a real gig. Still, although we don’t get to meet any megastars, Download banners and promotional Snickers bars (chocolate is the new rock ‘n’ roll, kids) are very much in evidence as the audience begins to filter in.

Well, the stars might have absented themselves from the gig, the lightweights, but there’s a smattering of music industry types forming a semicircle at a safe distance from the stage as our first band of the night, No Hope In New Jersey, start their set. NHINJ (not the most elegant of abbreviations, but I’m trying to give my typing finger a break here) are an accessible poppy-rocky outfit who brew up a storm of densely-packed guitar noise over which angsty vocals are hollered out like the singer’s coming over all emo about something. The vocals tend to get swamped by the guitar-racket, and in truth there’s a distinct lack of killer choruses or nagging hooks to grab the attention, so while it’s clear that the band have that generic alternorock sound nailed down I think there’s still some work to be done in the songwriting department. NHINJ need at least two or three songs that really connect, and I don’t think they’re quite there yet. Nevertheless, the industry types seem impressed. NHINJ already have a major deal in their pockets, MTV interest, and the Foo Fighters’ producer lined up for their debut album. That figures: I can imagine NHINJ making it big among fans of airbrushed-into-acceptability mainstream rock fraternity, and if that’s where their ambitions lie, then good luck to ‘em. Personally, I prefer bands with a bit more a bit more rough-edged character. NHINJ display a smooth professionalism that impresses at first but becomes bland too quickly.

Cubic Space Division are a rumbling metal monster, obviously rehearsed to the hilt both in terms of the music and the show - c’mon, guys, you’re not going to tell me that those interludes of synchronised headbanging are spontaneous outpourings of joy. Clearly, they like both types of music: loud and soft. Many of their songs start off quietly, with the stage-left guitarist giving it a restrained strum and a croon of a vocal, before the stage-right guitarist crashes in like a thunderstorm, and lets out a full-throated ‘WOOOOAAARRRGGHH!’ as if he’s headlining Download in front of a packed field of rabid rockers. Doubtless, if you’re a metal fan, this stuff is utterly marvellous, but for those of us who are unconverted to the metal cause, it’s heavy going. One song that goes ‘Hooarrrgh! Waaaaghh!  Urghh! Wooargh!’ frankly sounds much like another, and it must be said that Cubic Space Division have many, many such songs. In front of a metal crowd, I’m sure they’d hit the spot, but they aren’t winning many hearts tonight.  In fact, a good chunk of the audience decides it would rather be elsewhere.  (‘Oh good,’ says the stage-left guitarist, ‘I see we’ve made half the people leave!’) By the time the band waaaargghh themselves to a conclusion they’re playing to a vast area of empty space, and a few cautious faces peering round the corner from the bar. Not a bad band, in their way, but this wasn’t their gig, and definitely not their audience.

The crowd emerges from the shadows when Leisur::Hive take the stage. This is a band with a following, and even a blast of venue-clearing metal can’t put the fans off. They play it taut and taciturn, moving from song to song with nary a word to the crowd. But nobody comes to a Leisur::Hive gig for the between-song banter. The band’s big appeal is that abrasive yet bang-on-target sound, the thump and pummel of the bass, the rasp of the guitars, the effect-soaked squeal of the violin - and the agonised, intense-enough-to-explode rip of the vocals. Tonight Leisur::Hive seem to work themselves into a particularly frenzied mood, racking up the tension like an elastic band getting into the snap zone. ‘Try To Be Still’ crops up as the opening song, as if it’s an instruction to the crowd to pay attention and listen. ‘Stay Clean’, with its two-note bassline striding implacably forward like a boxer entering the ring, has an especially menacing groove to it, humming and buzzing as if the band had decided to set an electricity substation to music. Leisur::Hive manage the contradictory achievement of seeming to be both in control of their art, and yet pushed along by it, as if by plucking their guitar strings they unleash a frowning, glowering monster, a big black dog that’s forever threatening to break its leash. The set ends with a bit of classic chaos. Some bands like to finish their performances by trashing their gear: Leisur::Hive trash each other. You know it’s been a good show when assorted band members are rolling on the floor in a pool of feedback. A fine climax to an appropriately odd gig. If only Ozzy had stuck around to see it - might’ve given the frazzled old warhorse a few new ideas.

see all photos from this concert here

Leisur::Hive:  http://www.leisur-hive.co.uk

Cubic Space Division:  http://www.cubicspacedivision.com

No Hope In New Jersey:  http://www.nohopeinnewjersey.com

The Organ empire:  http://www.organart.com [Link to the latest issue of the online zine top right]

The Marquee:  http://www.themarqueeclub.co.uk

Download festival (if you must): http://www.downloadfestival.co.uk

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Living With Eating Disorders
Suitable Case For Treatment
The Marquee, London
Tuesday January 18 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Anyone who’s ever taken the slightest interest in ye olde rock ‘n’ roll will know about the Marquee. It’s one of the select few music venues of the world - along with CBGB and the Whisky A-Go-Go - that require no further explanation. Just mentioning the name is enough. Except that the Marquee isn’t quite what it once was. The present Marquee is the fifth incarnation - and the fifth location, now that it rather incongruously occupies the upper floors of a Leicester Square block - of the famed London live music club. It has no connection with previous Marquees aside from the name. The legendary Wardour Street venue of yesteryear, where every band from the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols played, is long gone. Even the 90s Marquee in Charing Cross Road, which, by virtue of its regular Sunday night goth slot, helped the UK goth scene survive a very lean period, is now just a memory. This new version of the Marquee can’t rely on its famous past, because it hasn’t got one. But in a way, that’s an advantage. It focuses attention on what’s happening in the here and now, and that can’t be bad for the bands.

Anyone who’s spent any time in the murky depths of London’s underground music scene over the last decade will know about the Organ fanzine.  Originally an old-skool hard copy fanzine, every page a riotous collage of pointed, pithy big-ups and demolition jobs on a bewildering variety of bands, the Organ now exists on the web as a weekly zine-cum-newsletter.  It’s just as manic and frothing-at-the-mouth as it ever was, and it’s still willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the best bands of the moment. This gig celebrates the release of the Organ’s latest various artists compilation, This Is Why I Bookmarked You, and acts as a showcase for some of the bands on the album - bands to which the Organ reckons we should devote a bit of ear-time. And, when the Organ says ‘Listen to this!’ it very often pays to prick up yer lug ‘oles and do just that.

Suitable Case For Treatment look reassuringly normal offstage, but morph into a bizarre prog-blues monster as soon as they get up under the lights.  The vocalist both looks and sounds like the long-lost nephew of Tom Waits, roaring and hollering as if calling his pet alligator out of the swamp for its evening feed. Most of the songs sound like Captain Beefheart covering ‘Release The Bats’, slowed down and fed through Metallica’s mangle, and tricked out with time changes, false starts and endings, and odd tangents in which the band sometimes seem to have rattled off into a different song altogether. At times, they throw in incongruous mellow interludes in which a saxophonist appears on stage and does his Jazz Odyssey thing, but then, with a crunch of guitar and a yelp from the vocalist, it’s back to the mutant blues grind. It’s all utterly odd, and it’s plain that Suitable Case For Treatment aren’t at all bothered about following that pesky rock ‘n’ roll rule book. Metal mentalists, the lot of ‘em.

Living With Eating Disorders are the odd band out tonight - that is, if any band can be fairly described as ‘odd’ on this somewhat left-field bill. But LWED have what none of the other bands have - an image. Not for them the dressed-down, scruffy leisurewear look of most of tonight’s acts. The chaps are severely suited - aside from the drummer, who appears to have dressed for a pot-holing expedition. Andrea, naturally, is a wide-eyed fried bride in a tumble of white lace. There’s also a posse of fans down the front in distressed glam rags: ah, yes, you can always tell when LWED are due on stage, because the glam-quotient in the audience suddenly rises. The band crackles into a selection of their fractured anthems, tip-toeing through those deceptively delicate intros before wheeling on the heavy artillery and firing splinters of mad guitar and thundering rhythms at the crowd. The glam posse soak it all up with rapt attention, while those in the audience who were unprepared for such an audio-visual onslaught hang back, wearing expressions somewhere between bemusement and fear. It’s clear that not everyone is convinced, but I suspect Living with Eating Disorders are the band people will remember from tonight, and whether they’re recalled with love, hate, or anything in between I think that’ll still count as a result.

Twentysixfeet’s vocalist is young, energetic, and almost pathologically cheerful. He’s the focal point of a band which otherwise remains half-hidden and anonymous in the shadows between the lights. They’re a hyped-up, fast-moving, but essentially poppy guitar outfit, with added electronic sauce from an array of vintage hardware which includes that essential component of any trad electronica set-up, a synth in a wood veneer cabinet. Twentysixfeet seem to set great store by their classic electronic ingredients - at any rate, the synths are pushed right to the front of the stage, as if the band are anxious that everyone notes this element of their line-up. It’s odd, then, that the sounds generated by all this vintage gear are so minimal: nothing more than a bit of sonic decoration sprinkled atop the band’s punchy guitar-driven sound, and always kept well behind the guitars in the mix. All this means that Twentysixfeet come across as rather more conventional than I suspect they intend. They’re not a bad bunch, you understand, but the world is full of tousle-haired, cheery, indie-rock bands, and I think it’ll take more than a token sprinkling of ancient electronica to give this particular combo any real identity.

65daysofstatic (what is it with these bands and their squashed-together phrases for names?) are a collection of psychedelic punks who play towering instrumentals, building up layer upon layer of guitar while some distinctly non-vintage electronic gear feeds in loops and bloops and interplanetary weirdness. At times, the music approaches a  kind of stadium-spacerock grandiosity, so huge and all-encompassing does it become, but, in fine contradictory style, the band exhibits a downbeat, introspective demeanour throughout. No posing, no grandstanding, just a bunch of blokes hunched over guitars, brewing up an incongruously huge noise. There are, of course, no vocals, but sometimes, between songs, the lead guitarist addresses a few hesitant words to the audience, as if everything he really wants to say is in the music, and he can’t quite express himself in mere words. ‘Does everything seem terrible?’ he enquires, diffidently. ‘No!’ shouts the audience as one, believing his remark to refer to the soundmix. ‘No, I mean, when you read the papers...’ he expands. ‘Yes!’ cries the audience, realising this is a comment on the currently parlous state of the world.  That’s 65daysofstatic all over: endearingly gawky chaps with their hearts in the right place, but their heads hard-wired to the big bad generator of rock ‘n’ roll.

see all the photos from this concert here

65daysofstatic:  http://www.65daysofstatic.com

Twentysixfeet:  http://www.twentysixfeet.net

Living With Eating Disorders:  http://www.livingwitheatingdisorders.co.uk

Suitable Case For Treatment:  http://suitablecasefortreatment.myanalog.net

The Organ empire:  http://www.organart.com [Link to the latest issue of the online zine top right]

The Marquee: http://www.themarqueeclub.co.uk

Reviewed by uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

Miss Pain
Freebutt, Brighton
Friday February 25 2005
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

In a small pub tucked away behind the Phoenix Gallery in a Brighton back street, eighties electro, gleeful kitsch, and twenty-first century art-pop are colliding like quarks in a particle accelerator.  Weird un-rock music plays through the PA; a slide projector is being set up. Mills and Boon romantic novels are scattered about - revealing, on close examination, sundry hand-penned alterations to the text. And somebody’s handing out bingo cards. This, obviously, is not yer usual gig. Nope: it’s an evening of marvels assembled by Brighton’s electro-glam racketeers Miss Pain, who are not so much a band as a fully-assembled entertainment experience. And, as it happens, they’re first on stage tonight.

Miss Pain look like they took a wrong turn on the way to the disco. There are three of them: a bloke on guitar, who with fine disregard for the style police is wearing a splendidly pink skinny tie, and two girls in what would be fashionable party finery, if this were 1982. They arrange themselves amid vintage synthesizers - the kind that come in wood veneer cabinets, and have chunky knobs that must be twiddled in order to emit noise, and promptly swing into a set of tunes in which vintage Cabaret Voltaire bloops and squiggles dance mightily to a mutant disco beat. Over all this the guitar schlangs, clangs, fuzzes and grinds, and generally tries to assert its authority, like a schoolteacher vainly trying to keep order in a boisterous playground. The lyrics - strange vignettes of behind-the-net-curtains British life, as far as I can tell - are delivered in a deadpan, narrative style by a nice young lady in a silver dress, who takes up a megaphone to make sure we don’t miss a thing. They have a song called ‘Electric Blue Fire Hazard’ which seems to be an anthem in praise of, erm, undergarments manufactured in synthetic fibres - essential wear for the suburban British bedroom. Meanwhile, visuals flicker on the screen behind the band. If all this seems like very early-eighties, John Peel show stuff - well, that certainly does seem to be where a lot of Miss Pain’s influences are coming from. But they have a secret weapon: everything comes wrapped in wit and humour. The band are ever-ready to laugh at themselves, their kitchy retro aesthetic, the temperamental vintage synths, even the collapasing microphone stand. They could never do that dour, long-raincoat eighties electronica thing, because they’re just too much of a glittery pop group. It’s this combination of art-punk electro influences and disco glitz, the opposites-attract mash-up of severe electronics and pop gaudiness that works. Miss Pain are a shimmer of guilty pleasure.

Then it’s bingo time. Personally, I’m all for games of chance occurring in any suitable interval at a gig, and any band which can get an entire audience squinting in unison at bingo cards certainly gets my vote. The winner accepts his lavish prize (two tea towels) with well-feigned delight, and then it’s time for Stazi.

Stazi come from Manchester, and they’re a gloriously illogical collision of influences so disparate you have to wonder what strange conjunction of planets allowed them to exist in the first place. Think of a torch-song version of Kraftwerk; think of two new wave surrealists gatecrashing karaoke night in a Lancashire working men’s club. Think of The Fall, as remixed by Giorgio Moroder. Think, if you can bear it, of Morecambe and Wise doing performance-art disco. Stazi, in short, are not a normal band.  Come to that, they’re not any sort of band. They’re an experience, a turn, an aberration, a loophole in reality. And fortunately, given that this sort of stuff can so often fall flat, they’re actually rather good. They comprise two well-dressed gents in pinstripes. One sings with a kind of wild-eyed desperation, as if it’s all going horribly wrong but he’s determined to get through the performance somehow, while his colleague pokes hopefully at a toy keyboard. (‘Are you miming?’ asks someone in the crowd, mock-incredulous. ‘Miming? Never! See for yourself!’ asserts the keyboard player, passing his entire instrument, unencumbered by any wires, out into the audience.) The music, rolling thunderously off a backing track, is a punchy, groovy, electronic rumble, and the vocals, a bashed-up soulful holler, suit the tunes just fine. Here’s the essential fact about Stazi which, ultimately, makes what they do work: somewhere underneath all the weirdness and the wildness and that studied anti-band approach, there’s actually a bona fide pop group trying to get out. They have a song called ‘Walk Of Shame’, about wending your way home in the small hours, realising another night of your life has been pissed up the wall to no avail, and a genuinely affecting take on the old soul tune ‘The Drifter’. They  throw out a rumbustious glam-stomper of an anthem entitled ‘How Sleazy Do You Want It?’, upon which the Stazi boys suddenly sound like they’re challenging Soft Cell to a fight. They even sample Guns ‘n’ Roses, and, don’t ask me how, succeed in making Slash’s guitar riffs sound entirely natural amid the electronic brew. The entire performance is loud and ludicrous and manic, and I can imagine under more conventional circumstances might seem deliberately antagonistic. But here, amid Miss Pain’s surreal party atmosphere, it works.

see the photos from this concert here

Stazi: http://www.wearestazi.com

Miss Pain: http://www.misspain.co.uk

The Freebutt: http://www.ents24.com/web/venue/2376/Brighton/The_Freebutt.html

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

see all photos from this concert here

Martin Rev's own website, apparently the nearest thing to an official Suicide site: http://www.martinrev.com

Fan site which probably contains the best Suicide overview:

Mute's comprehensive Suicide biography:

Recent Suicide interview:

Suicide's albums - reviewed: http://launch.yahoo.com/ar-265802-reviews--Suicide

Mechanical Cabaret:  http://www.mechanicalcabaret.co.uk

Nought: (No website)

Electric Ballroom:  http://www.electric-ballroom.co.uk

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to