I seem to be spending a lot of time in Camden recently as this is my third visit in as many weeks. Last nights expedition was to see the almighty Fall, one of UK alternative music’s most enduring and entertaining bands of the past thirty five years, for any post-punk band that’s quite a lifespan. I really do think that Mark E. Smith is up there with the likes of Brian Eno, or David Attenborough, or Alan Moore as a nominee for the greatest living Englishman, for those idiosyncratic individuals who live their lives and carve their careers by their own rules and fuck you if you don’t agree with ‘em. The venue was the atmospheric Koko – a little bit of history and context here – a Grade II converted theatre whose serpentine passageways and baroque crimson & gold fittings all contribute to quite a different concert experience. I have been there before a few years back to see Einstürzende Neubauten but I remember little of the experience, suffice to say I was in somewhat of a state of inebriation. Not so last night however, it was a school night for one and I simply can’t knock them back/hoover them up/gulp them down (delete as appropriate) like I used to. Anyway, enough of this waffle, for a fan of the band who hasn’t actually bought any of their records (well, except this) for the past twenty years I was there to soak up the vibe rather than identify specific tracks, but we did get a couple of old school numbers and a rousing encore that had the crowd going wild;
That was one of the opening tracks. The first wander down memory lane was this;
I must confess that so much of their more recent material blends effortlessly into their older – they don’t seem to be a band with a sense of any distinctive musical phases, they still encapsulate the scorching baselines and thundering guitar riffs that have been the bands trademark since the mid-seventies, all exaggerated and magnified by Mark’s unique lyrical intonations – he could be making the whole thing up and you’d never know.
Another oldie (and a rather unexpected encore as the crowd had started to disperse when they remounted the stage) which subsequently bled into a blistering final track;
Smith does seem to like prowling the stage, messing with the band members amps and even hurling the microphone into the crowd at one point for a bit of imprompteau audience participation which was most amusing. Third time lucky (saw ‘em once in Norwich in about 1991) and last year at the Field Day Festival, I can now go to my grave, safe in the knowledge that I’ve got a Fall trio under my belt. There will be some movie stuff coming up soon, I promise….
So, another reunion gig but who are the ‘Butthole Surfers‘? For the uninitiated, this is a good place to start for getting a feel for the Texan born psychedelia alt-rock lunatics who were one of the more unique bands emerging from the American post-punk scene in the mid 1980′s. I’m not their biggest fan, I have three albums and a live bootleg – but their live shows from the start of their career have obtained an almost mythical status so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them reformed with most of the original line-up. As I expected they weren’t quite as insane as they used to be but still delivered a cracking show with all the requisite back projections, strobes, smoke and loud, loud guitars.
The band use two drum kits, up to four guitarists on some tracks and vocalist Gibby Haynes employs some weird voice distortion equipment so this ain’t exactly your traditional rock act four piece. I must confess that set list wise I only recognised about half of the songs as many of the tracks were culled from the album ‘Rembrandt Pussyhorse‘ and some of their EP’s which I don’t have. My two favourite tracks of theirs are fairly mainstream, ‘Cough Syrup‘ which they didn’t play but we did get a storming rendition of ‘Sweat Loaf‘ which made the night for me.
The Forum is a good, intimate venue where I’ve seen both ‘Nine Inch Nails’ ages ago and the ‘The Pixies’ during their storming reunion a couple of years ago. Here are some other links to Surfers material I’ve tracked down to give you an idea of their history. And madness.
Frontman Gibby Hayes has certainly changed over the past few years – check out the before and after photos above. The whole tour was part of the Paul Green School of Rock project which aims to get kids on stage performing live with established acts - the world has certainly drifted further toward Apocalypse when they’re letting Gibby near children considering stories of his past behavior. For the only encore about twenty of the kids performed something of a stage invasion during a rendition of ‘The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave‘, destroying equipment, wrapping each other in gaffer tape, throwing objects into the crowd as squeals of feedback rumbled around the venue, now that’s the chaos you expect from a Surfers gig!!
There are some legendary stories about the antics these psychopaths got up in the late eighties which are part chronicled in this book, an absolute must read for anyone even passingly interested in the US alternative/punk scene of the 1980′s. If you’re interested further, here is a link to the Surfers website where they are giving away, perfectly free and legitimate copies of a live bootleg from 1988.
I don’t go to enough gigs. Never did. A brief scan through my blog and memory of older efforts details some fantastic experiences but I’m sure I still missed some amazing opportunities. Back in the day I was fortunate to see many of my favourite bands and with some minor exceptions I think I did OK, especially since a £5 an hour job in a video shop wasn’t exactly a path to NME backstage pass entertainment. Now our generation has the opportunity to revisit some of those artists we may have missed as they have reformed for many different reasons – not always the money, not always the kudos, just sometimes because I think they can, and it feels right.
Last Tuesday I saw the ethereal ‘My Bloody Valentine‘ on the final night of their short residency at the Cornerhouse where you may recall I caught ‘Sonic Youth‘ last year. Full disclosure, I was not a major fan back in the day as it were, I was vaguely aware of their amazing breakthrough material and approaches to gigs but I was too busy listening to ‘Lush’ and ‘Ride’ when it came to that strand of music to appreciate what could be achieved with those effect pedals and an obsessive attention to detail. And volume. I own ‘Loveless‘ which is great but it wasn’t exactly on the playlist for any Minty Indie revival compilation.
So I approached this gig without the sense of expectation that many others did, including my mate who I went with who is a major fan of the band. Now then, I’ve heard some loud gigs in my life. Front and centre for the Pixies in Brixton in 1990. Sonic Youth in 1990. Shellac in 2005. The Hollowmen in the Posh Club in 1988. They all stack up. This was not a gig, it was nothing less than an aural fucking assault and it was literally stunning. During the last track ‘You Made Me Realise‘ the entire place was literally shaking,the vibrations were almost palpable in the air such was the volume and insane distortions which was coined as the ‘Holocaust‘ when they pulled this stunt on tours back in the 1990′s. I’m still recovering. Some other great tracks where trotted out (click on the ‘watch in high quality’ icon for that one), no encores but after the disorientation of the final track I can’t complain. Apologies for the poor audio on those links but I’m surprised the punters phones didn’t commit suicide trying to capture the footage and frankly there’s not much material out there – hopefully it will give you some flavour of proceedings.
Set list above. So, next on the agenda are these headcases whom I’m seeing in a few weeks, I’m really excited as John Peel memorably called them one of the best live experiences of his life and I don’t think you can get higher praise than that. Finally, here is an article on the best 25 electronica albums of all time. I’ve no problem with the godfathers ‘Kraftwerk’ achieving the No.1 and they seem to cover all the bases although I’d replace Portishead and Bjork if I had the chance….