Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Momus with Germlin, Stereo, Glasgow, 27th July

He’s laying out pom poms on the floor. Not on the stage, on the space in front of it. First he put down a silk handkerchief and smoothed it out, diamond shaped; now he’s arranging pom poms on it. Later on he will crouch in the same spot and lob some of them into the audience, his machines going crazy behind him. I wonder if he spends his days on the tour bus winding wool around cardboard hoops, replenishing his supply. Then I remember that Germlin isn’t playing the whole of Momus’ tour, only tonight, when they are to debut some of the songs they’ve been collaborating on long distance. Momus probably doesn’t have a bus either: a glove compartment would be sufficient for the microphone, lyric book and iPod that constitute his musical equipment for the show. But then he hates cars, so maybe he brought them in a knapsack, on a train with WiFi, blogging the whole time about the promptitude and cheapness of German public transport in comparison with Britain’s random pricing model, indicative of our willingness to put up with things, and their capacity for getting things done.

I don’t have the right frames of reference to describe Germlin’s music. The closest I can think is that it spazzes out as randomly as Max Tundra, with the energy of µ-Ziq’s Tango N’ Vectif. But I don’t know if that really does justice to the energy part. Germlin is all over the place during his set: jumping up on his equipment table (laptop, heavily taped up boxes with knobs on, a Stylophone), howling into a microphone, dancing around in his intense little space between the front of the stage and the handkerchief, hunched, possessed by this beat then that, battered around like a canoe in a tempest, or a moth at a My Bloody Valentine gig. The howls get heavily treated, are never identifiable as vocal sounds, and he fucks them up further with feverish scribbles on the laptop’s touchpad. Between songs he shouts unamplified as though in pain, ‘Thank you!’, ‘You can move closer if you want!’ and ‘This is the last song! Then I’m going to be doing some with Momus!’ It’s not even as if there aren’t any tunes – there are loads. Smashed around, and doubly thrilling for it. What’s not to like?

Every so often during Germlin’s set, a figure in clogs, a dress and an eyepatch hops politely from the shadows to take pictures, and it’s so strange to see him in the flesh, this electronic presence, the curious man, the modern Scheherazade, with his one man campaign to make the internet an intelligent place. He’s new to me, Momus. I don’t think I’d come across him before he wrote about Scott Walker’s The Drift a couple of years ago. Or was it when A. played ‘The Hairstyle of the Devil’ at his DJ spot in the place that had no CD decks, and he gave S. a copy of Tender Pervert when she asked him about it? That would have been around the same time. And here was this guy who took the Pet Shop Boys’ sound and was so free and erudite with it, not that they weren’t erudite, but… why hadn’t I heard of him? I was so chuffed. There was so much to discover. I got some of the records, became addicted to Click Opera. Circus Maximus and Hippopotamomus were the ones I really liked. Ocky Milk, his latest, is fab too. The Ultraconformist, the fake live album, is the one that the real live show most recalls, Momus’ delivery at its most energetic and Brechtian. Add this low down knockabout cabaret to Germlin’s perfectly formed headfucks, then chuck in some mime as Momus drapes himself around and around a pillar, and you have something of a winning formula. Can’t wait for the record.

As if this wasn’t enough, which it easily could have been, we then got eighteen songs spanning the whole of Momus’ career, one per album. Highlights were ‘His Majesty the Baby’ (really grotesque delivery on that one), ‘Hairstyle of the Devil’ (the alternative ‘It’s A Sin’, that sound at that volume… oh my!), ‘What Will Death Be Like?’ (inevitably recalling Brel’s ‘My Death’, Momus just stopped himself from breaking into Del Amitri’s ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ at the end, ‘because he’s [cousin Justin of Del Amitri] here tonight! And that is what death will be like – nothing ever happens!’), the wonderfully stately ‘Nervous Heartbeat’ (Momus saluting its entrance and exit), and, and, and… It was some show. A blast for a new convert like me, significantly stranger for long term fans – A. said it was like watching his youth slip past him, year by year. The relentlessness of Momus’ output shortcircuiting the usual experience of seeing old bands, when you recall their few productive years vividly, maybe there’s a gap and then there are some new songs, and that makes some kind of sense, there’s a connection to a fixed and manageable past. Nostalgia, in fact. This rigid progression (literally too – that iPod wasn’t stopping for anyone), the use of backing tracks from the actual records in some cases, and the fact that there wasn’t a gap, emphasised the passage of time in an unnervingly linear way. Even if you weren’t listening to him in 1986 – that was twenty two years we saw just peel away, song by song. The effect was a kind of Proustian overload: madeleine after madeleine.

Though Germlin had packed up his equipment long before the encore, Momus sang along to his collaborator’s version of Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’, wearing one of his pom poms around his neck (hinting at the clown costume in the video), miming the injection of junk, but changing the line that refers to it to ‘We know Major Tom’s a monkey’, whilst swinging his arms like an orang utan. Mime was a big part of the whole performance. He described it himself a few weeks ago, you can see him there with a cloth over his head; this time it was a translucent plastic sheet, large enough for him to crawl completely under. At other points he was running across the stage and back as though in a jousting contest, vigorously shagging an empty space, and serenading us in falsetto from Germlin’s table (it was at this point that he hastily removed his laptop). I’m divorcing all this from its proper context because I can’t remember which action went with which song, but it all made fairly literal sense at the time. For the second encore he let the crowd choose a song and we got ‘Bishonen’ (‘It’s a long and serious song, but OK…’), Momus smiling as he sang ‘Surprised at 48 to find myself so late / Turning from a boy into a man’. Now there’s something which will never happen. More exhausting than any child, but so often exhilarating in his creative hyperactivity, long may Momus tell his endless tales, and sing his amazing songs.

5 comments:

Andy said...

A lovely review of a fantastic show. Germlin was fantastic as well. I very briefly spoke to Momus afterwards - I think it was along the lines of 'what a great show' as I was too stunned to string coherent sentences together. My life (or at least my mis-spent youth) really were flashing before me, but it all seemed really vital and contemporaneous as well. Exhilirating. To be twenty-odd years (to paraphrase Vic Godard) into a 'career' and still making vital, interesting records is a feat few of my other first musical loves have managed. Long may he continue... I still treasure my Momus records and look forward to new additions.

Chris said...

Thanks, A. You've blown your anonymity there!

It just seemed a little mindblowing, the difference between what we experienced - you with 20 years' back story, me with two. I'm sure there were many variations in between amongst the audience. Were we all even at the same gig?

horsemeatpie said...

Yowsa

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhUAreLt_uo

Chris said...

Impressive! We'll have you burning CDs next...

I see you've patched things up with Momus about the video credits. Hope you didn't mind me pointing out the mistake.

horsemeatpie said...

No, that was perfect, thanks. It saved me writing a meh-meh-meh comment.

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