Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Tree That Never Flew – Hookers For Jesus & Panda Su, Westport Bar, Dundee, 29th November

Last Sunday it was surprisingly cold. Too cold, perhaps, and too far from pay day for the people of Dundee to venture out to see a gig by relatively unknown bands. Maybe they were tired out from Winter Light Night, too. Maybe it was the Westport Bar’s fault – never the most competent of pubs (but often endearing on that account), downstairs was completely deserted, and upstairs were the remnants of a party, almost comically bleak in the cold, empty room. Across the ceiling in front of the stage was a silver banner with nothing on it, and either side of this were some black balloons (who even makes black balloons?) Across a mirror on the side wall was another, smaller banner, which mocked: ‘Congratulations’. An engagement cake had been left behind, untouched. Sometimes it actually is grim up north.

First on, to a small but enthusiastic audience, were Hookers For Jesus. AKA Andy and Graeme, who I should say I have known for years (if objectivity is your bag, you’d best scarper), but this did not prepare me adequately for the thirty minutes of unwitting genius they produced. ‘Unwitting’ sounds patronising, doesn’t it? Maybe I am. This is the chorus of their first song:
Earth people, New York and California

Earth people, New York and California

Earth people, New York and California

Earth people, I was born in Jupiter
Over an insistent Stylophone backing somewhere between Suicide and The KLF, Andy rapped his Sci-Fi tale: ‘my skin is green and warhead looking mean’, and it was the funniest thing I have heard all year. All week I have been listening to my recording of it, grinning from ear to ear. And there was a shift between listening to it for the first time (‘what the fuck is this?’) to realising that I really did like it a lot – not just that song, the whole set, which was nicely varied and equally literate-dumb the whole way through. I can’t shake the feeling that what it reaches for and what it achieves are violently at odds, though there are fairly obvious pointers that this is not the case (e.g. the caricature Sci-Fi / boxing story lyrics). It’s like The Shaggs, except I don’t like The Shaggs nearly as much. It’s like The Fall, but more coherent. Graeme kitted himself out in a white ladies’ overcoat with fake fur trimmings, saying that this was cool in Japan – it went a treat with his leather trousers and bat-shaped guitar. Preposterous! But utterly great at the same time, the only way he could have topped it was with a costume change. His backing for ‘Drift Into Unthank’ was a pretty, cotton-wool-pulled-apart confection over which Andy read out a list of sad things: ‘This is the tree that never grew / This is the bird that never flew / This is the fish that never swam / This is the bell that never rang’, but he kept getting it mixed up, and there was a bird that never swam and (S.’s favourite) a tree that never flew amongst the underachievers. So all week we have been imagining flying trees – hers, for some reason, in the style of Quentin Blake’s drawings. It was a really great set.

Other bands played too – a couple I don’t particularly care for, but it is worth saying at least that the recent implosion of Saint Jude’s Infirmary (prompted by the recent fake accent exposé on this site perhaps?) resulted in a stripped down set which seemed, to the non-fan, an improvement, and the general, understandable desolation of their stage chat went well with the black balloons. Kid Canaveral were more enjoyable than I had expected, though they suffered the most from the small audience, with their good time pop songs which could really have done with some clamour and some jumping around to set them off.

Panda Su, on the other hand, were barely phased at all to be playing under these conditions, and unexpectedly headlining at that. There was no panda face paint this time, as there had been at their lovely EP launch gig a month or two ago, but everything else was right: five songs stretched out to the length of a full set, filling the time and filling the space, completely at ease. Slow slow chords on guitar and a keyboard organ drone setting the scene for the keyboard to drop away and ‘I am not what you want’ over and over, moving on to ‘I am nothing if I don’t have this’, opaque fragments of loneliness which written down look ever so teen angsty, but this aspect is balanced by the measured sound and the charm of the performance (head gig organiser Mike Pop Thrills notes their ‘easygoing stage presence’). Su’s voice is so far from shrill it is almost a narcotic. ‘And there’s nothing I admire / Except I can make you smile’ is a great non sequitur. Those lines are all from ‘Moviegoer’, but the other songs feel like a part of the same piece. The line ‘the salt water stings my eyes’ reminds me of Meursault, whose sound is more frayed and fraught, but there is a certain kinship of warm melancholy there. Su introduces ‘Eric is Dead’ saying it has just been picked up for use in a film about ‘lesbians coming out to their parents.’ There is a pause. ‘Not that there is anything wrong with lesbians coming out to their parents, it’s just that I think it is used in an erotic bit.’ The room fills with six minutes of shining sullen defiance, Su banging a bass drum along to her guitar while the subtle accompanist gets busy with a cute miniature red accordion. It must be a bittersweet erotic bit, not that there is anything wrong with that either.

Update: ‘Earth People’ is a cover! Oh no! Doesn’t mean it wasn’t genius the Hookers For Jesus way.


juxtagon said...

Hate to break it to you, but the last track was a cover too : "All My Rowdy Friends Are Dead" by Saint Judes Infirmary. They insisted.

Maybe I'll throw in a costume change just for you at the next gig ...

Chris said...

Yeah, I'd realised about that one.

A costume change would be awesome. Haven't actually seen one at a gig since my very first one - the Pet Shop Boys, in 1989.

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