Saturday, November 05, 2011

Viv Albertine, The Creeping Ivies, Ghosts of Progress and Hookers for Jesus, at Beat Generator Live!, Dundee, 4th November

The main thing which puzzled me in advance of this show was Viv’s image. Naked on the poster, save for a rose-patterned guitar, she stared out narrowly, daring you to think, ‘bloody hell, aren’t you from 1977? How on earth do you look like that?’ The video for ‘The False Heart’, too, shows a woman who has conceded nothing to time – but maybe something to tastefulness, as its graceful, glacial clarity supports a light, scratchy guitar sound that once meshed with altogether meatier rhythms. The white room, a victim of interior design... but I’m talking as though taste is a bad thing, and as though The Slits never had any. Whereas actually Cut is one of the most gloriously tasteful records ever made, drawing much of its appeal from the morphing of the band’s sound from falling-down-the-stairs punk (you need the Peel Sessions for that), to clipped, playful reggae. Not even their contemporary Vic Godard re-worked his songs so radically (well, maybe ‘Chain Smoking’), and it is certainly the kind of overhaul which could have gone horribly wrong. But somehow, with The Slits, tastefulness went deep. I should have remembered that when wondering if ‘The False Heart’ wasn’t a little too calm. But then, it’s been a long time.

Tastefulness has always been at the heart of Hookers for Jesus’ modus operandi, in much the same way that political correctness is at the heart of Ricky Gervais’. With the air of one not quite being able to keep a secret, Graeme told me to look out for something on his guitar, and I squinted and looked for stickers, saw nothing. Then they took to the stage and he picked it up... it has a fox’s tail! Oh my God! This is the most glamorous thing I have ever seen. It swayed from the end of the guitar as he moved, and indeed, he seemed to be moving the guitar more than usual in order to extract maximum slinkiness. Afterwards I asked him if fox hunting wasn’t a bit un-punk? ‘I am the fox’, he explained. A new version of ‘Drifting into Unthank’ was unveiled, taking it into operatic territory, with an extended intro of gloomy sound effects, and a choral preset adding gravitas / hilarity. Andy introduced them, once more, as the cabaret before the main bands, and it’s a role they fit perfectly. My favourite moment this time was their cover of The Meteors’ ‘My Daddy is a Vampire’, complete with echo effect and stupid / exhilarating vocalisations. Pure dumb fun.

Ghosts of Progress? They started up OK, with their quirky drums / guitar / singing by the same person setup (the drums operated by pedals attached to a board), but then the singing when it arrived was too Kurt Cobain, an immediate turn-off for me. Plus I thought we were in for a more angular slalom on the basis of the first (instrumental) song, and it didn’t quite materialise. The Creeping Ivies were really good though, turning in a set of short rock ’n’ roll songs, the singer in leopard print leggings which went on for miles, topped with a T-shirt reading ‘Bo Diddley is Jesus’; the drummer in a sharp suit, swinging his hips as he walloped two drums and a cymbal. They covered a Cramps song and appeared to have several big tunes of their own, I want to hear more.

Viv Albertine doesn’t believe in love, only in ‘what I can see and what I can touch’. Fortunately she believes in these plenty. She bought candles for the tables to give the room ambience, and after a brief explanation that she may have grown up a bit (which people don’t like punks to do), but probably not much, she kicked off with a one-chord, semi-chanted song setting out this agenda. Just her with that nimble, scratchy guitar, no longer pristine as on the YouTube clip, and if not actually falling down the stairs then certainly rolling down a slope. Free in the air, urgent, dynamic, unconstrained by tepid 4/4 concerns, because in the beginning there was rhythm, and it didn’t sound like a metronome. Over this the words came thick and fast, petulant, bold. A list of things which are real (wood, concrete) one of and things which aren’t (love, God). Almost child-like (I half expected Santa Claus to feature on one list or the other), but tough and adult at the same time. ‘Never Come’ was introduced with an explanation that her ex-boyfriend could never come, the stop-start structure of the song perhaps mimicking the lack of, um, fluidity. Most impressive of all was the final song, which Viv described as comprising the last four years of her life squashed into four minutes. It whirled around, punning and switching words and phrases, drawing a picture of domesticity gone wrong (courgette quiche was in there somewhere, I think), building to a frantic thump thump thump rhythm with ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Fuck Fuck Fuck’ alternately sung staccato, really breathtaking, claustrophobic. It reminded me of Throwing Muses’ ‘Vicky’s Box’, with its bitter pun ‘Home is where the heart lies / The hard lies’, and the frantic build up, ‘Home is a rage / Feels like a cage’. There are precious few songs which can do this, and we really had no right to expect someone who was brilliant thirty years ago to be able to come back and be this fresh, this raw, this compressed, this bursting. An absolute triumph.

P.S. I missed out the best slogan of the evening – ‘Couples are creepy / Couples are creepy / Couples are creepy’. And in fact here it is (via Dylan Drummond):


Throw money at Viv here, so she can get her album pressed (there is an EP to buy too):


Andy Wood said...

Awesome review... the Sunday night performance was pretty wonderful as well. How good were Throwing Muses last night? I was in a wee world of my own/Kristin's making for large parts of the set, not really noticing the rest of the room. I got over my imagining Tanya was going to be playing fairly quickly...

Chris said...

Thanks Andy - awesome gig, more to the point.

I never saw the Muses *with* Tanya - she's been gone since 'Red Heaven', you know!

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