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  • 'fax Ships Ate the Sky

    Mag 11 2014, 16:17

    Sat 10 May – Qu Junktions & The Doghouse presents: Current 93
    Have to say, I do like these gigs held in impressive religious buildings, the sound is pretty much a given, and with a background of a giant azure stained-glass window, there's no need for any clumsy set design. Current 93 for this occasion had a fairly slim backing group: Tony McPhee on electric guitar, Renier van Houdt on piano, Andrew Liles on pissing about with sounds and percussion, Carl Stokes on drums, and James Blackshaw on bass. That last one is a bit strange, it's a bit like tracking down Leonardo Da Vinci and handing him a tin of Dulux and a 6" brush. I guess he's just hanging around, filling in for a mate, but I would have loved to see him drag an acoustic guitar out for a few older numbers. But guest musicians aside, this was not a gig for older numbers.

    This was just C93, no support act, and they weren't around to reflect on past glories. Which is a bit of a disappoint for me, having loved so many of those past glories, but you can't blame them for being committed to their new material. This gig was all about I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell, their best album for a decade, and as such they played it from start to finish, uninterrupted. At times, the slimmed-down lineup was a slight problem, John Zorn's soaring sax would've been most welcome, but you can hardly blame him for not making a trek from New York to Halifax, to play in front of a couple of hundred (at most) people. But also, the live arena gave a chance for certain tracks to shine. "These Flowers Grew" is one of the best tracks of the album, and the lineup here did it full justice. Although it was quickly apparent that the album was going to be the gig, any tinge of disappointment was tempered by the drive and rhythm the band got into,turning a dizzying piano track into a veritable monolithic rock stomper. "And Onto PickNickMagick" had barely raised itself into my notice from the album, but here it grew and grew into an impressive freewheeling cacophony of sound, with Tibet giving it a hell of a wail on the vocals.

    Tibet himself seems to have learned a bit of stagecraft since last time I saw him, not just by his venturing off stage (including wandering from pew to pew to try and spot his brother in the crowd), but also with his self-deprecating cartoonish dances and strange balletic poses. He genuinely seemed to enjoy himself, but also seemed to be struck with genuine tears when tackling some of the more personal allusions in the songs. Nick Cave sadly didn't pop in to finish off the gig with "I Could Not Shift the Shadow", but Tibet handled it with a nice personal touch, walking down the aisle without microphone, to murmur the closing refrain multiple times, until becoming barely audible.

    Then there was a brief pause, and the band emerged for the encore. The opening track of which surprised me so much, that I can't name it, I've not heard a live version of a track from Imperium for ages, so I can only point out that it was probably "Imperium IV", but I'm not convinced by that. I've failed as a C93 geek, I know, my life's work and reputation lying in tatters. Next up was a monstrous version of the monstrous "Black Ships Ate the Sky", where the unusually rock-oriented lineup could really batter away at a track, and a true maelstrom (baalstrom?) of noise was attained. Possibly the highlight of the night, and it very nearly brought the House of God down. Last up was a track from the Lucifer Over London twelve inch, a cover of "Sad Go Round", if a track can truly be a cover when two of the original Groundhogs were present in the lineup. And with that, Tibet skipped off, packed up his lyric book, saluted the audience, and disappeared into the catacombs. Or whatever was behind the stage. Surely not the altar.

    I'd have loved to have had some material from their 90s albums, but that was the only real downside for me. Nearly two hours of Current 93, in a splendid venue, in a location that allowed me to get home well before midnight so that I could have some pizza and whisky before rising early to meet the demands of a 6 year old. You can't ask for much more in life.
  • Mancdek

    Apr 22 2012, 19:30

    Sat 21 Apr – Jandek

    The sat-nav successfully found its way to the fairly obscure location of St Margaret's church in Whalley Range, confirmation of destination was provided by the usual avant-garde-gig-giveaway of a handful of students and middle-aged men lingering around the streets. The church itself seemingly being picked because it just looks like a latter-day Jandek album cover. The heavens threatened to open as we queued outside the church, chatting to a pony-tailed bloke who hopefully will provide me with a recording of the gig, and some journos who I didn't recognise.

    Led inside, we sat on the small wooden pews facing the altar, capacity couldn't have been more than 150, especially as half the church seems to be given away to a nursery these days. Alex Neilson and Richard Youngs were wandering about, but Jandek obviously doesn't mix (the lanky diva!). 30 mins later, something was obviously about to unfold as Neilsen and Youngs headed to their seats, and lo... a lanky stooped fella strolled from stage left, and sat down, guitar in hand. Clothed entirely in black (with hat, obviously), and with the full ginger face-fuzz of the Khartoum cover, looking quite pale indeed. With no introduction or acknowledgement of the audience, it was difficult at first to tell if they'd started or were tuning up, but Neilsen's slow brushing of the drums quickly turned into full jazz-club improv batterings, and something approximating a groove was struck.

    Must have been a full 10 minutes before Sterling rocked the mic (psyche), but you hardly needed to hear the voice to know this was the genuine 'dek; those spine-chilling high-pitched off-key chords, are a revelation in the flesh as Jandek twangs his plectrum awkwardly off the top two strings. On bass, Youngs looks bored throughout, but has obviously taught (un-taught?) himself to play like Houston's finest, as you could swear some of his bass-playing was straight from those nigh-on unlistenable solo-bass albums of the early noughties. Neilsen was a constant hive of activity, clattering, banging, switching sticks, trying to get the tom in place, making proper-jazz sex-faces as he skittered around the compact toy-like kit. When Sterling finally got to the mic, the revelation was complete, the full-on pained blues-howl of I Threw You Away was unleashed, and some great philosophical soundbites were unfurled, which I made a mental note to recall, and therefore obviously haven't the foggiest idea now what he was singing about.

    For roughly 90 minutes, they sat and played, without resorting to audience interaction at all, beyond waiting for applause to subside. Given the lineup, it's no surprise that it was Glasgow Sunday-esque in sound, but it had much more clarity, and a couple of absolutely awesome quiet introspective tracks, where the croon-howl demurred into a whisper, and the ultra-intimacy of Jandek of yore was attainted. For the last track, two of the younger ladies of the audience even provided entertainment in the form of clunky unfortunate dancing, a sight which deserved to be captured on video, but no DVD of this performance seems likely. And then, Jandek pulled some leads up, and walked off stage. Youngs and Neilsen followed. Shouts for an encore were ignored, the audience milled around for a few minutes, and kind of ebbed away in a puzzled manner only when Neilsen started dismantling his kit. Which was really a fitting close to the entire night.