Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confessions of Faith : 30 Years of Purgatory / Live Review

Sudden Infant
The Grey Wolves

The Wagon and Horses, Birmingham, November 16th, 2013

I have to admit it came as a bit of a shock to discover that this gig was taking place OUTSIDE the Wagon and Horses. In a walled beer garden to the rear of the premises lay all the accouterments of an outdoor gig: a stage, some awning, a little hut where the PA guy sits and some outdoor gas heaters. But this is November and November in England isn’t noted for its alfresco gigs. It also needs noting that the Wagon and Horses is what is now known as a ‘proper pub’ i.e. one that has remained untouched by modernity and contains real people, sells cheap and decent beer, has a coal fire and a friendly cat that likes to sit on anybody who’ll let it. Its warm inside.

I was here four years ago for a similar line up and left wishing that the Wagon and Horses was my local. Situated a short walk out of town, down a side street and under a railway arch where the graffiti adorned red brick walls and grimy tarmac provides an ideal setting for anybody wanting to make a film set in the 70’s. The pub has the added advantage of being an oasis of warmth and friendliness too. Unless you’re outside of course. Which for the most part everybody is.

The venue is double booked but rather than move venue its been decided to make use of the outdoor facilities. The temperature may be what some would call chilly and others fucking freezing but at least its not raining and the cloud cover keeps the frost from forming on the audience and the scaffolding.

And its running late. A 7.30pm start becomes 8.30pm which means headliners Slogun wont get to play until 1.30am in the morning by which time most people have gone and those that are down the front are the blind drunk shovers and pushers who’ll shove and push each other to the sound of anything even remotely resembling noisy. 

The Grey Wolves draw the biggest elbows out, shoulder barging, back shoving crowd of the night. They announce that this is going to be their last live show before ramming the phrase ‘Victory Through Violence’ down our throats. I’ve seen them play a couple of times but when they’re getting a response from a crowd like this they’re at their riotous best. I guess thats the end of that then? There’s a decent crowd here too but they seem to thin appreciably after The Grey Wolves draw to a close.

Whats making the night even more surreal is the bleed-in sound from the band playing upstairs. When CON-DOM end their set with the words ‘I’d kill you all myself’ [I could be paraphrasing here] the bass line from Grease’s Summer Nights can plainly be heard wafting down from the cold reaches of the upstairs venue. It happens to Sudden Infant too whose personal take on his fathers suicide is met with beery cheers and some Richie Valens hit.

After watching local openers W.I.P. PE set I nip inside to get warm to find 80’s Swiss pop act Double’s one off hit ‘The Captain of Your Heart’ emanating from the jukebox. I find that rather than the spoil the evening it just adds to the surreal nature of it. There’s a man dressed as a Victorian detective, replete with cape, Homburg, spats and well clipped moustache, there’s Teddy Boys with wing tip collars and bootlace ties, stick thin females that look like extras from Hellraiser, shaven heads and Wermacht uniforms, knee length boots with miles of laces, steel heeled boots and full length black coats with mission statements writ on the back, doom metal patches and platted beards and bar staff doing their best to keep a packed pub happy. There’s the guy who’s flown in from Bulgaria and someone from Barcelona, the Germans and the Americans are here of course, the Swiss too and plenty of pissed up Brits.

Its a varied line up with local band Ihora providing a sound that veers between stoner metal and the Cocteau Twins. A three guitar attack backed by a drum machine and when it all goes quiet in the middle its all quite dreamy and I forget I’m cold. Another local act are openers W.I.P. one part Iron Fist Of The Sun one part organiser Phil Taylor who’s a hulking presence stage left when not screaming indecipherable vocals.

A Power Electronics/noise show wouldn’t be complete without a bit of grainy atrocity footage and so it is that we’re treated to a bit of female genital mutilation. But this is coming from Brut, a female solo project, thus taking this out of the hands of some lame shock jock with a table full of gadgets and a rapist mask and into those of an angry feminist voice. Barring the projection I can’t see whats happening for the crowd of people stood around her but when she stands up she’s wearing an approximation of the niqab, that thoughtful all covering piece of Islamic female apparel designed to prevent males with lustful thoughts thinking even more lustful thoughts. The noise is as you’d expect piercing and relentless but its what she does next that truly grips - removing the veil she stands naked before us before smearing blood over her body and face. A screamed phrase emerges aided by a collar of contact mics that is genuinely terrifying. As a noise performances go its shocking and totally unexpected which made this punters journey even more worthwhile. Whether the blood was real or theatrical I care not. This performance took place outside in November and stunned everybody who saw it. She deserves a medal.

Sudden Infant never fail to entertain be it in front of an art crowd or a group of drunks in the back yard of a pub. Its the juxtaposition of juddering industrial rhythms and enthusiastic spoken word stories that hold us all in thrall, plus the fact that Joke Lanz has stripped to his bare feet. The little boy on the fifth floor and the cranes and the click click click of the gun on the roof of the building. Never dull. 

The reason this is all happening is down to Mike Dando keeping CON-DOM alive and kicking for thirty years. A never less than exhilarating set from CON-DOM is made all the more memorable for the fact that the figure in front of me is, as usual, stripped to the waist and has some dark matter smeared across his face. The instantly recognisable screeching high end roar that is CON-DOM emerges as an unfolding feedback squall that beetles into your brain until it’s scraped off the inner the lining of your skull and dumped you on your arse with your senses in a bag. Just like that. CON-DOM performances are part ritual, part sermon, tonights’s is fairly short no doubt due to the late running but maybe because the temperature is plummeting.

At around 1.00 am Sickness begin to assemble their gear. By now only the hardy, drunk and homeless are hanging about. One of the drunks gives Sickness’s Goudreau some hassle and gets berated for his troubles. Having flown across the Atlantic ocean to play in Birmingham for ten minutes he delivers a blistering noise set thats interspersed with a few lulls just to keep the drunks guessing. Its possibly the perfect noise set. The conditions are entirely against him; jet leg, the cold, a PA stack thats OK but is never going to enter the annals of noise history and then a resigned ‘fuck it’ and a plug is ripped and silence descends.

Which leaves us with Slogun whose reputation for upset is encapsulated in the presence of its 6’4” protagonists John Balistreri. As with Sickness the odds are against him too and he looks a beaten man. Having waited the long cold night for his chance he’s left to perform in front of whats left of the drunks and the bitter end of the hangers on. It looks and sounds like a farewell performance. At its end he’s stood stage front looking the crowd in the eyes, arms out wide, palms up with a ‘what the fuck am I doing this for’ look on his face. He could be intoning those exacts words.

The talk is of audience apathy and audience expectations and audience respect and audience intelligence and of how this looks like the end of the road for some and the beginning for others. Its been one of the strangest gigs I’ve ever been to. Up there with the gig that sank, the gig where the fuses kept blowing and the gig that never was.

My shoulders are aching and I’m dog tired. The pub has stopped serving beer [2.00am last orders] and the coals in the grate are long cold. The cat is still there though and there’s a fleet of taxi’s outside picking up trade.

[Apologies of a lack of photos to accompany this piece. Being a timid soul I didn’t fancy getting shoved about for most of the evening or reducing the feeling in my fingers to nothing thanks to the dropping temperature. If any appear on line I’ll post them here]

Those gigs were:

No Trend Festival, Ryans Bar, London. PA Melted, venue flooded.

The New Blockaders, Red Rose, London. Still the loudest gig I’ve ever attended. [Forget the date - late 90’s?]

Deaf Forever, Royal Park Cellars, Leeds. 2007. Smell & Quim go on first in an all day noise fest and get the whole thing called off after some pigs head abuse.

[Apologies of a lack of photos to accompany this piece. Being a timid soul I didn’t fancy getting shoved about for most of the evening or reducing the feeling in my fingers to nothing thanks to the dropping temperature. If any appear on line I’ll post them here]


Anonymous said...

What about TUNNELS OF ĀH ?

Anonymous said...

Oh dear - poor Slogun!

Idwal Fisher said...

If there was a band playing called Tunnels of Ah I must have missed em. Probably in the bar getting warm.