First a word about the venue, because on one of the steamiest New Orleans-like nights of this British heatwave, the upstairs gig had ceiling fans and a cool, chilled out lounge-bar atmosphere. It also had clear, uninterrupted sightlines, padded seating and, er, flock wallpaper. Does this signal the end of gigs played in dingy, sticky-floored, airless sweatboxes? Not quite yet, I suspect.
Warming up the temperate crowd were The Rebelles: a female vocal harmony trio with just a hint of burlesque, singing lounged-down versions of well-loved indie and alternative standards.
The Buzzcocks ‘Ever Fallen In Love With Someome’ has never sounded so sweet. Lush vocals were emphasised by subtle semi-acoustic guitars played by three guys seated at the girls’ feet.
And just visible at the back of the stage was Slash on percussion, knocking out some understated African rhythms. It transpired that I was wasting my time waiting for those seductive fairground notes of the ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ lick to crank in. It was not Slash at all, but merely a persuasive homage to the man’s classic late 80’s look.
There were top quality covers enough, however. ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ was a tune perfectly suited to the three-part harmonizing and a mashed up ‘Teenage Kicks’ was a perfectly judged set closer. Great entertainment, both well delivered and well received.
This was billed as an invitation only event for the British debut of The International Swingers. A neat marketing trick whereby a ‘like’ of the Facebook page gained admission to the gig. It worked and the place was pretty jammed. Praise be to the a/c.
The billing also included the words ‘punk supergroup’ which to be fair was always pushing the vernacular a little. Given that the collective influences of the band run through that game-changing first wave of punk and then through psychobilly, new wave, indie and power pop, this was never going to be a nihilistic, spittle-heavy exercise in extremism.
It was however, a revved up night of no-nonsense, fast and furious rock ‘n’ roll.
Clem Burke (Blondie), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), James Stevenson (Generation X) and Gary Twinn (Twenty Flight Rockers), mates for years, had apparently put the band together to pay for a holiday to Australia. Job done, they liked the groove so much they stuck at it and have been gigging and writing since.
Indeed they played a surprising amount of new material. The best was probably ‘FBI’ and main set closer ‘Gun Control’. Both were really rather good indeed: punching guitars steaming along on a formidable rhythm and controversial, hard hitting lyrics drilled into the crowd. Gary Twinn is a very convincing front man – a great vocal delivery, on occasion sounding a little Iggy pop-like. He easily held centre stage, looked like he meant business and smashed out some vibrant supporting guitar as well.
On the other hand, some new material was patchy. ‘Live Wire’ was a tad on the tame side and ‘Turn My Head’ was clearly a work in progress – even down to the banter between band members after they had finished the tune, arguing about how the song should develop.
This was a free gig. A party for fans who had signed-up to be here. That might explain the band’s relaxed approach. But after a while, four blokes all trying to joke with the crowd and themselves at the same time became irritating. Clem shouted out “Any requests?” at one stage, to which the bloke next to me replied, “Yes. Just play some music!”
There were indeed plenty of requests for back catalogue numbers. And with an assembled cv chock full of punk and New Wave landmarks, the band obliged throughout the set. But with some surprises.
‘What I Like About You’ recorded by Clem Burke’s other band, The Romantics, was as unexpected as it was excellent. A slice of sharp power rock augmented by some harmonica from Gary Twinn.
‘Stepping Stone was slipped in early and a couple of Blondie tracks went down extremely well too: ‘Call Me’ and ‘Hanging On The telephone’ completely stripped of any bubblegum pop residue.
Burke’s insane, whirlwind drumming was a feature of the gig. If there’s anyone that hits a harder snare than this man I’m not sure I want to be there. James Stevenson put in a real shift too. His lead guitar bit and snarled all night and the crowd lapped up the poses and shapes from one of the originals.
But Glen Matlock stepping up to the mike for a rendition of one of his Rich Kids’ back numbers was a mistake. Glen can’t sing. That didn’t work.
‘All The Young Dudes’, however, was a triumph. A couple of The Rebelles joined the band on stage for a joyous rendition.
The encore comprised a steamhammer ‘Pretty Vacant’ and a sing-a-long ‘C’mon Everybody’ which kind of summed up the gig really: a curious mix of original, cover and tribute. But perhaps it’s best not to analyse too much. This was a very enjoyable gig and that’s the only bottom line that matters.
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Power Plays w/c 20 March 2017
THE WEEKS Gold Don’t Rust (Lightning Rod Records)
VANESSA COLLIER Cry Out (Ruf Records)
KOBRA & THE LOTUS You Don’t Know (Napalm Records)
INVIDIA Feed The Fire (SPV)
AS LIONS One By One (Better Noise)
Featured Albums w/c 20 March 2017 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Can’t Go Home (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 KXM Scatterbrain (Ratpak)
14:00-16:00 MADISON VIOLET The Knight Sessions (Big Lake Music)
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