Thursday, June 26, 2008

Brixton Mass - 3 Night Review

Massive Hat Trick – June 17, 18, 19, 2008

A lot of people I know think I’m mad. Not just for going to a lot of gigs, but for going to three gigs in a row… and all involving Peter Doherty. Certainly, from any sane point of view, three nights out mid week (Tues, Wed, Thurs) when there’s a huge pile of work waiting for attention bright and early, is pretty crazy. But last week at Mass in Brixton was a case study in why I do this. And love it. For three shows all featuring the same person (albeit with Babyshambles on the Wednesday and Thursday), you couldn’t have had a greater variety. Each gig was individual, with its own feel, and more significantly, each one was bloody marvellous. From marathon to short and tight, from high comedy to sharp intensity, from riotous to intimate, these shows had it all.

Mass is an odd venue – a dive-like club nestled within a sand-blasted stone church in the middle of a traffic island in the midst of Brixton. Ascending a seemingly endless spiral staircase underlined the ‘church’ quality of the building, but on entering the venue itself, all sense of the sanctified space below vanished. The full venue probably could hold 3-400 people, but its long shape with the stage to one side meant that only about half that number could comfortably see the stage. 1960s style oil-lights and gobo-patterns danced across the floor and the tiny stage was lit with multiple-coloured spots. A long bar was along one wall, whilst the other side opened up to a series of alcoves with bench seating and tables for comfort if you didn’t mind not really being able to see the stage.

Solo Tuesday June 17
This gig has already gone into the annals of music as one of the all time endurance tests. Despite the NME’s exaggerated description of a 5 hour set (in reality, it was 4½ with about an hour’s worth of breaks, so 3½ hours of music), it was certainly one of the longest gigs I’ve ever been to. A performance that started off feeling somewhat shambolic and ended up being pure, unadulterated magic.

A sense of unpredictability permeated the evening from beginning to end. It started off with a lovely four song set from Adam Fieck, who braved the stage not protected by his usual drum kit. Clearly nervous, he took the unenviable first slot, playing acoustic guitar to a smallish crowd, singing his melodic ballads with considerable charm, and managing to challenge and tease some rowdy lads in the front. If this was actually the first time he’d played his own material solo for an audience then he handled the situation brilliantly, winning over the crowd, who demanded more at the end of his third, and last song, Sparkling Bootz. He willingly obliged with a part-rendition of Pretty Sue, but sadly cut it short. He was followed by Doherty-standard support, Alan Wass, accompanied by a keyboard player. There followed an extended period of waiting and the somewhat unsettling news that Peter was not at the venue. After what seemed like ages, but was probably about an hour, the word spread that Peter had arrived.

A bit before 11 he came on, wearing a top hat, and played Neil Young’s ‘Out On the Weekend’ and ‘Pipey McGraw’, before announcing that he was going to have a little break and be back. Further unsettlement fluttered through the crowd. Was this going to be it? Some minutes later he re-emerged to everyone’s relief, opening with, to the best of my recollection, ‘Tell the King’. The set seemed a bit fractured for the next few songs. There was a lot of stopping and starting. Peter seemed easily distracted; the audience was quite talkative and there were a lot of wankers in the crowd; a number of songs were interrupted multiple times and it seemed as if it might all disintegrate any minute. And then, sometime in the first half hour, as if by magic, it came together. Peter remained easily distractible and some of the audience carried on being twats, but Peter found his stride, and it stopped mattering that songs stopped and started again and again so he could get them right or so that he could tell off noisy, disruptive people in the crowd. It stopped feeling as if it would derail any minute and started being a hugely entertaining master-class in playing a crowd, and how to rehearse on stage. The result was an incredible evening delivered with aplomb and certainty.
The fact that he played the most eclectic, amazing, collection of songs, was in good voice and playing well didn't hurt, either.

It was an extraordinary evening. We staggered out with a handful of hardcore survivors at 3:15 feeling stunned. Although Peter didn’t quite deliver on his ‘I’ll play until the last man is left standing’ threat, he did play six sets, including some material that I’ve never heard live. Radio America in the last set was probably the biggest surprise of the evening. He also played snatches of a QPR football chant, Puff the Magic Dragon, and covers from the Smiths and Stone Roses, an amazing musical version of Suicide in the Trenches, You're My Waterloo, and one new one, although I’m not sure of the title.

We came out trying to reconstruct what he played and it seemed more a case of ‘what did he NOT play?’ than what he did play. It was a mindboggling task. We gave up completely on getting the order right, but I’m pretty sure the list is more or less correct – all 42 songs, not including A’rebors (the NME claimed he played this but we’re fairly certain they were dreaming). The crowd started a reasonable size and dwindled down to about 30 (17 by Peter's count) at the end.

The set featured loads of chat, and was incredibly intimate. There were some quite argumentative people in the audience who were talking and generally being disruptive. And Peter was in a challenging mood. He got into several debates with punters who seemed to think it was appropriate to be rude to him, and there was loads of joking about. The feel was incredibly informal - shaking hands, little diversions in the middle of songs to tell a story or chat to someone or complain that someone was putting him off by talking. He repeated things that he heard people in the audience talking about – slightly under his breath, often during songs. There were a number of things he played that he doesn't play frequently and had to work out how they go before actually playing them. This actually added to the feeling of the evening and was highly entertaining and quite interesting. He claimed that Delivery didn’t work acoustically so he wouldn’t play it and then played it anyway.

During the second set he had an argument with a girl who’d been rude to him. Called her a twat. A lot. Later he argued with a second girl who he’d overheard saying she had to be at work in a few hours. And, for some reason, she mentioned Ibiza. He quipped ‘there’s a lot of working girls there’. This somehow led to another conversation in which he said ‘I’d fancy you if I were a lesbian, and then dug himself ever deeper into a hole by asserting that he’d never been fucked up the fanny cause he hadn’t got one’… He got one guy who’d been talking onto the stage, and gave him a little lecture, sounding ever so much like a schoolteacher bringing the naughty child to the front of the class.

At one point, when reasserting the ‘last man standing’ approach to the evening, he added, ‘it’d be lonely’. And actually, during some of the evening he did seem lonely on stage on his own – something I’ve never felt before.

The third set was preceded by a break of nearly half an hour, after which he returned to announce that he could play only one song. Having been asked for The Delaney before the break, and having promised to work out how it went, he suggested, ‘it could go like this…’ and played a bit of the intro. ‘Or this’, he added… and played it a bit differently. Then said, ‘fuck it’ and launched into The Delaney, closely followed by about ten more songs with no pause. During this set he was asked to play You’re My Waterloo. He responded with something to the effect of
'I always feel a bit odd playing this' and then dedicated it to Carlos Barat, most fittingly since, unbeknownst to most of us there, Carl was by then in hospital. Following this, he took little verbal meander about DPT playing the Cambridge Summer Ball the next night and cancelling and Shambles being asked to stand in. Then Peter said 'but we don't have the same fan base, do we?' and asked for the audience to raise their hands if they went to see DPT. About a third of those present tentatively raised their hands, as Peter watched closely. This was followed by Can’t Stand Me Now.

The Fourth set followed another break of more than twenty minutes during which a keyboard was set up on stage, and Peter was joined by the musician who’d accompanied Alan Wass earlier. The set was lively and featured repeat versions of songs while Peter gave the keyboard player tuition on how to play a number of songs including a lovely version of For Lovers and Back from the Dead. The set ended with East of Eden accompanied by Alan Wass on harmonica – also firmly kept in order by Peter who stopped him playing at one point, saying, ‘not now, there’s time for a harp solo after the next verse’. In fact, this was one of the high spots of the evening, as Alan demonstrated considerable skill on the harmonica and there was a real feeling that everyone was having fun.

By the fifth set it was late, and the break had reduced down to about five minutes. Before he went off, he said, ‘I’m going for a quick break and then I’ll be back to play What a Waster and then we can all go get wasted’. But once again, the endurance test continued, this collection including the Darling Clementine, Blackboy Lane and Suicide in the Trenches.

At half two Peter called for another break, again, lasting only five minutes, returning to play Through the Looking Glass and Radio America amongst others. ‘It’s been a long time’ he said about Radio America, and on this song, as with some others, there was a lot of stopping and starting – a feeling that he was groping through his memory to reach the song.

NOT in order, he played…
Salome, Up The Bracket (with another song wedged in the middle - can anyone remember what it was?), Death On The Stairs, Dilly Boys, Do You Know Me? Lost Art, There She Goes, Delivery, Carry on Up the Morning, Ha Ha Wall, I Love You But You’re Green, Who’s Got the Crack, What Katie Did, Lust of the Libertines, Hooray for the 21st Century, Don’t Be Shy, Never Never, New one, For Lovers, Out On the Weekend – Neil Young cover, What She Said – Smiths cover, Waterfall - Stone Roses cover, Pipey McGraw, Tell the King, Ballad of Grimaldi, Albion, Time for Heroes, The Delaney, Good Old Days, Music When The Lights Go Out, You’re My Waterloo, Can’t Stand Me Now, Don’t Look Back into the Sun, Back from the Dead, Unbilotitled, East of Eden, What a Waster, Darling Clementine, Suicide in the Trenches with music, Blackboy Lane, Through the Looking Glass, Radio America

It was well gone three when he finally stopped. We did point out that there was more than one left standing, but apparently Peter had finally run out of steam. In truth, we probably had too, since most of us were completely shattered, but I for one would have happily stayed there for several more hours if he’d continued playing. By the end the crowd was pretty thin, and those of us at the barrier managed to bring stools to sit down during the breaks. We’d all run out of money for drinks, and were running on some other, more mysterious form of energy. Happiness?

Shambles Wednesday June 18th
It was hardly surprising that after the previous night’s hammering, a the numbers on Wednesday were modest. Many people had left messages saying they weren’t up to another night after Tuesday and had to get some rest. Folk who’d got home between four and five and had a couple of hours sleep before having to get up and go to work. Minor heroes who’d stumbled onto night busses for an endless journey still high from the music. We were lucky. I drive. But even so, it was a bleary eyed crew assembling in front of the church the next evening to see a full band set. Wondering if it could possibly compare to the night before. Convinced they should be in bed. By the end of the evening, we were overjoyed that we’d stuck with it, ‘cause Shambles were brilliant.

Fleetingly brief by the previous night's standard, but who'd ever measure a set by one lasting four and a half hours? Different as chalk and cheese, this was tight, joyous, ferocious and intense. The crowd was lovely, as opposed to the previous night which seemed to have attracted a lot of noisy, awkward wankers. Wednesday’s group was laid back and friendly. Promised a ‘Special Guest’ the night before, the evening began with another set from Alan Wass, and continued with Kyle from The View, who played a solo set with energy and good nature, inviting requests, and chatting incomprehensibly to the audience.

And then Shambles came on. There was a spark of energy on stage that connected the band like I haven't seen in some time, and they operated seamlessly as a unit. In total contrast to the previous night there was very little chat, just electricity. It was a blinding set including some new songs, and a smattering of those we feared had been left behind. They opened with The Man Who Came to Stay using an introduction lifted from Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’. Drew commented that ‘we haven’t played that in like three years’ and Mik added, ‘I’ve never played it’, although some people recall Mik playing it at least twice a couple of years ago.

They then launched into two new songs, Oceans and Heart of the Matter, both sounding good, particularly the Oceans one. Also extremely welcome were French Dog Blues and Janie Jones. Just before the mandatory ‘fag’ break, Peter asked Drew to talk about the Love Music Hate Racism event on Saturday, and Drew explained about the ‘Stop the BNP’ demonstration and urged everyone to attend.

The set also included: Belle et la Bete; Killamanjiro; Delivery; There She Goes; Sedative; Pipedown; What Katie Did; Back from the Dead and ended with Fuck Forever.

It’s hard to describe just how good this was. So tight, the band working really well together, everyone on stage and off having a bloody brilliant time.


Shambles Thursday June 19th
It seemed inconceivable that the final night could in any way rival it’s two predecessors. Somehow, something would go wrong. It would be flat, or difficult, or the crowd would be horrible. But the hat trick was duly completed with a third unique evening at Mass. Different from the others, not replicating the quiet, intimate magic of Tuesday or the tight-as-a-drum energy of Wednesday, Thursday was a mind-blowing riot of chaos and hilarity.

The evening opened with The Thirst, a band to keep one’s eye on, and Kyle and Kieran from The View also did a small set. But the star turn has to be awarded to the acoustic ‘warm up’ set from Peter and Adam. Peter announced that he and Adam were going to play a few acoustic songs and asked if that was alright. And then they launched into Lazy Sunday Afternoon, followed by Dilly Boys, and part of something new that contains the words, ‘I Love You But You Say I Don’t Mean It’. Peter then did his Marilyn Munroe impression singing Happy Birthday to a girl called Rachael in the crowd (it later transpired she’d come down from Belfast), followed by an instrumental rendition of part of Don’t Look Back Into the Sun.

Then Peter moved to play drums, much to everyone’s entertainment, especially Adam’s, and Adam played and sang… Sparkling Bootz and Pretty Sue with Peter joining in on vocals. This was more high comedy with added music than anything else. Peter giggled most of the time, although his drumming was surprisingly competent for one who leads the audience to clap out of time. Adam could barely sing for smirks and laughter. At one point Peter got enthusiastic about the cymbals causing Adam to positively explode with giggles. It was quite joyous to behold.

They then swapped back again to play Arcady; a beautiful version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison, only undercut by Peter searching and failing to find a whistle he’d had in his pocket the day before (to blow for the fag break). They finished with Music When the Lights Go Out (with extra yodel). It almost felt as if that had been enough and we could go home.

But Kyle and Kieran were soon to take the stage, lurching out a number of upbeat tunes. When Babyshambles finally took the stage, playing Jungle Book’s King of the Swingers, Kyle joined them. As the previous night, the band was tight, but the set had a much more disjointed feel compared to the smooth, rapid flow of Wednesday. As on Tuesday, there was a lot of chopping and changing, stopping and starting, and Kyle remained on stage for much of the set. There were some real gems resulting from this collaboration. Kyle played guitar on both Don’t Look Back Into the Sun and Time for Heroes and managed successfully to play a reasonable facsimile of the guitar solo on both. Peter was sufficiently entranced by his contribution to Time for Heroes that he got him to play the solo twice and paid close attention.

It was a pretty laid back crowd - though less so than on Wednesday. They played the new song Oceans again, and Maybelline, after which Peter said, ‘that’s really coming together, shall we play it again?’ And so they did, and the second time was even better than the first. At the end, Peter announced that 'they just better play that another three or four times’.

After the break, Peter explained that Wolfman had been there and was supposed to perform, but seemed to have disappeared. He said Wolfman had just got out of rehab and was doing very well. ‘I love that guy’ he said, adding ‘cunt!’

They played Belle et la Bete, and, clearly to Peter’s surprise, Irina came on and sang Kate Moss’s part. Peter mock-kicked her off stage, but she returned, singing with rather more gusto than Ms. Moss had ever achieved.

They also played: Beg, Steal, Borrow; I Love You But You’re Green;
French Dog Blues; Carry On Up the Morning; Delivery; What Katie Did;
Pipedown and ended on Albion, dedicated to Dan who’d come all the way from Newcastle. During Albion, Kyle initially played Mik’s guitar over his shoulder whilst Mik was on harmonica, and then they swapped and Kyle added in the harmonica bits.

Of the 3 nights it'd be a hard pick, frankly, but that's one of the amazing allures of Peter and Shambles - nothing's ever the same. The first night was beyond doubt a completely magical one off. Peter was on great form once he got into his stride and played some material that is not usually heard. Wednesday was Shambles on fire, intense, together, a brilliant set of songs, again including some not played in a while, and they were so tight - and clearly having a great time. Thursday was another one off - from the bizarre Peter-Adam set-let at the beginning, to the funny, relaxed informality of the main Shambles set. I loved them all, each in different ways. And that, people, is why it is always a good idea to go to three shows in one week. Because that’s what you get if you’re lucky. Three completely different, wonderful performances.

Review by Alicepooh @ frenchdogblues.com

1 Comments:

Anonymous Parisane said...

Great news!

10:32 pm  

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