Wednesday, December 21, 2011
THE WONDER STUFF - "Never Loved Elvis" - London Shepards Bush Empire - 16 December 2011
It's not every day a band gets a new guitarist. It's also not every day this band gets a new guitarist. After 25 years, Malcolm Treece – alongside Miles Hunt the sole remaining link to The Wonder Stuff's original lineup – has left the band. It's no longer the band that made those records. But the singer from that band, and another new band. Perhaps it might be time to stop trading on past glories, and create new material again.
It certainly feels different ; and not entirely right – but not wrong. But it isn't The Wonder Stuff. Not in the way that you recognise them. With Malc gone, it's Miles Hunt and a band – and a good one, that has slowly evolved over time. Mark McCarthy has been on bass eight years, Erica Nockalls on fiddle for seven years, and Fuzz Townsend (last seen in Pop Will Eat Itself) on drums and backing vocals. Joining them, and with barely six weeks notice to work up 29 songs, is Jerry De Borg of Jesus Jones. As it is accurately described, it's not The Wonder Stuff, but Jesus Will Eat Stuff. Certainly, the band that make the records we are celebrating, and the one that people came to see is not the same one on the stage. It is difficult to keep a working relationship with anyone for 30 years, let alone in the field of the creative arts. So many bands fall into a sort of stasis and eventually, even, disappear forever. And you miss the songs, the memories. One day all these bands will be gone and no one will sing these songs.
But these songs. They sound the same and feel the same. But the band that lasted seventeen years before the final split in 2003 no longer exists in any way anymore. The Wonder Stuff is the name for the band Miles Hunt sings in, playing songs he wrote twenty years ago. Put like that, and of course this is The Wonder Stuff. Put it another way, that the only common member between the band I saw in Walsall in 1991 and Hammersmith in 2003 and now is Miles Hunt. But it sounds the same, and would you – if you'd never seen them before, think that you were missing out? Probably not. It's not the brazen and shameless creation of an entirely new band with only a singer, using the same name of an older and better band to generate goodwill. Had Miles started a new band called The Wonder Stuff with Dave from Dyson Vaccumcleaner, Bob from Bogshed, and someone from Kingmaker, perhaps the use of the name would offend and be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act. Instead this band may only share a singer with the original lineup, but it has been a slow and considered evolution over time.
These songs set in our hearts – well some of us anyway – twenty years ago. Some of them - “Sleep Alone”, “Play”, “Inertia”, “Maybe”, “Grotesque”, “38 Line Poem” - are ones the band haven't played in ten or twenty years. With Malc absent, the band have had to rearrange longstanding performances, with Fuzz and Erica taking over backing vocals, and Keyboard/fiddle/mandolin parts replicated by Ercia on violin. It still sounds the same. Sometimes, it sounds different, but even then it sounds the same. These songs still sound wonderful.
Not that anyone really notices. People have come here to see the songs, and the names of the respective members are somewhat sidelined compared. The songs, the body of work, is bigger than any one individual. Given that he has been in the band less than a few weeks, and Malc's departure was officially confirmed four days before the shows, the fact these shows are even happening at all is the product of intense work and invention for the band to inhabit and recreate these songs. Jerry stands mostly stock still, concentrating on an entirely new recipe of songs and striving to reproduce them faithfully. In the meantime, if there is any confusion or consideration that The Wonder Stuff as is exist as the name of a musical unit with no lineage to the original partnerships, then that is certainly not mentioned here. Whilst the evolution of the band has been a whole and clearly traceable, slow path that has taken a decade, it still remains a band that performs, to a man, songs that are, at their youngest 18 years old. These songs can have sex, drink alcohol, get married, and join the army legally.
With the “Elvis” songs completed, encore time sees the same songs the band have always played. They are by any standard superior, clever songs. But after 1,000 times, surely it gets a little.. predictable to always do the same songs? This is the albatross that hangs over every band though – the songs the people came to see. “Room 512”, “Redberry Joytown”, “It's Yer Money”, “On the Ropes”, “Golden Green”, “Don't Let Me Down”, “Unberable”, “Give Give Give.” These are still the same spiky, witty, irreverent things that they were a quarter century ago. But if you think Metallica don't get boring doing “Enter Sandman” for the 1,588th time you really have no idea about what it is like to be in a band.
There came a time, a while ago, when a friend of mine – one of the many who I frequently see at these shows and has hit over 100 shows (tonight is my 143rd Wonder Stuff show) – said that he doesn't come to see the band anymore, but to see his friends. Not only is this about the music, but also, it's about catching up with friends the world wide who are all brought together by great taste in music. Perhaps what matters is that we are all here, still doing this, loving the world, loving each other – and that is more than the idea of any shared lineage between now and then. The night comes to an end in a frantic pop kid rush, a keen and excited night of jumping up and down and forgetting the house and the kids and the wife and the lies and everything else that comes with it. And then, I suppose, it's time. To the bus stop or the station or the car, to get home before the babysitter goes into doubletime, and back to the world the way it is. Maybe it doesn't matter who is in the band anymore, or what happens next, and it is just these songs and what they meant that matters. For some, certainly, the final link between then and now has been lost, and that is the end of the journey. What is more important is that, four days after confirming a new guitarist, that the Wonder Stuff performed, more than ably, and the songs will live on as more than memories. But what has changed? Everything changes. Nothing stays forever stuck, frozen in amber, for the world goes on ahead of us and the band itself moves through time, as we all do. You can't go back anymore. And for me at least, I don't think I want to.