SLEIGH THE UK 2012 : THE WONDER STUFF / PWEI V2.0 / JESUS JONES - London Shepards Bush Empire - 19 December 2012
“But is it the original band?” He asks, on the tube after the show.
History is a big liar sometimes. Yes. I know that this lineup – The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself v2.0, and Jesus Jones haven't been on the front page of the press for a while. Looking at the charts though, do you want to be there? Does it matter, as long as you enjoy it? As long as you love what you do, and what you do is loved, does success matter, apart from being able to pay the rent and buy dinner? If being rich was the only reward you wanted, then get off the stage and find a desk and a Blackberry. >
Of course, some people will want to know why I keep going. Some people wonder why I don't like new bands. I do : not as many as I might like or want to, but new bands don't tend to sing about the things that interest me, and I find it difficult to like bands unless the words move my brain and the music touches my soul. I'm open to great music, old or new, in whatever form.
But history on itself, and the passage of time, is neither a big deal nor of much relevance. We travel through this universe one second per second, boldly going forward because there's no control over it, and the fact a band was popular twenty, thirty years ago is not important. If age were all that matters, nobody would like old music, and The Rolling Stones would be playing to an empty Waitrose meat counter in Anglesea. A man can dream. What matters is nothing more than what the music does to you. Does it move? Does it make us feel?
“But is it the original band?” He asks, on the tube after the show.
And does it matter? Does it matter whose hand stroked the canvas, if the art touches you? Is it relevant? It all comes down, as all art always does, to taste and preference. Some artists, most, have a personality, a view, and one that draws us together or repels us. So the fact that there is just one person on this stage who was in The Wonder Stuff in 2003 and in 1988 may not be relevant, as long as the core element – the idea – is still there.
The guy on the tube screws up his face. So it's just the Miles Hunt show? (Well, it took him to after the gigs to ask his friend that, so maybe he hadn't noticed : and it isn't).
“That girl's new. I bet Miles is having it at her. I should grow my hair” he says.
But does it matter? Sometimes. With a band that changes, as most do over time, the slow progression and lineage of members form one form to another demonstrates something. With no members from the original 1986-2003 incarnation remaining, bar Miles Hunt, the question is a band a fixed point in time, or is it an evolution of a creative entity, an artistic vision? It all depends on how you take it.
After all, neither of the support acts – Jesus Jones or Pop Will Eat Itself – have the original lineups. In the case of Jesus Jones, it is a fierce piece of competent and tight musical nostalgia, with no song under 20 years old, and a scant 40 minutes of wall-to-wall hits, a b-side, and two LP tracks to round it out. When the Jones take the stage at 7.30 and – for a band with a US number 1 and big album sales two decades ago – to support in a 1,800 capacity venue, it's odd. In January they sold out Islington to 1,200. For a future that never happened, Jesus Jones were a tantalising prospect, the realisation and synergy of man and technology in the way that Kraftwerk also promised, on the cusp of the analog transition into digital, and the move of our worlds into that of connected bits and bytes. When the future arrived, when computers on every desk became commonplace, and when Oasis ruled the world, Jesus Jones became obselete. The future had arrived, and it was mundane. We changed, grew up, or grew away, depending on who you listened to, and moved to the next stage. For some people, this music was a fad, locked into a box and replaced with television, Downton Abbey, cooking and home renovations. A forgetful fancy, like an old boyfriend. You shouldn't forget your first love. The songs that were there when nobody else was. The songs that saved your life.
Pop Will Eat Itself arrive promptly at 8.30. 18 months in, this new Pop Will Eat Itself still have little to do with the original PWEI aside from the name and playing chunkier, rougher versions of the songs, are received rapturously. Songs start and end, some are barely recognisable, the drums and guitars fall in the wrong places, Mary and Graham get the verses wrong, argue with each other over which bit of the song is due next, and jump around in gleeful abandon. It's the best – and only – PWEI tribute act around, and probably (if you hadn't seen the original lineup) a great band. To me, good as they are – a shambolic band as bad as they ever were fuelled with enthusiasm and silliness – they are not Pop Will Eat Itself but a new band playing old songs with a different band's name. Not that it matters to most of London, for when they kick off “Dance of The Mad”, or any one of the dozen or so other old songs – they are loved and the venue goes a little bit bonkers. If you think of this band as being the best Pop Will Eat Itself covers/tribute act, and as the name for Graham Crabb's new musical adventure, then you'll be happy. If you think of this as a way of hearing songs that you love live again, then you'll be happy.
And, at 9,45 sharp, The Wonder Stuff appear : Miles, with Mark McCarthy, Erica Nockalls, Fuzz Townsend and Steve Wyatt – the permanent replacement for Malcolm Treece – and out of the box, we have a band playing as good as any other lineup they ever had. The new stuff - “Oh No!” and “Be Thy Name” is better than the stuff any band going for 26 years has a right to be. And, from the off, the sold out crowd goes insane. Quite how 2,000 middle-aged people can jump and down and go silly to over three hours surprises me.. I'm knackered.
Despite being Steve's third gig, there's little trace of nerves : the songs sound perfect, and his style – reminiscent of early Richard Oakes – betrays someone who can play guitar much better than you might suspect from his concentration and focus. The rest of the band are locked into a tight groove, as a machine that has been playing together for many many years would be expected. Steve fits. There's little to say I haven't already said, so many times before, about this band. These are great songs, new – and old – still important to me now, still matter, and still the classics they were then. If some new band came out with them now, they would be clasped to the bosom of a moribund culture in desperate need of a slap to wake them from mediocrity.
“But is it the original band?” : There's few bands that have ever been quite so original, or so very resonant to me. And that is the point of art – to communicate an idea. To speak to me. These could be the best days of our lives. They never went away, but here they are – back and as good as ever.
Jesus Jones : IBTY / One For The Money / Never Enough / Caricature / Real Real Real / Right Here Right Now / Move Mountains / Zeroes + Ones / Info Freako / Idiot Stare
Pop Will Eat Itself : … Vs The Moral Majority ./ Back To Business / Preaching / Wise Up / Dance Of The Mad / Everythings Cool / Chaos + Mayhem / Nosebleeder Turbo / Auslander / RSVP / Old Skool / Def Con One
The Wonder Stuff : Oh No / On The Ropes / Redberry Joytown /Here Comes Everyone / Golden Green /Size of A Cow / Mission Drive / Play / Welcome To The Cheap Seats / Caught In My Shadows / Circlesquare / Be Thy Name / Don't Let Me Down / A Wish Away / Unbearable / Give Give / Ten Trenches Deep / Planet Earth / It's Yer Money / Poison