(Planet Me)
Sunday, November 30, 2014
 
CARTER USM - “the Final Comedown” - London Shepards Bush Empire 21-11-14, London Brixton Academy 22-11-14.
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Here it is. The end. Until the next time. After 7 years of occasional reformation shows, Carter USM have decided once and for all, to come to an end. I've seen this band so many times, very near to triple figures. And, I've waxed lyrical about how good they were – and are – when I saw them in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012... and here is the end.

It was I admit, starting to get too familiar. You can only go for so long without new material : even Kraftwerk made it less than 16 years between albums.

It's not really the band, as such, that I have the sadness for. Carter were a much better band than history remembers, but they haven't released a new song in 17 years. They are a museum piece. A glorious one, but one that no longer operates. Like the last remaining flying Vulcan Bomber, where once they ruled the air and the now one day, they will land for the last time.

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It's something much bigger than that – the sense of community in the crowd, the euphoria of the moment, the abandon that comes from being in a room, large or small, where everyone is on the same team, everyone is singing, and everyone is happy. These are the songs that are our friends. They took the edge off a world that often falls short. They spoke to us, and for us. And they gae us the strength to know that sometimes we weren't just lone voices in the wilderness.

And also we could jump up and down to them.

Yes, we were younger once. We had more hope once. We were fitter, slimmer, hairier, whatever. But we still are those people. They are still inside us. We are still and always will be products of everything we have done, everywhere we have been. And we couldn't be who we are now if we hadn't been who we were then. If we weren't, we'd be out to pasture, we'd not both going to these shows, we'd not be listening to this music. It's Saturday Night time for a programme about dancing.

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Carter are a band out of time, and timeless. Are? I meant were. This is the end. The final comedown. The grand finale. From the first moment of “Surfin' USM” in Shepards Bush to a final, tearsoaked “GI Blues” in Brixton, these are the last moments. It doesn't seem real. I've said goodbye to this band many times. Even as “GI Blues” fades, and the band depart for the last time, it still feels unreal. It doesn't hurt the way that it did in 2007 when those were the only shows the band would be doing. It still feels as if there could be more... but we already had seven years more than we ever hoped. After their post-fame split in 1998, having barely survived a fickle and amnesiac press, and having been put away – albeit briefly – as we all grew up a little, consigned to the folly of youth, but I never forgot, I never gave up, I never was ashamed. And why should I be?

Where are the protest songs about banning the bomb, and saving the children? If you thought 1994 was bad, try 2014, where there is not one song that even seems to have a conscience, let alone address the gulf of inequality and misery in the world. Could it be that now that about 25% of our pop stars come from the rarified private schools has crushed the voice of anything but conformity from the nation? (And yes, I know about Sleaford Mods, but they aren't popular and aren't in the charts).

Because this band were more than just songs. They were, for their original lifespan, a kind of resistance : every Carter song recorded was written in the age of late Conservative Government, as they won three, then four, elections in a row. Every song was a kitchen sink soap opera of wit and a fiercely moral worldview, tied to a cross between the Buzzcocks, Beach Boys, and Pet Shop Boys. You couldn't ask for much more really.

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Every song sounded like all the best bands in the world playing at once, a playful and muscular sound, headed by a fiercely moral and intelligent expose of the basic cruelty of man to man.

Now – even though the majority of the set is twenty to twenty five years old – Carter have never (sadly, for that means mankind is perpetually in a circle of abuse) felt as relevant. This day and age is cruel, as were the times in which these songs were born.

And then there's 4,889 people all around me singing the words. Lines that even now resonate as exposing the vile hypocrisy and casual cruelty of the world we live in. “A government freezer full of benefits, “, all built around Carter's undisputed masterpiece album “30 Something”, a dense and powerful narrative around – if you trace the lines – the lives of the poor when surrounded by avarice and greed of the staggeringly rich. Carter were extremely prolific, releasing an album a year between 1990 and 1993, a total of 7 albums, 1 hits, 1 B-sides compilation, 16 singles, and around 133 songs (including covers) in barely 8 years. And they weren't all peerless, but 80% of them were instantly unforgettable, and vital. Few bands even aspire to that. Let alone achieve it. The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as strong.

But it all goes away. Age, money, illhealth, all disappears. When the band play we are who we see ourselves to be.

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Despite Brixton's appalling crush – caused by a failure to check tickets and a rush from upstairs -, coupled with an abundance of Gig Assholes.. you know the type, they go to one gig a year, get drunk, and think that anyone who touches them is starting a fight, whilst also standing totally stock still in a crowd as everyone around them is dancing, and regard you wanting to standing in front of them as akin to cooking their pet dog, those types – despite that, these are Carter as the same as they were, and freed of the burden of history and the need for chart positions, as perhaps better. Because it is the music alone now. Not the front pages.

As it happens, Shepards Bush is the better gig for me. The only time Carter have played a venue that isn't Brixton in London with a “regular” show since 1997, the crowd is smaller, and more fervent. If you are here, you aren't going because you merely like them. It's too small, and sold out too quickly. You're here because you love Carter, and you need to say goodbye.

With Jon Beast sadly departed, having died barely four months ago, these are also the only Carter shows in a very long time without his usual rabble rousing introduction : instead, a touching tribute as a hand picked selection of 13 close friends don masks, and mime along to a speech from one of the previous 13 headline shows at Brixton, each with letters spelt out on their chest. In total, Y O U F A T B A S T A R D. It may seem a curious throwback to a cruder age, but again, Carter preceded just – the era of lunkheaded Oasis fans and jocks suddenly ditching Poison for Nirvana. The adrenaline rush of old – and the first Carter shows I saw in February 1991 were a singularly thrilling leap of excitement – is here.

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Each night is a breakneck, breathless, 2 hour final state of the nation address as they seemingly squeeze the final drops of life out of these songs for the very last time. There's all the hits you might expect, from “Sheriff Fatman”, “Rubbish”, “Anytime Anyplace Anywhere”, “Bloodsport For All”, “After The Watershed”, “The Only Living Boy In New Cross”, “Do Re Mi”, “The Impossible Dream”, “Lean On Me”, “Glam Rock Cops”, “Let's Get Tattoos”, to deep album cuts, including the barely-played in their first life classic set closer “Falling On A Bruise” / “The Final Comedown.”... songs that sum up a life made of hope and joy and a valiant battle against a cruel world that cannot always be won. But even the fight itself, if not won, is a victory worth sharing.

History forgot this band. But we didn't. The industry forget this band had four Top 10 albums, and about 20 hit singles, and headlined Glastonbury in the summer of Nirvana. And they missed the point, lording over how awesome Ride are (they were ok, but the sound of a broken promise), or other bands, whilst forgetting that this band were your life. Few bands wrote songs about the world of bus stops, kitchens, domestic violence and government policies?

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At the end of the show, my partners in crime, and there are about 20 or us kind of stand dazed and not knowing what to do next for a moment, because it didn't feel real. We'd said goodbye so many times – could this really be it? There'll be other shows, and plenty of them, but it won't be this band, and it won't be these songs.

We, who have seen each other all over the country, from now demolished shitholes in Coventry, haunted churches in Birmingham, sports halls in Wales, acrid and dusty fields in Cardiff, these shows are our church, and now there is no belief anymore. Instead we have memories. And though we knew so, and now it is here, these two shows were a sun setting, a moment falling over the horizon, the sunset of a way of life. As if we woke up colour blind, and suddenly a colour, or a sound, or the sense of taste has gone, and its only when you don't have that anymore, you realise the place it held, and how there's an absence that is a presence all in itself. One thread may have unravelled, but others remain, and all of these threads form the fabric of life around us, of friends here and those gone as well, lives that may not exist anymore, but lives that were, of times that – no matter if they are the butt of ignorant press jokes now – times that mattered, times that were, and moments we can never pretend never were, because, as you know when the band are on stage, when the music is roaring around you and there's thousands of people yelling the words, that this was real, this happened, and nothing anyone can say can ever unmake the history.

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Shepards Bush Setlist :
Surfin' USM
My Second to Last Will and Testament
Re-Educating Rita
Midnight On The Murder Mile
Rubbish
Rent
Anytime Anyplace Anywhere
A Prince in a Pauper's Grave
While You Were Out
Billy's Smart Circus
Do Re Me, So Far So Good
Let's Get Tattoos
Lean On Me I Won't Fall Over
Shoppers paradise
This Is How It Feels
After The Watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way)
The Only Living Boy In New Cross
Bloodsport For All
The Music That Nobody Likes
The Impossible Dream
-
Glam Rock Cops
Evil
Falling On A Bruise
The Final Comedown
-
Sheriff Fatman
GI Blues

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Brixton Academy Setlist :
Surfin' USM
My Second to Last Will and Testament
Everytime a Churchbell Rings
Midnight On The Murder Mile
Rubbish
Rent
Anytime Anyplace Anywhere
A Prince in a Pauper's Grave
While You Were Out
Billy's Smart Circus
Do Re Me, So Far So Good
Let's Get Tattoos
Lean On Me I Won't Fall Over
Shoppers paradise
This Is How It Feels
After The Watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way)
The Only Living Boy In New Cross
Bloodsport For All
The Music That Nobody Likes
The Impossible Dream
-
Glam Rock Cops
And God Created Brixton
Falling On A Bruise
The Final Comedown
-
Sheriff Fatman
G.I. Blues

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