LUSH, London Hackney Oslo, 11 April 2016
20 years. A lot happens in 20 years. Every band seems to mark 20 years since something. Though I don't remember the 20th anniversary box set of The Beatles, I'm sure there was one. I might do a 25th anniversary box set of losing my virginity in a numbered, signed, limited edition released through my website. I might not.
All snark aside, it's been 20 years since Lush ceased playing. 20 years is a long time. It heals wounds. And unlike many bands, Lush didn't stop because the music stopped, or the bank accounts ran dry, or the interest had disappeared. Lush stopped, because of the death of drummer Chris Acland. It's a long time, and to think about picking up again can be a daunting task inbetween the work, the kids, termtimes, the shopping, the mortgage. Especially when there's an empty drumstool. After all, if it was just about money, there's been offers.
As we reach the 20th anniversary of near enough everything Britpop (woo, Shed Seven, bikinis, booze, Blur, boobs, etc), I also reminded of what it used to be like then. The mid Nineties was a time with a distinct undercut. A double edged credit card.
At the time I was in my mid twenties, and somewhat naïve, perhaps, even.. oblivious of the thematic sexism and misogny inherent in culture. I regret not being so aware. But I was 23, with little life experience (if any), and whilst aware of the rampant sexism in culture, I wasn't aware that the resurgence of the odious 'Lad' culture was just another step in the war against enlightenment, against equality, the war against all humans. It was a time dripping in sexism and stupidity. And that taught some people, and perpetuated the bullshit.
Lush were objectified. Women.. with guitars! … the terror. It wasn't always like that. Lush started life in 1989, and I first encountered them on MTV's 120 Minutes. Where they landed six years later, caught in the midst of Britpopbands, that wasn't the world they came from. They started as the perfect interbreeding of a pop group that wrote smart songs with sharp lyrics, and an experiment in sound – like some kind of Cocteau Twins cover band mistakenly performing Sex Pistols songs. Over time, they evolved. Some people hate their so-called “Britpop” years ; the latter, more direct material of “Lovelife” (for example). But they always wrote songs like that. They just .. changed the effects pedals.
And, after 20 years, Lush return with their first show at the Oslo in Hackney. A 325 capacity upstairs room in a bar / cafe /restaurant next to a train station. It's no mere nostalgia revisit victory lap – there's a new EP “Blind Spot” - and a retrospective box set, and six months of on/off touring ahead. On drums, Justin Welch (formerly of Elastica, and understudy for Suede) who was a friend of the band from way back when.
Yes, they sound the same.
Yes, Justin's a great choice. He's a different drummer with a different swing. But we're not talking when Matt Sorum joined GNR and flattened the swing into a rigid, constrained box.
Yes, Lush are back. As charming as ever.
And, if you like them, you'll be pleased that it's like it always was in many ways.
Now we're older, wiser, and clever swine, so there's not so much of a huge tsunami of people in 'Single Girl' t-shirts jumping up and down. We tap our feet and shrug a bit and sup cans of Thatcher's Gold cider, and Instagram a picture of the band to prove we are there. But we are here. This is now. This is really happening. It seems mandatory for every band to come back. I'm not sure anyone really wanted a Shed Seven reunion, but we got it anyway. Lush have done this for the right reasons and at the right time. In the set there are some perhaps obvious omissions – big hits that don't get aired, for some reason – such as “Nothing Natural” or “Single Girl” - but there's little quibbling with a 20 song, 90 minute set that covers almost all bases. And Lush have never been your jukebox. They're not going to start now.
And, after 20 years, it feels like it's been a mere few weeks. Her opening gambit is “No red hair, get used to it!”. Later on, her between song 'bantz'* is genuinely witty and human – not betraying much sign of the fact that the last time they played live, John Fucking Major was still the accidental Prime Minister. The set itself sees the first live airings of “Deluxe”, “Sweetness And Light”, “Ladykillers”, “Monochrome”, - and 16 others - all of them, last played live in Tokyo in September 1996. What everyone seems to have overlooked is just how damn good these songs were. And are. They've aged well. They may have been born then, but they've grown up now, and in the light of today, the songs are not so much timeless, but well timed. Seen through the prism of age and jobs and kids and Ofsted, the relatively carefree days of knowing that, you could, if you needed to, move back into your childhood bedroom are long gone.
* 'bantz' is a word, isn't it? Ugh.
The songs themselves are executed near flawlessly. The drumming is slightly heavier, slightly more aggressive. But Chris Acland's lightness of touch was an integral part of the band, and Justin offers a very precise approximation of that. It's only missing a slight – miniscule – deftness of touch. The songs themselves, born with muscle memory, are as strong as they ever were. The lyrics, and no one ever talks about how great the lyrics were – which is madness – are as relevant as ever. None of that 'She Left Me On Friday And Ruined My Weekend' rubbish.
Whilst there are some first night nerves, there's little in the way of rustiness. Considerable rehearsal makes it worthwhile. The set itself, in terms of the sequencing of the songs and the flow of material between eras, would probably benefit from a slight revision – there's a noticable absence of songs from “Spooky” and “Lovelife”, but there's little to criticise. It's Lush alright. What also, with the passing of time seems a little more obvious, is the glorious dearth of Britpop dickheads who were here because Miki Berenyi PHWOARH and birds like this band and all that shit.
Stripped from the time, Lush have cut free from the shackles of the insipid culture that surrounded them, the dunderheaded, knuckle dragging stupidity that also hung like a noose over other bands with girls in them, where a girl with a guitar was immediately a sex object. Misogny is also misanthropy : an admission of the inherent inferiority. Because, if there wasn't a problem with women as equals, then you wouldn't be scared of them. If you have a problem with women as equals – intelligent, funny, clever, people for God's sake – then you're also saying you feel threatened by others as equals, and, more than that, that you know you can't legitimately compete with them as equals. By virtue of the fact that some people just can't handle women as equals, these people know that they may very well 'lose'. They would rather cheat and be in influence than fairly be not in control.
We shouldn't even be talking about feminism, in so much as the concept shouldn't have to exist.
And then the idiot army launched Loaded. In one fell swoop it became cool, and OK, again, to be a sexist prick. To be a moron. I thought that shit died out when Def Leppard were finally made obsolete by Nirvana. The war against intelligence was spearheaded by Liam Gallagher, the monosyllabic idiot savant knuckle dragger who manage somehow to be skyrocketed far above his certain fate as an angry, unemployable man furious at clouds, and who became indulged and empowered, allowed to become the egotistical totem for the idiots. Bands with women in were offered cover stories... if they wore bikinis. Bands with women in were offered slots on TFI Friday, if they appeared the week before scantily clad for our delictation (and then, being silently shunted off the show).... And some men felt that somehow this was.. appropriate, and right, the natural order of things.
In Loaded's hands, culture became a weapon. Women were no longer seen as what they actually were – and are – as intelligent, powerful humans... but as objects, and meat to be manipulated. It was as if there was a mass, pigshit stupid reflex response to the idea of equality, and a reappropriation of sexism and oppression under the guise of just a fucking laugh, led by inarticulate idiots whose moron response to anything was just to be “Mad For It”. The people who were your mother, your sister, your daughter, your wife – the people who you probably have the closest relationships with in your life – are treated like shit, and paid less. Because that suits the people who can change it, and they don't want to.
Here's a clue. Clever people are the sexiest thing on Earth. Stupid people aren't.
Suddenly, it was OK... more than OK... it was divine to be stupid. It was to be applauded to be a dunderhead. Nightclubs that played the cool music were full of twats in shirts who fondled girls bums. People who thought singing Wonderwall at the top of their voices were the height of um, feeling. People who thought Richard Ashcroft was worthy of being a 'Godlike Genius'. Women were reduced to tits, and bums, and backing singers to add fake soul to meaningless anthems with lyrics about helicopters and swimming pools and insubstantial bullshit about nothing important. You get the picture.
The music we liked, that stood against the meaningless tripe of Phil Collins, and fucking... Aerosmith, man... , became.. adopted by the kids who bullied us at school. The odious cockwombles who saw women as objects to be used and abused, and for those who didn't see their bullshit attempts at superficially charming rape as flattery became enemies to be destroyed. I hated them. The fact is, I'd go and see Oasis (though I stopped after the fourth time, because I wanted to commit mercy killings on some of the crowd), or Blur, or whoever, and they'd always be the idiots who saw women as meat to be mauled, and if they weren't successful, any women who declined was hated. And, sad to say, there was always someone who believed it, who found the attention vaguely flattering, and who probably ended up with three children in a dead end suburb wishing they'd had a different life when the factories all closed. Oasis gigs became situations were I was surrounded by the kind of kids that would bully me at school. There would be conversations with girls, and unlike some people, they wouldn't be asking questions in code. The questions weren't allusions to how much money do you earn? Do you have a car?
In my world, if you want to fuck me because I have money and a car... that's why I want don't want to fuck you. If you make me laugh and think about stuff, help me see the world differently, and make me feel amazing about reality when you drink tea... that's good enough for me. If you have your act together great, but that's not just it. If you have money in the bank and a car, great, but that's not going to change my mind. What goes through my mind when I meet you isn't.. what's your retirement pot like? But … will you want to make bad jokes about Ice Cream in 2050 when we're pensioners on a beach?
But where are we? I spent years crawling away, day by day, from the world where the kids who bullied me were – let them have their cars and their shit rock and their tiny dreams - and now, they were here. Seeing our bands, meeting the girls. They invaded my world. And yes, it sounds snobbish, but it was true. Go back to Poison and M People, you fucking scum. Because now if I went to see a cool band, and I met an awesome girl, it wasn't the same anymore. There used to be an understanding, that whomever it was who was seeing that band, wasn't one of them : wasn't one of the sexist, stupid bastards. I had a new hurdle ; yes, I liked Blur, but I could, in theory have been one of the kids who bullied you at school. Life became harder now.
(Though with my glasses, that would be … unlikely).
And that is why, even though I liked Oasis, I hated them. Grey paint on the wall of rock and roll, in so many ways. The world became dumber. It became OK to be a sexist bastard, who lecherously offered women the delights of STD's, to slap the bottoms of a girl in the band or in the industry, and try to pass their rampant sexism as mere fucking *bantz. To be in Britpop, to be in the world of Loaded, was to have art gatecrashed by wankers and morons, and drug crazed idiots, and for curse of stupidity to be applauded. And 20 years on, has much changed? Not enough. The idiots have grown up, and now some of them are running the government. But what has changed? Lush are reborn, and they are glorious. The songs have aged and matured. The sound is the same, yet different, light but heavy, dense with space. The sounds the songs are drenched in aren't there to hide the hollow heart, but extra flavour inside the music, and the songs have aged well, matured, as good now as they were then, and perfect. It may have taken 20 years for the band to be ready to reappear in our world, and it takes time to heal wounds, but now, even though tonights show was the first, tentative baby steps back into the world, Lush have flowered.
Light From A Dead Star
Out of Control
Sweetness And Light
Leaves Me Cold