POP WILL EAT ITSELF / NED’S ATOMIC DUSTBIN / MILES HUNT – London Shepards Bush Empire 06 April 2019
(photo by Jemm Lough)
With the near enough annual gig cycle of touring, this years Love With Stourbridge tour sees Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and Miles Hunt playing on the same bill for the first time in London in at least 30 years, if not ever.
Without a suitable anniversary (for some), it’s just an excuse for the bands to have a few weekends off in the school holidays, play a few live shows, tour most of the UK, and make a big noise. Miles Hunt opens with a solo acoustic set before dipping into a retro DJ set. It’s an excuse for dozens of friends who are now scattered all over the country (and the world) to get together and see the music they grew up listening to.
We never thought we’d get this far. I never did. And if we ever got to 2019, I always thought we’d be in hovercars and commuting to the moon. Here we are now. Entertain us.
Miles Hunt opens with a short, and sharp 30 minute acoustic set at 7.30, so we’re treated to a 8 song set that draws (mostly) on his songs for The Wonder Stuff : Opening with “Unbearable”, the set covers half hits, a solo song in the shape of the wonderful “Everything Is Not OK”, a couple of LP tracks, and much loved 1994 b-side “Room 512”. It’s a fun, punctual start to the night – and there’s more to come.
Next up is Pop Will Eat Itself. With 4/5ths of the original classic lineup back in the fray, there’s something intangible and magical that happens when it’s this close to the best known lineup. Like all Pop Will Eat Itself gigs, it’s a glorious shambles of noise by the most under-rated band of their time. I’ve always thought that this band was as important and innovative culturally and musically as The Beastie Boys – and to me, personally, far more so because when The Beastie Boys were still running around like fucking idiots with inflatable willies, the Poppies were making a nuclear apocalypse danceable. But since PWEI didn’t come from Brooklyn but from a place near Birmingham, everything they did was discounted by stupid snobbery. Make no mistake, this band were undoubtedly musically one of the best of their formative years – and still one I’ve seen almost more than anyone else. Tonight they’re brilliant. Probably the best I’ve seen them in 14 years.
There’s lots of reasons : not least of which is this that they are playing their seminal (and groundbreaking) “This Is The Day… This Is The Hour… THIS IS THIS!” album in full on tour for the first time. Many songs have never been performed in 30 years, if at all. It’s a wonderful relief and change for the band to bring back songs they should play more often – and to have a degree of variety in the song choice. Opening with “PWEI Is A Four Letter Word” is a novelty – but it shouldn’t be. The show then opens up with a perfectly sequenced, smooth groove of embryonic, pioneering rock-with-computers, with the one-two suckerpunch of “Preaching To The Perverted” / “Wise Up! Sucker” next to each other, the two songs separated solely by a seamless morse-code signal that turns the two songs into two sides of the same coin, moving together to create a glorious whole. The buzzsaw guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, made flesh by the metronomic, unstoppable Fuzz Townsend on drums, make for a driving beat that seems to never pause and take breath. Somehow these songs feel shorter, faster, more powerful live. And then there’s the tiniest of breaths, and we’re deep into side two with “Poison To The Mind” and “Def Con One.”
(photo by Jemm Lough)
Normally, when bands perform album-in-full shows, it feels wrong. The dynamics of playing to a crowd are very different from a heard-in-headphones-on-your-own experience of the record. Here, there’s no such disconnect : it feels like these songs must be next to each other in the natural order, the way things must and should be. There’s the quite wonderful resurrection of “Satellite Ecstatica” (which later apparently was borrowed to be the title of an unreleased Aphex Twin album), and the chaos that is “Not Now James, We’re Busy”. All of these songs sound like every instrument is somehow all fighting each other at the same time in a very crowded bag of sound. I’m not quite sure, but for me, years, worries, they all slip away and I become who I once was, and who I sometimes get to be again, the child inside the man. As the album comes to a close with an apocalyptic “Wake Up! Time To Die.”, there’s a shift in tempo to a short, sharp greatest hits set of big hitters from their other albums, in the shape of “Get The Girl + Kill the Baddies”, “Dance Of The Mad Bastards”, and a final, defiant “Ich Bin Ein Auslander”. It seems staggering to me that we’re still fighting the same battles, the same wars, battling the same terrible monsters of Phobias and Isms, that racists, homophobes, sexists, transphobics, and the rest are still enemies and that we still have to define ourselves not just by what we are but what we are against, and that there are still, staggering asshats who can only feel safe when they oppress other people, that only feel good when they make others feel bad, and won’t just let others be who they are. The battle is eternal.
And then the best PWEI show I have seen in over a decade comes to a close.
There’s a brief break, and then it’s Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Being born and braised in Birmingham, at the time that this band, and PWEI, and The Wonder Stuff were huge, it felt like I was in my very own zeitgeist. These were bands I saw in the pub, and on the bus, and talking to people I knew as friends. It was weird, but also, it was just my normality. I had no idea how unusual it was that people you sort of knew appeared on television and on front pages of the music press. Or how weird it was to grow up with my school inside a Chocolate Factory. It was just my normal. Whatever that was.
What Neds had, that many of their peers didn’t,was a musical vulnerability. Like all the bands I love, the music has to be great, but I can’t love a band with bad lyrics. And this band have very good, honest, insightful words. The band play passionately, but without a new album in the past 24 years, and only three new songs in that time, the Neds are a musical museum. I’m fascinated and interested in hearing bands track and reflect where they are now, how they see the world now, and always connected to artists whose work spoke to me. Music was a map that helped me navigate my way through this world, and a lack of new art – especially where once it was prolific – makes the band, for me, a memory that is front of me. No matter how good they are, or how well they play, or how good the songs are, the band are a memory and a museum in front of me.
But it all got lost in a fickle and stupid music press that was run by snobs. There was much fawning over second-division indie landfill just a few years later, with grasping desperation trying to make artistic amoebas such as Cast and Shed Seven in some way credible or tolerable. Anything that came out of Manchester was lauded, and much that was mere laddish repackaging of the thuggish elements of The Rolling Stones and The Who was somehow regarded as brave, and vital, instead of the babbling of idiots who’d borrowed their Dad’s record collections and know the words but don’t know what they mean.
Certainly it’s fun and fabulous to jump around dancing to old songs like the present never happened… but I want more. I want to see how people are growing old, and how they interpret that through their work, to help me, now, as I get older. Somewhere in a corner of a crowded O2 venue, there is a dancefloor that is forever 1993.
And I wouldn’t want to be normal for all the money in the world.
Miles Hunt :
Caught In My Shadow,
Can’t Shape Up,
Everything is Not OK,
Give Give Give Me More More More
Pop Will Eat Itself :
PWEI Is a Four Letter Word,
Preaching to the Perverted,
Wise Up! Sucker,
Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell,
Can U Dig It?,
The Fuses Have Been Lit,
Poison to the Mind,
Def Con One,
Shortwave Transmission on 'Up to the Minuteman Nine’
Not Now James, We're Busy... ,
Wake Up! Time to Die
,Get the Girl! Kill the Baddies!,
Dance of the Mad Bastards,
Ich Bin Ein Auslander
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin :
Not Sleeping Around,
Until You Find Out,
Walking Through Syrup,
A Leg-End In His Own Boots,
Two and Two Made Five,
Grey Cell Green,
Kill Your Television,