Thursday, 22 March 2012

Gig Review: Pop Will Eat Itself @ The Duchess, York

It's been a while since I have been out to gigs on a regular basis. But that's ok, because the headliners for this show haven't been playing gigs on a regular basis for even longer. So we can grow together in the most beautiful way a band and a critic can - by sloppy writing on an obscure review blog.

But first, the support act. Local goth-tinged newcomers Berlin Black are an intriguing prospect, if only because they are the only new band I have seen linked to the UK goth scene in a long time who are actually in possession of their own nuanced sound. A slick fusion of jagged post-punk sneer with pop sensibilities and a penchant for echoing indie rock choruslines, the closest touchstone I can hit upon is that they sound oddly like The Killers. That is more of a compliment than it might seem. It's refreshing to see songcraft and style together under the banner of hairspray and black leather - one to watch, with an EP review incoming soon.

This particular Pop Will Eat Itself reunion is reduced down to co-vocalist Graham Crabb and a bunch of hired hands. Last year's comeback album was a patchy affair that did nothing particularly wrong but also failed to show much of the anarchic glimmer that suffused all the previous PWEI material - coming across more like the stock industrial metal that took its cues from 'Dos Dedos Mis Amigos' than the bold original itself. And at first it seemed that the gig would follow suit as a pale imitation of former glories. Bursting onto stage with somewhat forced enthusiasm and pelting straight into some classic tunes, it was clear that a genuine energy was something that the audience would have to take a hand at building themselves.

The lineup themselves were an odd mix - Clint Mansell replaced by Mary Byker (bringing some extra grebo cache that was much needed), former Pitchshifter drummer Jason Bowld behind the kit and the guitar/bass fronted by two chaps constructed mostly of tattoos and haircuts. That's not to say any of these people were poor choices. Solid musicians all, with Bowld providing an extraordinarily tight hi-speed backing of thumping beats while Byker did an astonishingly good Mansell impression throughout. The latter also provided some visual dynamism, which was lucky because ironically Crabb was certainly the weak link throughout. Having not seen PWEI at the height of their powers, I'm not sure if he has always struggled to perform vocal duties in a live setting or whether this is a case of age conquering all. Either way, it was strange to see what could effectively be argued to be a cover act solidly outperform the only original member of the band onstage.

Once past the initial hump of uncertainty dogging them, the likes of "Everything's Cool" and "Preaching To The Perverted" were blasted into the crowd with a fair amount of verve and tenacity. The sheer variety of material was a boon in this situation, since if a particularly heavy machine rock-style choice didn't quite synch up - typically their newer material, which came across as unremarkable live as it is on record - then pretty soon a sloganeering mashup of hip-hop, electro and Madchester sounds would blare out and effectively reinvent the room. By the time the encore rolled around, everything was back on track to the degree that a padded-out version of "Their Law" came across as pure PWEI, with all semblance of The Prodigy screaming away into the distance. A rousing "Wise Up Sucker" closed affairs, and wrapped up possibly the jammiest gig recovery I have ever seen. The jury is still out on whether the the Poppies' reunion can provide the goods on record, but if they work on coming faster off the blocks then they can still be an appealing prospect live.

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