Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clouds, The Wonderstuff, Jesus Jones: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: The Palace
Date: 19/08/2011

“Did that really just happen?” I say to myself in the moments following Jesus Jones’ final exit from the Palace stage, after an encore that concluded a night 20-plus years in waiting. This triple bill of bands that all peaked quite some time ago, could only truly tickle the fancy of a very specific age group – children of the early 1990’s – and it is precisely those ‘children’ who’ve flocked to the Palace tonight to rejoice in and lament the last ever pre-internet era in music, known as the early ‘90s.

Jesus Jones in particular were a major part of my education, as I slipped from top 40 radio into this new wow thing called ‘alternative music’. Remember that? Looking back, Jesus Jones were the perfect vehicle to carry a newbie into lower-end-of-charts comparative weirdness. At the time, they represented everything that had been missing from the music I had known, but suddenly found myself needing. Meanwhile closer to home, Sydney’s Clouds had blipped on the radar around the same time, with their strange but sing-a-long tunes and a reputation as the must-see live band. I didn’t see them, but as first band up tonight Clouds, who hadn’t played together since 1997, deliver an eerily powerful and dust-free set, safely securing that reputation. However, time wouldn’t allow them a sound-check for this show, and as a result there is something slightly mechanical about watching them perform some of their most-loved tracks. Soul Eater, 4pm, Immorta, Say It and Bower Of Bliss are undoubtedly superior to the recorded versions, but the band’s rigid presence suggested they were anxious to just get through the set – as marvelous as it is – and leave. They end on a meticulously rendered Hieronymus, playing as though every fragment of the song was burned into their collective brains, and leave us hanging with no encore.

Perhaps not all that many were here for Clouds tonight, and they picked up that they weren’t playing to ‘their crowd’ as such, but no doubt the vibes are still good all round as most people are just here to enjoy three fine examples of a great period in music. Although it’s a seemingly unrelated line-up of acts - a Jesus Jones fan is basically indistinguishable from a Wonderstuff fan, at least until the many British-accented punters present chime-in following Clouds' set. One ex-pat speaks hazily into my ear between bands of how important it was to ‘choose your tribe’ during the British post new-wave in the early ‘90s. Jesus Jones, EMF and Age Of Chance fans would never have been seen at a Wonderstuff gig back in the day, for those bands were worshipped by a totally different clan and mixing was off the table. This tribalism however looks to be long-gone, as no Pulp Mis-Shapes-style’ war on the dance floor takes place and it’s thankfully still too cold for the Balmy Army to make an appearance. Further evidence of tribalism’s death needed? The Wonderstuff have only gone and got ex-Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend to bash the bins for them, and their placing on tonight’s bill could be read as ‘Jesus Jones’ opening act.’

But whoever decided on the running order of the bands was probably tossing a three sided coin. Jesus Jones had top billing, but exactly why so is not obvious by any traditional ‘biggest seller’ means… Until Wonderstuff take to the stage and things became a little clearer. Performance wise, Wonderstuff are incredible. They deliver a riot of, mainly drinking songs that would make Shane MacGowan proud, and all the energy of an out-of-control Red Bull delivery truck. However, the spectacle of singer Miles Hunt at 47 years of age in Play School presenter’s regalia – stripy t-shirt and ill-fitting denim overalls - and the mysterious return of his circa-1991 bushy mane (heads it’s a wig….) probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but I found the music more enjoyable when I wasn’t actually watching him. Presentation wise, they would have been far more suited to headlining a fancy dress barn dance is all I’m saying.

Some part of me really wanted Jesus Jones to emerge in their (now) vintage skate gear, and still sporting enormous fringes, but perhaps fearing a Wonderstuff-esque pantomime, they opted for smart casuals. Besides their new dressed-down look, vampish lead singer, Mike Edwards hasn’t aged in any obvious way whatsoever, but rather seems to be transitioning into a dandy-ish fop. With not an ounce of fat on Edward’s body and barely a wrinkle on his chiseled face, somewhere out there, Jarvis was seething. The rest of the almost-all-original line-up (they have a new drummer) resemble archetypal aging ravers with a bit of a nod to heavy metal thrown in for good measure. Basically Jesus Jones look exactly like they sounded at their peak, and just as both bands before them tonight, deliver a set pooled only from their first three albums – or the ‘hit period’ - Liquidizer, Doubt and Perverse. It’s been 20 years since the Jones boys have played in Australia, and with tongue slightly in cheek, Edwards declares, “We’ll just do a few songs you used to know.” They kick off with Doubt’s Who, Where, Why? – a song of lost identity which could not be more fitting for the band now. Jesus Jones self-confidence early on verged on arrogance. Mike Edwards fully believed his band were making ‘the music of the future’, but in saying so, he placed his band’s heads neatly onto the block and the brutal lashing he received from the press resulted in rapidly dwindling interest/product post 1993 album, Perverse.

Perhaps Jesus Jones weren’t so wide of the mark though. The Prodigy proved the masses were open to the idea of a slightly daft electro-metal act, but alas, if only Jesus Jones hadn’t thought so hard about it all. At least for a time, they were music’s baggy jeaned fortune tellers. Sounding very fortuitous now, 1991’s anti-pop hit single, Real Real Real blasts forth its claim that pop music is on a downward spiral into ‘safe and samey’ terrain. It might not have rung Nostradamus’s bell, but at least someone was saying it. Nostalgia concerts are strange things when the band in question once stood firm against ‘repeating the past’ but its undeniable that Jesus Jones would not be touring at all were it not for a single piece of music - 1991’s Right Here Right Now - and its impact beyond the charts. Politicians campaigned with it playing in the background, advertisers sought its power to push their products and street demonstrations rang with its message of instant revolution. It’s also the song that a large number of fans tonight were happy to leave once hearing. Mike waves goodbye from the stage as the exodus occurs leaving the hard-cores with some very welcome extra dance-floor space. 

The rest of the set is a fan’s dream list of b-sides, near-forgotten album tracks and even one new song, which was promising to say the least, but it’s their debut single, Info Freako that gets the warmest welcome. A cry of ‘FINALLY!’ rings out from one punter at the barrier, who had been waiting possibly years for Perverse stand-out track Idiot Stare, and further voices are raised in response to the ‘song we haven’t played live in 20 years’ – Blissed - another from Doubt. All up, Jesus Jones play a well-considered set, but by the time their one-song encore is over, there’s two gaping holes in the shape of The Right Decision and Devil. Incredibly, they chose the far less interesting Zeros & Ones as major representative of their dense electro-metal phase (Perverse) which was certainly not the right decision. Still, the concert felt way too short despite the band covering so much ground, which translated means, it was a fucking brilliant ride to be on, and knowing that every song played was one closer to the end of an unlikely to ever be repeated event, was enough to cause minor welling up in these eyes.





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