Review by Daniel MacNabb (first printed in Facelift magazine)The bill also featured Billy Jenkins' Voice Of God Collective and cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, but Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin were essentially whom I'd come to see. They're probably remembered best in the UK for their revamped version of Lesley Gore's classic 'It's My Party' which was a big hit for them in 1981, but have since released a string of albums (the most recent being 'The Big Idea' and 'Spin') which include a mixture of cover versions and originals.
Having found success in America and Japan, the duo have not performed in England for over 13 years, which might explain the apprehension written on their faces as they hit the stage. Apprehension quickly dissolved as the band kicked into 'Shakin' All Over'. When Stewart/Gaskin cover tunes they don't merely replicate them. Instead they jazz things up, rip the song to pieces and then throw it back together again. Their music is heavily sequenced, Dave Stewart (boxed in by walls of keyboard equipment) was always on the move triggering samples, at times looking as though he was manning the controls of the Starship Enterprise. The group took the old rock'n'roll classic on many a tangent, including an unexpected change to an erratic synth-percussion solo which was convincingly unsynthetic. Maybe there was a hidden agenda; from what we heard, there might easily have been some hairy headbanger letting rip on a fifteen piece kit somewhere backstage.
The second song, 'Henry & James', was pure synth-pop with a progressive slant. Written in the 80's, it's an ode to a pair of dull chaps who work in the city and don't have much time for leisure activities. "There's a tide of information (hearing is believing) . . . . as they gather at the station. Henry and James, ain't got no time for computer games", run Stewart's rather odd lyrics. The extended arrangement incorporated the instrumental 'A World of Difference', reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's trippy ventures. In this, keyboard whiz Dave plunged into a guitar (sorry, synth-guitar) solo, soon to be rivalled by Andy Reynolds (guitar and backing vocals) on the real thing.
One of the key factors in Stewart/Gaskin's music is the way Barbara Gaskin's silken vocals glide through the electronic mayhem. I found 'The Cloths Of Heaven' to be the most moving song of the evening. The lyrics are adapted from the W.B.Yeats poem 'He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven' and make an emotional song. "If I had the cloths of heaven, filled with gold and silver light, I would lay them underneath your feet . . . if I were your shining bride, dressed in gold and silver light, would you love me till the day I die?", sang Barbara with feeling. The music was rich with melody, somewhat Celtic, and strangely familiar.
In a conversation after the band's warm-up gig at Nomis Studios, Andy Reynolds told me that the music was deconstructive and geared towards surprising the audience. His words were proved valid during the headlong assault of 'The Emperor's New Guitar', which contained a medley of musical quotes, ranging from a rendition of the James Bond and 'Mission Impossible' themes to twanging 50's surf music. Later in the evening, the band also managed to fit in brief extracts from Led Zeppelin's sexy 'Heartbreaker' and 'Whole Lotta Love', enabling we critics to play 'Spot The Quote'.
'Trash Planet' cast a jaundiced, retrospective eye over my day. This song takes a bite at the diposable society (and world) we live in, reminding me of the dreadful 'Live '96' exhibition (where I'd half-heartedly been flogging computer mag subscriptions, much to the disapproval of Henry & James) and its piles of useless goods; Midi-guitars, massage machines, etc. This number used some weird effects; at one point, it sounded as though Barbara had inhaled too much helium, as each time she pounded out 'on the planet!', the pitch of her vocal went up, eventually becoming unbearable.
Due to a badly timed visit to the gents (this being a Queen Elizabeth-sponsored venue, you're not allowed to walk in during a song) I missed the band's final onslaught, a grinding version of Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'. However, having seen them crash through their set at Nomis, I can safely say that SHB was a climactic ending. Once again, they took a classic piece of music on a rollercoaster ride through various genres, almost making it their own. "Hey Barb, they're making that noise where they bang their hands together. Remember that?" said Dave modestly as the audience applauded.
Sadly, the combo were unable to play a (much demanded) encore, due to a late start. The gig made a nice change from the usual formula Indie bands I see, and will hopefully generate enough interest for there not to be a thirteen year wait until the next one!
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