London Astoria, taken by C Ford March 04. CC-BY-SA license
The Internet never forgets. Or it might forget, but it has a tendency to remember again later, coughing up hair-balls of long-forgotten events that you’d be prepared to swear had been consigned to the trash-can of history. Or, in this case, the TC archives, for tucked away in the corner of And This Is What The Devil Does, was a grainy, obviously ripped from VHS (complete with rolling tracking lines) recording of the Revolting Cocks live performance at the Astoria in London from January 24, 1991.
This was an event which I had attended, and written about all the way back in TC 9. It remained one of my all-time most memorable live experiences: all gigs, even the Rammstein one written about a month or two back, were measured up against it, I had, at one point, a copy of the same bootled vid, but this had gone among the missing in the two decades and 5,500 miles of relocation since.
The Astoria, meanwhile, had bit the bullet as well, having been demolished in 2009 as part of the London Crossrail project. My other leading memory from there is a show with Front Line Assembly + Sheep on Drugs, which seems have taken place in October 1995. The basement formed another venue, known as the Astoria 2, and it was in there that I saw VNV Nation in 2000, less than a month before moving permanently out to Arizona…and seeing the band again on the night I arrived in Phoenix! But to get back to the RevCo gig…
My first encounter with Rammstein was on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997, where I initially mistook them for Laibach – and wasn’t the first to do so. Somewhat snarkily, Laibach said, “They have proven once again that a good ‘copy’ can make more money on the market than the ‘original’. Anyhow, today we share the territory: Rammstein seem to be a kind of Laibach for adolescents and Laibach are Rammstein for grown-ups.” I’ve particularly wanted to see Rammstein live since hearing Rob Dyer’s tales of spectacles such as keyboard player Christian “Flake” Lorenz sailing out onto the audience in an inflatable boat. But I moved out to Arizona before they came back, and missed their 2001 tour so had to wait. And wait. Finally, I heard that they’d be playing here, and I’d get to see Rammstein live, 15 years after first hearing them – I think that’s a record, pipping the 14 years before I saw The Human League. At least until I ever see John Foxx (21 years and counting!).
The origins of this outing lie in the last Flesh + Blood book — as is documented, Harvey Fenton devoted no less than TWENTY-SIX pages to Rockbitch, a satanic/sex/heavy metal (mostly-)girl group. Eyebrows here were raised as to whether they were really worth the coverage — Mr.Fenton assured me they were, so when I found out they were playing London on Guy Fawkes’ Night, what else could I do but turn up?
At this point, readers might want to visit the Rockbitch web site to get the background, especially if they’ve not got the Flesh + Blood book, with its tales of on-stage fistings, fan-fornication and general Excess All Areas. But was it all just a cheap ploy to get attention? If so, it was remarkably unsuccessful: here is Time Out‘s complete listing for the gig:
Rockbitch + Leech Woman + Breed 77. Garage N5, 8pm, adm £7. The opening set is provided by hotly-tipped metallers Breed 77.
Between that, and the fact that this tour takes in such stadia as the Fleece & Firkin in Darlington, it seems that mega-stardom is not quite banging on Rockbitch’s door.
The crowd were an interesting mix of hard-core heavy metal, the dirty mac brigade, and casually dressed men whose significance would become clear later. I carefully scoped out a position to stand; not so close that I ran the risk of becoming part of the show, shall we say, yet close enough to satisfy my entirely healthy journalistic curiosity — oh, alright then, and my prurience.
First of all, we had to get through the support bands; actually, I’m in agreement with Time Out, Breed 77 were actually very impressive, and I’d rate their chances of stardom considerably higher than Rockbitch’s. You heard it here first. The main support, Leech Woman, were familiar from Bradford; they were the ones with the angle-grinder, and once again the sparks were flying. The only noticeable change was the presence of black crosses of sticky tape on their nipples — again, the significance would become clear shortly. They cleared off, and the mob surged forward in anticipation of… well, whatever. It was really VERY tightly packed by now: I let go of my empty plastic beer glass and it took ten minutes to hit the floor. Then, to a roar from the audience, Rockbitch took the stage.
Let’s be honest. The words “Rawk Chick” do come to mind; rapidly smudged make-up, hair-colour from a bottle and so forth; not ugly, for sure, but not really my cup of tea. And hang on, what’s this? They’re also wearing crosses of sticky tape on their nipples! And one of them has ‘CENSORED’ scrawled on her stomach, above a large arrow pointing down… At the end of the first song, it became clear what was happening: the authorities had decided to take an interest, and the aforementioned casually dressed men were, in fact, plain-clothes coppers.
Now, if there’s one thing scarier than a Rawk Chick, it’s a pissed-off Rawk Chick. And, boy, were Rockbitch miffed; between every song, a tirade of vitriol was directed at the powers-that-be and the police for making them tone down the show. I had to sympathise, purely from a libertarian point of view, though some of their complaints were dumb. Saying “it’s just because we’re women” is palpable nonsense; they’d have got the same reaction had it been men sodomising each other on stage, or even straightforward heterosexual screwing. Claims to the contrary are just ignorant. I do also have to ask what they EXPECTED would happen; they’d have been better off going down the road a mile to Brown’s, where women ARE allowed to take their clothes off.
Anyway, despite the sign on stage saying “Fuck Censorship”, they didn’t, choosing to go under lamely; when the lead singer bravely exposed her nipples they was rapidly covered up again with more tape. Their stage act was reduced to a lot of lesbian kissing and some mock Satanic ritual, though covering the mouth of their skull prop with tape was a nicely ironic touch. The loss of their sexual exploits was a double edged-sword. While it certainly gave them something to complain about (Q1: is that why they’re called Rockbitch?), it meant they were thrown back onto their musicianship. This was largely bog-standard heavy metal (Q2: why do you only ever get Satanic metal, and never Satanic pop or Satanic C’n’W?), save their fretless bass player, who was not only the most skilled but the most attractive — and, an interesting point, kept her clothes on.
The overall effect was something between Spinal Tap and Showgirls, though sadly it had the sexual charge of the former, and the humour of the latter — though there was something ironic and almost charming in the way they described what we WOULD have been seeing, if it wasn’t for the presence of Mr. Plod. It is probably unfair to judge Rockbitch on a PG-rated performance, but the tame way in which this petered out does nothing to dispell the illusion that their attitude is nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy. [Whether or not it’s deliberate, it works as such, going by the inordinate interest the following morning in the office!] Still, at eight quid for the ticket, it was a ploy to which I was happy to succumb, having had an entertaining night. I may be deaf, as a result of leaning against the speaker stacks, I may be battered (the guy next to me was trying to slam-dance, even though there was about 3mm of play in the entire audience), and I may have no real interest in seeing them again, but it was an experience, and more fun than a handful of sparklers.
Phoenix Arizona Saturday 19 September 1998 – All Freaking Day…….
The Phunk Junkeez - out on 'work furlough'
Let’s see.. where do I start? Picture this: A baseball stadium, big enough for 30,000 humans – and several more sub-humans – harboring a music festival of epic proportions, in an area of Arizona bordering a retirement community, which houses only ONE policeman. Picture the old farts paying extra money to hire Phoenix police as serious backup just in case we get a little ornery. Hehehe… Then, picture one of the bands being very late for the concert because they got busted in Buckeye, a town south of Phoenix, for “smoking controlled substances”, and being given a “work furlough” in order to make the concert at all.
Then, picture quite the number of strange and unusual people, some carrying inflatable dates (I witnessed that) and quite the number of vendors selling everything from stickers that said “nice people swallow”, to adult novelties (which included to my utter delight an inflatable sheep that came with its own KY jelly), to free condoms and old, used cd’s… Where else to find the tent for Trash City? Right in the damn middle of it, where else? Yes, folks, your American Ambassador squatted her team of Trash vendors and journalists here, at the Peoria Sports complex for “That Damn Show” sponsored by a local alternative radio station and a local American beer company. All my fans who read my stuff on a regular basis should recognize the Peoria Sports Complex when I had to take my son’s class on a field trip there to see a baseball game and wrote about it.
The festival itself started at 11:00am and went on till almost midnight. I arrived at the stadium at 7:00am to set up our tent. The bands were great, let me try to remember all of them, here goes:
Harvey Danger, not sitta-ing on a flagpole
Jackie the Jokeman
from Howard Stern’s show
7 Mary 3
Goo Goo Dolls
There were more, but I can’t remember…my brain was fried. The temperature was 109 degrees and I got a serious-ass farmer tan on my neck and shoulders. There was a ton of people and I set up the camcorder to do “man on the street” interviews for Trash City. At some future point we will show you photos of just how weird people can be and just how willing they are to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, in front of a camera, if they have the smallest inkling that they may be on TV. I just neglected to say that it would be MY television they would be on, not network TV of any sort. But hey, you know my favorite saying: “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”
And we all love vindaloo...
I got a good 28 minutes of hysteria on tape. Lots of TC fans telling the camera just what they think of Trash City and most of the responses were funny, witty, neglible, ignorant, unintelligible and downright obscene (may be considered offensive by British Customs and Excise). But despite the moral turpitude, one of the best parts was introducing the fans to the exercise of learning the lyrics to your pep rally song “Vindaloo”. [Oh, dear. I have to raise my hand at this point as the guilty party who sent Chris the CD… JhM] They began to think it was part of “Trash City Rules” so a lot of them used the chant “Vindaloo… Bucket!” in the videotaped interviews. Some day we may make that tape available for viewing to the general TC public, perhaps a “director’s cut” with everything left in, including a special wide-screen edition of “Trash City Bloopers”. But that’s only on the back burner of this American Ambassador’s charred flesh-for-brains.
One charming thing that stood out was “Miss Kathy’s Concessions”. I was reminded of the nostalgia days of ballroom dancing, of Fred Astaire dancing in night clubs, of the atmosphere of the 50’s and the romanticism that were “night clubs”, except these were Concession girls “Retro style”! They pulled up in a hot pink van and piled out of it, inflating plastic furniture and changing into costume: sequined miniskirts, fishnet stockings, 7″ spike high heels and bustiers that pushed their cleavage out into huge mounds under their chins. Then they hung trays from straps around their necks, filled to capacity with all manner of concessions, including lollies, chips, cigarettes, cigars, Ultra-sour Mega Warheads, and each girl went out into the bleachers spouting Betty Boop-like “Cigars, Cigarettes, Candy”. They were constantly selling out. I wonder why. I thought the concept was brilliant. It was retro, it was nostalgic, it was perfect. They told me they travel all over the country to different festivals doing this. I was impressed — and I am a female, and NOT a Lesbian. After saying that, I am sure that a huge percentage of the male populace enjoyed the visual displays they had on offer. And I don’t mean the trays around their necks… I just thought it was original thinking on Miss Kathy’s part.
All in all, a fun day, full of wild fans, great music, crappy food and expensive beer. This is the second year for this concert and judging from the enthusiasm shown, more than likely to become a tradition, unless the old farts from Sun City have any say about it. But we know what we’ll say if they try to stop it next year:
Well, if it’s August, it must be time for the Chelmsford festival of all things pop, and V98 held for this undiscerning punter the following mixed bag…
Saturday – A nice fluffy summer’s day
Iggy Pop – 8/10 Dinosaurs live longer these days (Main stage) ‘Lust For Life’ isn’t just a song title you know. It’s as much information as you need about Iggy Pop. For he’s still larging it, bouncing around and whipping the audience into a frenzy in a way that puts to shame many of the ‘new’ stars on parade. Iggy opted for a bit of crowd diving and was nearly sucked under, his microphone momentarily giving some karaoke quality time to an able and appreciative fan. The Popster must have Inspector Gadget sprung heels, as with more energy than Calvin & Hobbes he bounces and twists his way across the stage and back, leaving the appreciative audience short of breath and frankly wondering quite how he manages it. Exhausting stuff!
Gomez – 7/10 Interesting in a different sort of way (NME stage) Spinning out of some unnoticed field, neither left nor right, Gomez fills a a musical snack gap that you hadn’t realised existed. It’s not Oasis, nor Kula Shaker. It’s not one of the many thing that I shan’t bore you by listing. They play good music well. There’s light and shade, pace and emotion in there too. On stage the band enjoyed it, and so did we. Keep an ear open for Gomez, I don’t quite know where they’re going, or what they’re up to, but it’s going to be fun finding out.
Saint Etienne – 4/10 Too cool, too uninvolved (NME stage) The two backing singers where great. No really, they were. Playing percussion, dancing to every track, goading the audience along, and generally busy having a whale of a time. It’s a bit of a shame therefore that the rest of the band didn’t look behind them to see how it should be done. Whilst the Saint’s threw out their carefully controlled and constructed pop with precision, there was too little passion, too little committed involvement – the attitude seemed to be ‘oh yes I’m a pop star’ and to shrug in some ‘it’s just something I do’ way. Now, where did I put that dry ham role and my can of warm, flat cola?
Catatonia – 9/10 Oooh, there’s lovely isn’t it (NME stage) ‘Oi listen, you know the best thing about playin’ festivals in Britain?’ she called out, swigging the last drop from a bottle of wine, ‘The audience’s more pissed than I am!’ Cue fit of rolling laughter. Pumping the audience into life they kicked off, we responded and Catatonia rocked their way through a tight and varied selection that delighted all and when they strode into ‘Road Rage’ the audience went ballistic. For full-fat contrast during a slower number, when the power went on the accompanying guitar, she just sang on, and we all loved her for it. ‘Thanks very much for your help.’ afterwards she waved happily to us. Brilliant.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – 4/10 No singer, no style (NME stage) Having been barely audibly as he mumbled and moaned his way through the opening numbers, when the lead ‘singer’ sat down, to be hidden by the monitors and played his guitar it pretty much summed the whole gig up. Oh sure they play tight, slick, pumping guitar rock, but they’ve all the stage presence of recent road-kill and absolutely no singer at all. I advise them to watch any number of the other bands on display for that essential ‘how to perform and project’ guide, because we deserved better. What a waste, what a shame, what’s next?
The Verve – 7/10 Did they lip sync? (NME stage) I’ll be honest, I don’t much like The Verve. I’ll be more honest, I am not a fan of any of the Smiths-stylie navel retentive toss. And before you ask, I didn’t like the Smiths either, so stop pulling that face. Never the less, the Verve played well and keenly, the fans seemed by and large contented if not fantastically happy, it’s just that they don’t hold (for me) broad appeal enough to headline at a big festival. Sorry boys, but I expected better.
Underworld – 7/10 Play sequence 1, 2, 3 and 5, and repeat, fat boy (NME stage) Lager lager lager lager. Lacking any particular visual appeal other than that of the average nightclub they kicked out enough hippy trippy techno to get a good 80% of the audience dancing like loons. Nothing wrong here.
Sunday – Noah would have looked worried
Rialto – 7/10 Is John Lennon your dad? (Main stage) In that nothing-to-lose early afternoon slot Rialto managed to involve and excite a sizeable portion of an audience that, in all honesty, probably just happened to be milling about when they fired up. Good varied, toe tappers rolled out and soon the audience numbers standing and paying active attention were on the increase. To be honest whilst I can’t recall any song particularly, what there was of their classic style guitar, MOR rock worked admirably.
Feeder – 5/10 Fun, if you go that way (Main stage) Although their first three tuneless little ditties blurred into one, the surging jumping (not terribly large) crowd down at the front didn’t seem to care. Their heavy rock, nearing Korn territory, didn’t seem to be bringing many (or any) intrigued passer’s by and I didn’t stay. Hey-ho.
Heather Nova – 8/10 Ooh she’s gorgeous and BLIMEY can she sing! (NME stage) Carol King, erm, no, Cheryl Crow, erm no, that one who sings to the Lord for a Mercedes, no. Look she reminds me of someone (and someone damn good) but I can’t work out who, or indeed why. Obviously it doesn’t matter. Heather’s voice is strong, clear and effortlessly ethereal when needed. But this chick rocks, and is ably supported by a damn fine band – special mention goes to the lead guitarist, and the girl with the electric skeletal oboe: wired weirdness. No one-riff tricks here, it was a good set that seemed well balanced and drew a warm response from a curious and growing audience. Good stuff and here’s to the next time because I suspect her name went into many a mental notebook.
Stereophonics – 7/10 I remember thinking they were good (Main Stage) There’s nothing else to say really. I remember thinking at the time that they were good, it’s just that I cannot recall a single thing about them now. And yes, I’m worried.
James – 9/10 Good value (Main stage) I think that every lead singer should watch James, and particularly (obviously) the lead singer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. File the experience under ‘on stage charisma and audience involvement’. That they managed to elicit the response they richly deserved from a rain beaten crowd said a lot. Lively and entertaining they didn’t falter not even when one guitarist got caught full face with a bottle (plastic but full) and went down – this dangerous practice really is NOT part of the ‘festival experience’. As welcome as a hot meal on this cold, wet and windy day, James were excellent festival fare.
Republica – 10/10 Oh, just leave them on stage (NME stage) ‘Let’s be facking ‘avin’ ya then!’ screamed the hi-energy pocket rocket with the two tone red/black mop top. Like some demented Toyah Wilcox pumped high on adrenaline, Red Bull and life she ripped through the songs with lusty gusto and would have kicked the ever living daylights out of the surging, bouncing, ecstatic audience – fortunately the man-mountain security crew protected us. Tight, sharp and DeFiNiTeLy UP for it, the band rocked, the audience bayed for more, and the Essex Girl kicked ass. Hook her up to the national grid, we could all do with some of that sort of energy. Fackin’ fantastic.
Morcheeba – 8/10 Lovely (NME stage) ‘Let me see all those heads nodding.’ she sweetly mocked with a Cheshire’s grin, ‘Come on, bend your knees, it’s not difficult.’ For this is ‘Black Music’ for the ‘Middle English’, and we all duly and politely assembled to applaud and, yes dammit, nod gently along in time. Beguiling us with their warm charm the ‘cheebas took a stroll through their excellent two albums, the only vague disappointment was that they didn’t (noticeably) choose to put a spin on any of their numbers. Still, pretty much everyone in the audience had and knew the discs – albeit unable to sing along when requested. We all shrugged, their lyrics aren’t really sing-a-longy. We didn’t care, and I don’t think they did too much, for we were all too busy having fun.
PJ Harvey – 9/10 Darkly intense like rich Colombian coffee (NME stage) And like heady and bitingly strong coffee you either love it or don’t. The worryingly quiet crowd loved it, every little drop. Delayed by interminable setting up problems some disgruntled shouting was soon rubbed away when Polly Jean arrived, as in a rapt silence we drank deeply from her well of dark songs sung strongly. The thin drizzle swirled diamond glinting about her where smoke, spotlights and raven hair combined to frame her pale pale skin and ruby ruby lips, as out powered out a deep-set rhythm that savaged the psyche’s soft underbelly. The talented band threw the métier of their medium around with slick precise ease. Not enough, never enough. not when it’s this good. Disturbingly brilliant or brilliantly disturbing, take your pick.
Texas – 5/10 Nothing here to cause offence. (Main stage) Now I have to be careful here, because a) I’m not a fan and b) I was huddled under a tree whilst it rained – did I mention the rain yet? But then again this is where I watched James from, so here goes. With a nice sensible bob cut, big-message tee shirt, the lead singer seems crinkle cut from self-rolling dough, the perfect icon for middle management thirty somethings to come home to after a hard day at the office and relax with – just like the music, the band and the whole thing. When in a fulsome Scottish accent she declared that, in answer to some never heard question, she could rock, I kind of dreaded what would follow. So whilst intoning slightly some saucy lyrics she touched her groin, I and the rest of the audience seemed quietly embarrassed rather than excited. All in all, pretty pointless.
Ian Brown – 1/10 Oh, just GO AWAY! (NME stage) What musical creature is Ian Brown? I asked myself this question many times during his set. He’s got the personal charm of a verruca, the dance technique of a hill-walking rambler and an obvious fetish for wanting to be mistaken for ‘one of those naughty boys from Oasis’. Seeming to plagiarise everything current thirty months ago down to its lowest common denominator, this was ‘brit pop’ for the tone deaf. Out of the large audience a low percentage seemed to be actively enjoying it and a lot voted with their feet. I quite liked (aka felt sorry for) the band right up to the point the lead guitarist used his teeth to play a riff – well if they want to flush their obvious talents down the toilet this way, then that is their business. Rubbish.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals – 10/10 Super smooth, as cool as a Latin nights, bro! (NME stage) How to explain this. I’ve been trying to find the right words. How about these ones: cool, fun, sophisticated, energetic, Latin, smooth, rocking, beaty, involving, entertaining, slick, talented, funny, punk, controlled. Well there are enough words to be getting on with, so, without irony or use of negatives, construct as many sentences as you need containing these (or similar) words for that build-your-own-review experience. For the record they passed through Scooby Snacks, Smoke ‘Em, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and King of New York on their way to completing a top quality show. What was new sounded good, what we knew sounded great. Me, I’m still speechless – wow! 100% Pure Colombian bros!
To sum up V98, the site was well organised, the stages set in natural amphitheatres and each far enough apart to make them (almost) unintrusive for the other. For me the Sunday line-up was always going to be better, and so it proved. I missed Moloko, James Brown and All Saints to name but a very few, but that’s the way it goes. There was plenty of food available, almost too much choice to be honest, whereas the queues at the beer tents on (sunny) Saturday were bad enough to discourage casual drinkers – beer oddly enough wasn’t much in demand on Sunday, or rather Rainday.
To be frank, if I’d been camping, I would have hated Sunday, because it rained or drizzled pretty much the whole day. Any decamping would have left you with sacks of wet (not damp) gear and rain up to your elbows, although the previously bone dry ground took the rain pretty well and didn’t get anything more than slippery/slimy.
So was V98 better than V97? I’d say so, although it is a close call. Lacking the likes of the truly world class crowd-pleasers Blur and the likes of Kula Shaker, the ’98 vintage pulled ahead by virtue of its full bodied appeal – particularly on Sunday. That said, this year’s dance tent looked very slim – Bjorn Again (98) vs Sneaker Pimps (97) anyone? I’ll also confess to thinking that the running order looked questionable at times, as did the content – witness Catatonia, who I would prequalify as almost sure-fire crowd-pleasers on the alternate stage and lowish on the running order. Is that sensible in any language? I am left wondering how much influence the record or management companies have on the scheduling of the stages.
Well, that’s all in my humble opinion. I wonder what brew they’ll cook up for next year, and what delightful ‘Heather Nova’ style surprises will be in store? I can’t wait.