Tuesday, 8 December 2009

708 THE WOODENTOPS, The Jazz Butcher, London Oxford Street 100 Club, Wednesday 13 September 2006

In an era where everyone and their 80s college bands are doing "reunion gigs", here's one of the most unlikely reunions of all - the Woodentops, 80's student faves, the band who literally blew the Smiths offstage, one of the most exciting and incendiary live acts I've ever seen with their blend of mutant psychobilly and hypnotic indie rock, a band who splintered post-grunge, when leader Rolo McGinty discovered techno and swapped Spotty Dog for Pluto. Now back for a couple of low-key London dates, this being the first, what the hell were they going to be like after all these years?

So a reluctant Rachel and an excited me hit the road at 5.30, and parked up about 10 to 8, enduring drizzle both ends of the tube and soggily hitting the venue at 8.15. More commonly a Jazz Club these days, the 100 Club is more notorious for being one of the birthplaces of UK punk rock, and I revelled in the history of it all on this, amazingly, my first visit! We didn't need to wait too long for the support, fellow 80's indie rock "legend" Pat Fish, AKA The Jazz Butcher, on at 8.30. He peddled a jangly college pop vibe, acoustic to begin with (including one number he introduced with, "I can't believe I'm playing this in front of people - I must be off my fucking crust!") then backed up with taped stuff to create a fuller sound. Very self-effacing, but entertaining all the same, with occasional stories about his "buddy" Alex Chilton. I was sure I'd heard one of his tracks before - probably on a free fanzine tape back in the 80s!

We took a good spot right down the front, stage right and next to a pillar, at my insistence (I recall the 'Tops being quite short!) for their arrival at 20 to 10. My first Woodentops gig for over 17 years! "Are you ready for some Hypnobeat?" asked drummer Benny, and we all were, but possibly the band weren't! This was, after all, their first gig for 14 years or so, so an element of ring-rust was understandably evident. Rolo, a little wider, a whole lot older looking, and sporting a black boot polish hair dye job, strutted the stage with a fat acoustic, singing in his clipped vocal style. Early numbers were a bedding-in process, the once frantic "Love Train" almost sedate in comparison with the headstrong rush of legend, and only the stunning crescendo to "Good Thing" showing an early glimpse of their former heady heights.

Mid-set was largely a cleverly-chosen selection of their less frantic material, the moody "Last Time" still generating chills after all these years, and finally the 'Tops settled to their task. A passionate "Why" evoked the Red Wedge Anti-Thatcher polemics of the 80s ("all the shit from back then is still happening, only it's worse," observed Rolo, before dedicating the aforementioned "Why" to Dick Cheney), and "Stop This Car", for me the only thing they put on record which approached the carefree, raucous nature of their live shows, was a great set closer.

Encores "Well Well Well" and "Travelling Man" saw the 'Tops of old in almost full force, and myself rocking down the front (turning down an invite from drummer Benny, the star of the show throughout, to join them onstage for a dance!), before a moody newie brought an inconsistent but worthwhile set to a close. Thanked Benny and Rolo afterwards for just doing the gig - hopefully in time they'll polish up the tarnish and make it shine!

NB - Rachel hated it! D'oh! And we drove back in monsoon-like conditions! Double D'oh!

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