Sunday, 11 December 2011

836 TIN SPIRITS, Swindon Arts Centre, Friday 9 December 2011

A local one to finish the year with, in two ways; not only a quick jaunt up the Old Town, but a return of locals Tin Spirits, who feature in their ranks former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory! Since my last encounter almost a couple of years ago, they’d recorded an album of original material and played with Marillion, underlining their “prog” status on their website header (uh oh...). However, they still promise XTC covers, and that, rather than their occasionally admirable but largely emotion-free prog-based covers or promised original stuff, prompted me to book a ticket and get the hell out of the house while Rach hosted a girly night in!

So, bearing in mind the Roddy Woomble gig timings (and in the total absence of any other info from ticket or venue website), I left just after 8 for a quick drive up the hill, but then suffered a total parking mare. Squeezed into the last, over-parked, space in the 3rd car park I tried (!), then hit the venue at 8.30, only to find the band had started at 8! Heated words with the duty manager (whom I had to wait for to usher me into the back of the auditorium, delaying me further) didn’t help, so I was in a pissy mood when I took a seat as Tin Spirits finished up their “Paranoid Android” cover, and launched into a Led Zep number which I recognised, but didn’t much enjoy. Indeed, the first high spot for me came with a cover of The Doors splendidly creepy, sinuous “Riders On The Storm”, before a couple of XTC numbers concluded part one of the set and cheered me up considerably. Firstly, a pulsing, undulating “Jason And The Argonauts”, introduced by Dave Gregory as a highlight of the last XTC “live” set (way back in 1982!) and with all herky-jerky rhythm, like a film loop played backwards, then the lush and impossibly melodic “Towers Of London”, Gregory’s wonderful guitar work to the fore as the rest of the band, awed, watched him, line astern. Now this was what I was here for!

A couple of nice chats at the intermission, first with Martine, wife of guitarist Dan Steinhardt and a colleague on my creative writing course (over 2 years ago now!), then another with an old punk buddy, who likewise doesn’t like the prog and was there for the XTC numbers, and who remarked, “for the first 25 minutes I thought, what am I doing here?” So it seems my parking-mare didn’t cause me to miss much!

Set part two eased in with a haunting, slow-burn “Dream Brother”, before it was back to the prog with Rush and Zappa stuff, and their own, much better but still occasionally unnecessarily complex, meandering and over-elaborate numbers. I admired the skilled, almost virtuoso guitar interplay of both Gregory and Steinhardt, excellent axemen both, but the material itself, despite being faithfully and authentically reproduced, was often anodyne and sterile, leaving me cold. A chugging “Reeling In The Years” however concluded the set, but they weren’t going to get away that easily, and returned for a final XTC double. A stripped back and plaintive “Dear God” was splendidly delivered, and the evening was capped by a rousing singalong of “Senses Working Overtime”. Dan Steinhardt took lead vocal chores for both, injecting some real emotion and fire into his vocal performance (hooray!), particularly during “Dear God” which was my set highlight.

So, once again the XTC “covers” (does it really count as a “cover” when one of the original band is playing it?), plus a couple of others, made the evening entirely worthwhile for me. I appreciate that in order to progress as a band and take this beyond “hobby” stage, Tin Spirits will need to concentrate increasingly on their own material rather than the XTC stuff, and at that point they’ll probably lose me, so I’d best enjoy them while I can. So overall, thanks again boys, for allowing me to hear at least a taster of XTC “live”!

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