Monday, 16 May 2016

988 CLOSE LOBSTERS, Lemonhaze, London Oxford Street 100 Club, Saturday 14th May 2016

This should have been an utter triumph. The first time in over 25 years of seeing Close Lobsters, the class act of the mid 80’s “C86” DIY home-made jangly pop movement; a band who injected their own brand of deliciously cynical menace into the genre; a band who subsequently produced an utterly majestic album in 1987’s “Foxheads Stalk This Land” (which for me remains one of my top ten albums of ALL TIME); indeed, a band who would have been absolute topliners in any given musical age or movement. A couple of sightings back in the day were imbued with magnificent drunken chaos, so I’d been looking for the opportunity to see them again since their 2012 reunion, even at one point considering a trip up to their native Scotland (!). So this one, to my knowledge their first foray “down South” since said reunion, was an absolute must, and I booked myself a ticket as soon as I found out about the show – back in August 2015, 9 months previously!
I wasn’t the only one this enthusiastic, either; old friend Paul Crowfoot, on hearing about this one, arranged some work time at his company’s European offices, and flew over from Seattle (ostensibly) for the gig! So it was that I picked him up from his ‘rents place mid-afternoon, and we took a sun-drenched drive up to Heathrow, dumping his stuff in his hotel for his flight back to Toulouse tomorrow and killing time with some plane spotting. his window overlooking the main landing runway! We eventually dragged ourselves away from the planes, driving in to The Bush as usual, parking up a bit further away from the usual spot, tubing in and hitting the venue at 7.30, just as it opened up (thereby being 2nd and 3rd through the door!). We took some seats stage right for some entertaining and animated catch-up chat which quickly whiled away the time before Glaswegian support Lemonhaze joined us at 8.45, to a muted response from the crowd, which elicited the dismissive response from the vocalist, “that was pish!” Nonetheless, they played an eminently passable set of gloomy, post-punk influenced moody rock, with 2nd number in, “Feel”, an intriguing tumbling drum-led epic embellished by some chiming, Editors-like guitar, and the subsequent one an angular, morose mood-piece which appropriated the riff from Television’s “Marquee Moon”, displaying some good taste in plagiarism if nothing else! The preening, midriff-baring vocalist clearly holds himself in high regard, and tried some inappropriate stadium-rock style audience call-and-response, but put in a good shift with some energetic dancing and has a decent resonant voice for this type of material. Seen much worse…
Took a wander down the front and pitched up stage left as the stylishly black-clad Johnny Cash wannabee (!) Lobster guitarists came on to tune up, sticking an “Under London Skies” legend over the bass drum’s “Lemonhaze” logo in the process. Eventually, they signalled their readiness, the black jacketed- and sunglassed up Lobster mainman Andrew Burnett taking the stage last for their set at 9.45. After a short instrumental bedding-in number, the choppy, chuntering jangle of “Loopholes” kicked in, the years falling away immediately, the band sounding thrillingly tight and taut. Then an early “I Kiss The Flower In Bloom”, (“inspired by the Birthday Party!” according to Burnett) possibly my most enduring favourite track from that classic “Foxheads” album, was magnificent, an object lesson in wallowing melancholy with that monotone yet absorbing hook. If only things had stayed at that level…
The band remained “on it” throughout, the bass and drums utterly rock-solid, and the twin guitar interplay magnificent, adding depth and gravitas to the Rickenbacker chimes, which jangled more than the pocketful of change sported by my gig buddy (and rather amusingly spat out earlier by the tube ticket machine!). However, the subsequent new number “Wander” (a 3 parter “inspired by [Lou Reed’s] “Street Hassle – we can aspire to those heights”) was understated, and featured some particularly off-key extra guitar work from Burnett, prompting his fellow guitarist to ask him to disregard said instrument for the subsequent double of “NYC” and “Under London Skies”. Worse though, Burnett’s vocals, a deliciously detached and entirely appropriate nasal sneer on record, were similarly veering off-key, often into an annoying karaoke bellow, sadly bringing to mind Ian Brown’s ham-fisted vocal performance with the Stone Roses at Reading 1995. And even worse still, Burnett himself seemed occasionally disinterested, as if going through the motions for this London crowd. As per Lush last weekend, for me it’s not just enough to “be” there… you have to BE there. Really mean it, maaaan…
“Let’s Make Some Plans” (which was apparently played on BBC’s “Homes Under The Hammer” last week, Burnett remarking, “and now [the programme has] been axed – the Close Lobsters kiss of death, ladies and gentlemen!”), possibly their recorded high watermark, was disappointingly thin, the only number of the night where the band sound was lacking. However set finale “A Prophecy” roared back like a lion, the guitar fulsome and vibrant, with Burnett’s vocals settling down to a more apt roar. Then encore “Just Too Bloody Stupid” rounded off an uneven performance, and one which it honestly seemed the boys onstage were glad to bring to an end.
We left quickly and debated this all the way back to the car, and on the way to Paul’s hotel, before bidding my old friend farewell and heading wearily off home. I’m really uncomfortable even writing this, as I love this band – and that perfect debut album – so damn much, but I have to call it like I see it. The band were spot-on tonight, and it was great to at least hear a smattering of that classic material; it just felt as if they – and we – were let down by their leader. And it really should have been a triumph… maybe next time?

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