RAYS / GOODBYE SERGEANTS / CONFRONTIERS / PATTI PLINKO AND HER BOY / LILY GREEN, 23RD SEPTEMBER 2007, COVENT GARDEN ROCK GARDEN
Hard to believe that, just a few feet above our heads, fat white-socked American tourists are waddling around on the cobbled streets of Covent Garden, soaking up the afternoon's very belated summer sunshine and looking generally puzzled by the concepts of juggling or wearing a top hat, painting yourself silver and standing very, very still on a plinth.
For down here, in the Gardening Club, night has already fallen. And one suspects that New Zealander Lily Green, a long way from both home and her adopted hometown of Cardiff, rather likes it that way. Her rich, complex and dramatic songs - including one seeing the light of day (such as it is) for the very first time - seem perfectly suited to the red-lit subterranean venue decorated with drapes billowing from the ceiling. Set closer 'Patience' might be prefaced by an ambitious cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'If 6 Was 9', with its lyric about "wav[ing] my freak flag high", but in this context she fits right in.
In many ways, the next act is even more at home in what resembles a decadent 1930s strip bunker. Patti Plinko And Her Boy are what you might call memorable. An impeccably coiffured young woman strumming a ukelele and drawling her way through a cover of Ella Fitzgerald's 'Stone Cold Dead In The Marketplace' like George Formby gone burlesque during a WWII air-raid; a man, presumably her boy, accompanying her on acoustic guitar and wearing a waistcoat, cravat, bowler hat and gas mask; another man, completely silent, wearing a long highwayman's coat, tricorn hat and gas mask and stretching lengths of red ribbon menacingly between his fists like the fetish music scene's answer to Bez. I can't even begin to think what the Americans upstairs would make of this.
Patti believes in suffering for her art, having lost her job through staying too long up at this summer's Edinburgh Festival - but at least it paid handsome dividends musically, bringing her to the attention of The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer, with whom she dueted and who has since labelled her (astutely, it has to be said) "a mad fucking Doris Day meets PJ Harvey", and subsequently scoring her a support slot on the current Puppini Sisters UK tour. Not to be missed, basically.
Three pints and the best part of a bottle of wine down and it's not even 5pm, so it's probably for the best that we duck out for a bit of fresh air and to meet friends in passing - not least because I'm later reliably informed that the next band are (inevitably) a disappointment. Plenty of acts come to prominence despite having saddled themselves with a name they have to carry around like a particularly rotten albatross, whereas, judging by their MySpace samples, Confrontiers are a band on whom the name is wasted.
Wasted is exactly what I am by the time Goodbye Sergeants hack through their set, and, as the wine continues to flow and the memory of Lily and Patti lingers, I find myself retreating further into a snidey, sniffy attitude about the lame fare now being served up. Confrontiers missed out, but no such luck for Goodbye Sergeants, who are destined to get both barrels. Beneath the veneer of de rigeur street-smart Arctic Monkeys gobbiness, they are pub punk of the most crass kind. 'Boy Band Kind Of Way' is the bludgeoningly unsubtle single upon which they appear to be pinning their hopes of fame and fortune. But I suppose you have to stick your mortgage on your three-legged horse to win the race when all your others only have two.
The headliners - at around 6pm - are Rays, about whom it's difficult to be so animatedly critical. Familiar influences they can't transcend (Grandaddy, Big Star), sure; a generally insipid take on West Coast rock a la The Thrills, yep; but, unlike Goodnight Sergeants, at least in 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' they have a tidily constructed and airbrushed aural grenade that could well explode if lobbed in the right direction, under the right conditions and with the right sense of timing.
So, where did it all go wrong, then? Round about the time we got our third bottle of wine, perhaps? No, earlier, I think - the moment Patti Plinko left the stage.
You can't win 'em all, though, so fair play to the folks behind Jealous Of The Daylight for putting on these unusual Sunday afternoon/evening gigs in a setting that's itself a bit out of the ordinary - and for giving an old Nottingham acquaintance of mine, Pete Schiazza, gainful employment taking photos for their website.