Johnny be good
JOHNNY FOREIGNER / TELLISON / JAPANESE VOYEURS, 6TH OCTOBER 2009, OXFORD JERICHO TAVERN
Japanese Voyeurs, eh? Well, that would make us English Rubberneckers at a particularly gruesome car crash. But then, as cliche would have it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in the eye of Johnny Foreigner this thrashily vapid charisma-free Hole - old enough to be able to grow facial hair and drink beer, but young enough to make a bit of a show of it - would appear to be pulchritudinousness personified. Me, I'm struggling to get past Romily Alice's wail and have to pronounce them less arousing peep show and more grim horror show.
Stephen H Davidson's at pains to point out that his band are called Tellison, and not Television. Not that there's much chance of confusing this bunch of modest Get Up Kids devotees from the south of England with the louche New York art-punks behind Marquee Moon. When he says that the last time they played in Oxford, at the Exeter Hall, they broke everything, I strongly suspect what he actually means is that everything broke - they would probably still be apologising now if it was the other way around.
Studious and conscientious observers of the punk pop rule book, Tellison know that the way to be taken seriously (not to mention the way to a girl's heart) is through bookish lyrics - and you can't get much more bookish than a song called 'Edith Wharton'. In a set heavy on new material, there are the odd diversions from the established template, when multi-instrumentalist Matt Roberts is called into providing electronic beats, additional percussion or even sax (such as on 'Thebes'). But they're actually at their best when not trying too hard and instead sticking to what they know, the Jimmy Eat World-echoing 'Henry Went To Paris' being a case in point.
Twenty minutes later and I'm not sure what the burly brute of a guy to my left made of Tellison, but by the disbelieving shake of his head can well imagine how he feels about having been dragged by his girlfriend to see the headliners: "Johnny Foreigner? Coming over here [all the way from Birmingham]? In a van? Seducing our women? Subjecting our English eardrums to assault by all manner of foul foreign noise? Well, I tell you - we won't stand for it..." And the truth is that for the first three songs - an unbelievably sloppy stew, an unrelenting blizzard of sound - I can kind of see his point.
But then the fourth song starts (perhaps it's no coincidence that it's a new one) and suddenly, as if cured by a fast-working hypnotherapist, they're no longer tune-phobic or afraid to give the music time to breathe. And by the time we're into 'Eyes Wide Terrified', arguably the most dynamic single on debut album Waited Up Til It Was Light, they appear to have made the evolutionary leap it took Idlewild the best part of a year to manage (from Captain to Hope Is Important) in the space of just five minutes.
Now don't get me wrong - there's nothing much enlightened or revolutionary about sounding like Los Campesinos! with your fingers jammed in live sockets and firecrackers rammed up your arse. The longer of tooth amongst tonight's crowd (that'd be me, then) remember back to a time when Urusei Yatsura ploughed a similar furrow and when the aforementioned Idlewild weren't just an REM tribute band.
But still the electrified racket and yelping boy-girl duetting of new single 'Criminals' and other tracks from forthcoming second record Grace And The Bigger Picture (they evidently share a fierce work ethic with Los Campesinos! as well as inspirations and friendship) can't fail to stir me to paroxysms of excitement. And you have to doff your hat to an outfit who choose to recognise Spinderella's lamentably oft-ignored contribution to Salt 'N' Pepa's musical output by immortalising her in a song title.
Bassist Kelly Southern asks what we make of her dress (she's wearing it because she thinks "it's the sort of thing girls in bands should wear"); vocalist/guitarist Alexei Berrow claims that the tour's purpose is to encourage fans up and down the country to urge pocket-size Bright Eyes Sam Isaac not to quit music; and neither of them nor drummer Junior Laidley knows when the new album's out. Apologising for stinking, Alexei declares: "We had a choice between washing and playing a show." A round of applause for the right decision.