Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The gift that keeps on giving


"Hi, we're The Flatmates and the first song starts like this", announces Martin Whitehead, immediately launching into a nicely Ramonesy riff. No nonsense here - just sprightly, sugarcoated punk from a band who never quite managed to escape the C86 indiepop ghetto in the 1980s. Whitehead is the only original member; Technicolour-dream-coated vocalist Lisa Bouvier worries when people know the songs because they might spot when she gets the words wrong, while, incredibly, drummer Jan only joined yesterday. Old favourites 'Happy All The Time', 'Shimmer' and 'I Could Be In Heaven' all hit the sweet spot and beg the question as to quite how The Flatmates failed to blow up back in the day.

David Gedge - like Whitehead, the sole surviving member of his band's original line-up - also makes a memorable statement at the outset: "We're the semi-legendary Wedding Present." It's a typically self-deprecating characterisation, to be sure, but also one that instinctively rings true. Among the quartet of 1980s British indie icons, they are the least often cited as an influence, the least celebrated: not as self-consciously erudite as The Smiths, not as cool and chaotically noisy as The Jesus & Mary Chain, not as innovative and visionary as My Bloody Valentine. And yet Bizarro - the album whose 30th anniversary we're here tonight to commemorate - is every bit the equal of The Queen Is Dead, Psychocandy and Loveless.

Rather than performing Bizarro in full, they instead sprinkle the songs in sequence throughout the set. After a muted opening, 'Brassneck' and 'Crushed' are furious firecrackers, all slashing guitar and whiplash drums. The way the latter continually cuts out to offer the promise of respite only to kick back in again before you've caught breath is brutally effective.

Listening to a Wedding Present song feels like eavesdropping on a domestic, being caught in the crossfire between a man and his significant other as their relationship sours through miscommunication and misunderstanding. But the cynical, bitter and neurotic persona that Gedge cultivates through his lyrics is impossible to square with the affable frontman who is tickled by guitarist Danielle Wadey's Cardiff-related fact (the city is home to the world's second largest stadium with a retractable roof, apparently), who innocently pokes a hornet's nest by asking why "Cymru" is spelt "Gymru" on some signs, and who laughingly seeks out a young fan amid the sea of balding and greying heads to explain that they don't do encores.

They do, however, do the superb 'Palisades' from 2008's El Rey, an album whose name Gedge temporarily forgets ("There's so many of them these days") and their spiky cover of The Close Lobsters' 'Let's Make Some Plans'. But the very best moments all come courtesy of Bizarro: the mass singalong to 'Kennedy'; the gradual muting and explosion in 'Bewitched'; the electrifying codas of 'What Have I Said Now?' and 'Take Me!'; 'Be Honest', with its devastating chorus line "If we're really, really going to be honest / We might as well be brief".

Semi-legendary? Screw that; on this evidence, The Wedding Present deserve full legend status.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)

No comments: