Big Audio Dynamite, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday 08 April 2011
In sharp suit, aviator shades and glistening pate, Mick Jones has smartened up since he modelled a garish baseball cap on the cover of 1986 album No. 10, Upping Street. Yet there is still a spring in his step as he takes the stage with Big Audio Dynamite's classic line-up, a quintet last seen together in 1990.
It is apposite timing, given the former Clash guitarist and writer's recent stint on a Gorillaz world tour with Damon Albarn, another figure keen to mash up musical genres from disparate cultures. That was BAD's remit in the Eighties, combining rock, hip-hop, funk and reggae, inspired partly by Jones's west London melting pot. One reading of the group's fitful success is that they were ahead of their time, providing a template for anyone from Pop Will Eat Itself to the Beastie Boys and beyond.
That is a difficult sell on tonight's showing, as more experimental numbers fall flat: Don Letts's samples, lifted from films and miscellaneous broadcasts without sufficient artfulness, struggle to gel with the hoarier rock'n'roll tunes, while more abstract soundscapes stay limp and unfocused. Yet his old punk mate was always a gifted writer and plenty of rousing tunes buoy the celebratory welcome for a hometown hero.
"V. Thirteen" is bolstered by the grinning Jones's supple playing while "The Bottom Line" remains a fine anthem for anyone partying in the face of adversity. The band show their range with the forceful bass and whip-crack drums that dominate a dub interlude within "A Party", then on the expansive, go-go rhythm of "BAD". On less inspired numbers, Jones's weak vocals become more apparent.
When he comes out from behind his keyboard, the looming figure heightens the energy on stage and transforms the odd country pastiche that is "The Battle of All Saints Road" with his crisp toasting – a nostalgic evening, then, but not without its surprises.
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