Demolition ball, The Astoria, London
Six hours that gave the Astoria a fine farewell
Monday 19 January 2009
Despite months of campaigning, it was the end of London's most-central venue, which has hosted gigs from the Rolling Stones to Madonna. The Demolition Ball – which Sam Duckworth of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly organised in just one week in aid of Love Music Hate Racism – became the event that closed the much-loved Astoria after the Ibiza club night, Manumission, cancelled.
As with every event that attempts to cram as many acts as possible into a few hours, the crowd warms up and cools down enough to dilute the party atmosphere. But the number of acts present to pay tribute to the venue does mean there is something for everyone.
The rising doo wop indie star V V Brown's sassy set is short and early in a night that emphasises acoustic guitar-wielding folk-punk troubadours. In between his standard melodic songs, Frank Turner, who must share fans with Get Cape, recalls his early memories. "The first gig I came to was the Foo Fighters at the Astoria" and echoes the Astoria fans' sentiments ("It's a travesty") before launching into his cover of "Dancing Queen", one of the highlights, prompting a mass singalong and setting the tone for a spirited night.
Get Cape's energetic set is packed full of melodic acoustic gems that burst into life with an exuberant brass section. Saving "The Chronicles of A Bohemian Teenager" until last, Duckworth picks out its melancholic guitar riff before that catchy rhythm takes hold. The newer songs from his last album stand up just as well.
It's good, too, to see some older names return to the stage, fuelling the nostalgia. The suave grown-up Mark Greaney performs JJ72 track "Oxygen", his vocals still as angelic. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead provide the one thing that has so far been missing: the punk rock vibe the Astoria used to champion with its gigs and regular club nights.
Their sinister brooding "Mistakes and Regrets" is powerful, although, with just two band members they do well to create a full sound, it comes at the cost of the scorching lead guitar part. In fact, the night seems only to get louder, My Vitriol proving they haven't lost any of their venom as they take the heaviest angle on each of their songs. Even their hit "Always Your Way" is played as a heavy rock instrumental. It is the appearance of Mansun's Paul Draper to perform "Wide Open Space" that is the most welcomed surprise and a rare treat, even if the absent Dominic Chad's distorted guitar parts are missed and Draper avoids the higher octave that sealed the original.
Every act on the bill pays tribute to the iconic venue. All except closing act The Automatic who, as the night's "headliners", obviously forget why they are here. Rampaging their way though their power punk rock numbers including the single "Magazines", they prove to be an inferior Kaiser Chiefs. Their deafening approach – shouting lyrics, thrashing out guitars and pounding out the drums – does them no favours. It could have been redeemed by "Monster", but the bizarre omission of the song that put them in the mainstream in the first place leaves me wondering why they were deemed more deserving of the longest set than Get Cape.
As a final touch, V V Brown joins others onstage for a rendition of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds". It doesn't turn into the mass singalong intended, but nobody can complain. By the time the six-hour show reaches its end, the venue is still packed; there's no doubt the Astoria has been given a closing night to remember. A cheeky camera man invites the crowd to storm the stage – a more fitting ending to the doomed rock venue perhaps, but the fact that the punk rock vibe has ebbed away is a sign of how times move on.
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