Faith No More, Brixton Academy, London
Lady Sovereign, Academy 2, Birmingham
Too smart to play nice, a sarcastic quintet has returned to the scene after 11 years away
Sunday 14 June 2009
If sarcasm really is the lowest form of wit, then Faith No More are a band who have never been afraid to dig down to the bedrock.
It was there at the beginning, with their debut single "We Care a Lot", a timely send-up of mid-1980s Concern Rock, expressing not-entirely-sincere angst about such topical matters as Rock Hudson dying of Aids, the famine in Ethiopia, urban drug addiction and "that Nasa shuttle falling in the sea", right through to their shamelessly cynical cash-in cover of The Commodores' "Easy", which they played straight but for that telltale, childishly exaggerated "ooooh!" just before the guitar solo.
And the sarcasm is still here tonight, as the rap-rock quintet reconvene for the first time in 11 years, taking the stage in suave suits spanning several off-white shades of the Dulux colour chart: guitarist Jon Hudson in eggshell, the exquisitely named keyboardist Roddy Bottum (the only gay member, lending credence to the theory of the predictive power of children's names) in, naturally enough, pink, and so forth.
Singer Mike Patton, his hair Brylcreemed back, opts for pale peach, and looks like a cruise ship cabaret turn as he croons through an apposite cover of Peaches & Herb's sickly-sweet "Reunited". As soon as that's over, the jackets – and, metaphorically, the gloves – are off, as Patton starts Zebedeeing around the stage, lending his rich, soulful growl to a set packed with highlights from their Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection: a pugnacious "Epic", a malevolent "Midlife Crisis", a hurtling "From Out of Nowhere", a Hitchcockian "Jizzlobber" and a singalong "Easy" (although not, perversely, "We Care a Lot" itself).
Everyone has a favourite Mike Patton anecdote. Mine is the time he was allegedly offered the singer's job with INXS and accepted ... on condition that he was allowed to re-enact Michael Hutchence's death onstage every night. Although not a founder member of FNM, it's this sick sense of humour that made him the perfect replacement for original vocalist Chuck Mosley.
Faith No More – a band who somehow never fitted in, either with the California funk-metal scene in the Eighties or with the meretricious, plaid-shirted piety of grunge in the Nineties – were always too smart to play nice. Not actively evil, just completely and utterly amoral. It's good having FNM back on the scene, sarcastically showing how dumb rock music can be, and, at the same time, how great it can be to be dumb.
It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
"Did you just call me a lesbian?" Lady Sovereign asks a room that's grown restless after she's made an admittedly poor stab at the Brummie accent during an extended between-song break. Before anyone can answer, she's changed the subject.
Is she trying to tell us something? The sexuality of Sov, the tiny, tracksuited and tomboyish MC who emerged in her late teens as the Poet Laureate of chav, has been the subject of speculation for some time. And if you're looking for clues, they're scattered over her new album, Jigsaw, whose title track, referring to her heart, invites us to "figure it out", whose Cure-based lead-off single "So Human" cryptically insists "it's OK to feel this way", whose best track asks "are you just frigid?" (an adjective traditionally applied to females), and whose opener has the distinctly anti-chav chorus "I'm weird and you're weird, let's be mates" while urging its addressee to "follow me outside ...".
The best guess is that Sov's probably bi, but it's an even better bet that, unlike the knitted Peruvian chimp hat she's wearing on her nigh-unrecognisable head (the famous side-tail now replaced by an expensive haircut with scarlet highlights), she doesn't give a monkey's.
At her best, she's hyperactively dynamic (notably on the Rotten-goes-rave of "Public Warning"), enjoyably unladylike (riffing on the topic of her sweaty cleavage), generous (pouring neat Disaronno down the front row's throats), if prone to rambling ("My single was on EastEnders but only for two seconds then it was cut off by the doof-doof ...").
Whatever else she may be, she's inimitably Lady Sovereign.
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