Magazine, Junction, Cambridge
Guillemots, Old Market, Hove
Magazine were post-punk when the rest of rock was pre-punk – so it's lucky that Mr Devoto hits the nostalgia trail with a healthy dose of irony
Sunday 06 November 2011
The pseudo-science of physiognomy – the idea that character is determined by facial features – had been mostly discredited by the early 20th century, but its underlying assumptions linger on in pop culture.
Take, for example, the idea that baldness is associated with intellect. Beneficiaries of this myth in rock'n'roll include Brian Eno and Howard Devoto, both believed to be cleverer than they are due to the absence of follicles and the presence of spectacles.
Devoto was, essentially, the Eno of post-punk, the enigmatic bald guy who quit the band early because he reckoned he was too good for all that. The band, in his case, being Buzzcocks. An intelligent and restless mind, Devoto escaped the punk straitjacket before anyone had time to buckle it up, and formed Magazine, who were post-punk when most of the world was still pre-punk.
Devoto's persona and delivery – arch, camp and catty – were appealing to some and revolting to others, but there's no denying the importance of Magazine, a band who contained three future members of Visage: Dave Formula (their excellent keyboardist), bassist Barry Adamson (who has sadly left the reunion) and the late John McGeoch (guitar). The last is the unsung genius of Magazine, and of post-punk in general.
There's a rich irony, of course, in Devoto doing this at all: Mr Keep-Moving-Forward treading the same nostalgia circuit as the Buzzcocks themselves. But it's an irony to which you feel he is alive, enacting a parody of his stuck-up image, cracking jokes at his own expense.
It is, after all, difficult to carry off aloof cool when you're a bald, bat-eared, chubby gargoyle of advancing years, and I ought to know. Instead, there's a new undercurrent of self-deprecation to the once-snotty Devoto, best exemplified on Magazine's latest album, the tellingly titled No Thyself, by the song "Of Course, Howard (1979)", a satire of his younger self which features the line: "I demand special consideration as the most human. That's not too much to ask, is it?"
Other new songs are lyrically shakier. "Hello Mr Curtis (With Apologies)" really needs the bit in parentheses, starting as it does with a dreadful "Curtis/hurt is" rhyme. It's partially redeemed by the pay-off line: "I hope I die before I get ... really old."
"So," Devoto asks, "tonight, have there been enough songs about the wrong kind of sex? I can't tell." It's a prelude to one particularly well-regarded Magazine classic which goes "I will drug you and fuck you on the permafrost". If the film 24 Hour Party People is to believed, he was more likely to do that in a toilet cubicle.
The Sly And the Family Stone cover "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin" shows Magazine's debt to funk, and "The Light Pours Out of Me", with its stolen Glitter Band riff, their debt to glam. But their biggest song, "Shot By Both Sides", is unimpeachable, even if its dramatic Wild West action hero guitar motif was a nicked Pete Shelley riff from Buzzcocks' "Lipstick". It still sends adrenalin surging through the veins.
Just as there ought to be a law against anyone celebrating Halloween when it isn't, there ought to be a rule against bands failing to acknowledge Halloween when it is. Guillemots take the stage on Monday 31 October making a decidedly half-hearted stab at getting into the spirit of things. Drummer Greig Stewart is wearing a Batman T-shirt; the gloriously named bassist Aristazabal Hawkes is in a long purple dress which is kinda witchy if you squint; multi-instrumentalist MC Lord Magrao hasn't bothered at all, and lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield, whose own name sounds like the hero from a Sixties spy thriller, sports a vaguely Victorian frock coat.
Guillemots fans, one suspects, aren't too bothered, being "just about the music, maaan" types. And on that note, Guillemots are a rarity. It may be their debut, Through the Windowpane, that received the Mercury nomination in 2006, but without anyone really noticing, the band have done that rare thing: they've improved. Walk the River, their third effort, is one of the unsung albums of the year, and in their heartbreaking current single (and tonight's highlight), "I Don't Feel Amazing Now", Dangerfield has genuinely written one for the ages.
But next time Guillemots get booked on All Hallow's Eve, will someone drag them down to Angels & Bermans? Surely that's not too much to ask.
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