Magazine, Royal Festival Hall, London

4.00

 

As Paul Smith of Maximo Park recently explained on the pages of The Independent, decay is all around in the world of the post-punk icon and Magazine frontman Howard Devoto. Having ended a 28-year hiatus to regroup this year for a partial comeback, after Devoto spent much of the interim managing the archives of a photography agency, ageing was obviously in evidence at tonight's performance; but luckily the band's material sounded as bold and revolutionary as ever.

Opening the set with the band's critically well-received but commercially unsuccessful 1980 LP, The Correct Use of Soap, played in full, the songs were punctuated by Devoto giving joyously anachronistic advice on how to care for a record collection. When songs like "Model Worker" and the Sly and the Family Stone cover "Thank You" kicked in, the bass was punchy and the keyboards electrifying, and the succession of small jumps by which Devoto propelled himself around the stage were charming. There was a tension in the room though, borne of the frustrations of watching such a riotous display from the enforced seating of the Royal Festival Hall. Moreover, there is something tragic in the fact that by the time the band reach 'A Song under the floorboards' almost every member of the group has gestured at some point or other that they would like to be turned up, and as the audience shuffle out for the interval the set looks set to continue in the same vein. 

Returning to the stage for the second half though, both the volume and the enthusiasm are increased, and the set reaches its zenith when, at the beginning of "Rhythm of Cruelty", Devoto addresses the crowd to point out that, "You don't have to sit down, you know". First one, and then several more people stand up and descend to the front of the stage. As they do, the band launch into their final three songs with a newly relevant anger, an echo of one recession in another, the lyrical focus of Devoto's rage swinging around like an unhinged spotlight. It is at its most vicious on "Permafrost", where the grim prospect of an arctic rape is set to a punchy, discordant bassline and otherworldly synthesiser. To such unsettling and aggressive lyrics, it's a glorious sight to behold the silver pogo-ing skyline of the heads of dedicated middle-aged men and women, while Devoto adds a climate change-era caveat to the song's setting - now described as only 'the remains of the permafrost'.

The encore begins with Real Life's "Definitive Gaze", and after spending much of the evening rhythmically stabbing the air as if painting a post-punk Jackson Pollock, Devoto stands on the edge of the stage, looking out over the dancing crowd below, before concluding with "Give Me Everything". Though they have perhaps rightfully omitted the classic "Shot by both sides", with more performances like this, it can only be hoped that Magazine are awarded the place in the canon of music history they have thusfar been so cruelly denied.

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