Siouxsie, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Friday 14 March 2008
The Cure are packing them in on the Continent, Bauhaus have just released a new album – and promptly split up again – and The Cult have been trying to sell us sanctuary again. So it's no surprise to see Siouxsie, the original grande dame of post-punk with the Banshees, playing a sell-out concert in the capital at the end of a British tour to promote Mantaray, the full-length solo debut album she released last autumn.
A Sex Pistols cohort who appeared on the infamous Bill Grundy Today show episode in 1976, Susan Ballion still draws a louche crowd, with top hats and tattoos much in evidence, but she is less the icy queen of yore than the raven-haired dominatrix you could take home to mother, castigating the "miserable bastards" who have only brought her one bouquet of flowers. She's jettisoned the Arlequin jumpsuit she wore on her last outing, in preference for a slinky silver lamé figure-hugging outfit worthy of a creature on some faraway planet in an episode of Star Trek.
She struggles to be heard over her five-piece band in the demented electro of "It's About to Happen", but she's soon strutting and high-kicking her way through "Here Comes That Day". When she holds her left foot at head height while standing on her right leg – all this in high heels, too! – you realise not only how fit she is, but also how much performers such as Madonna and Dita Von Teese have borrowed from her. Swaying and gyrating, Siouxsie is an alluring presence, her brooding burlesque sound a match for anything Goldfrapp did on their second or third albums.
While the set is mostly drawn from the noirish Mantaray, she is not adverse to dipping into her back catalogue. Her musicians snap their fingers throughout "Right Now", the jazz stomper made famous by Mel Tormé before Siouxsie updated it with the Banshees' drummer Budgie for their percussion-driven side project, The Creatures, in 1983. "Hong Kong Garden", the Banshees' opening salvo 30 years ago, has lost none of its power, and actually benefits from Ted Benham's driving xylophone as Siouxsie literally whips the audience into submission with the microphone lead (a trick borrowed by Morrissey, a Siouxsie admirer and one-time collaborator, who just happens to be watching from the balcony).
The eerie, unsettling "Drone Zone" features her more playful, kittenish, Eartha Kitt-like side, while the arresting torch song "Heaven and Alchemy" has Siouxsie as Marlene Dietrich, transcending lyrics of the "I would catch a falling star if you asked me to" variety.
The first encore pairs "Israel" and "Arabian Knights", from the Banshees' early-Eighties purple patch, with guitarist Steve Evans doing a sterling job of recreating the liquid fills and sinuous chords played by the late John McGeoch on the original. The second has Siouxsie thrusting her pelvis during a sexually charged version of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking". The third, "Spellbound", says it all.
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