"Now, if you work in a record store, or you have a degree in Musicology," spits Lux Interior with an exaggerated sneer, "you might file us under post-punk-alternative-psycho-schizo-tronic..." For many years, before the advent of CD reissues, The Cramps were the sole living repository of the oral tradition of American garage rock. Which makes The Cramps sound like tweedy museum curators, which could not be further from the truth. Yes, a sense of history runs through everything they do, but so, crucially, does a sense of mischief.
The Cramps have never swerved from their vision of a mondo/ trash/ B-movie aesthetic welded to primal shockabilly tunes. But suddenly, in their fourth decade of existence, they find themselves unexpectedly relevant. When I first saw The White Stripes, they reminded me of The Cramps. When I first saw The Hives, they reminded me of The Cramps... You get the picture. And so, when the Astoria throws open its doors, the usual tribe of Betty Page girls and Judder Men are here, but so are a younger, more dressed-down contingent, quietly checking out the Godfathers and Godmothers of the garage revival.
But what on earth are they going to look like after so long? One fears that Lux Interior will resemble a zombie from one of his own songs. After all, he must be 100 years old by now. But when you're so pale and so thin, there comes a point when you don't look any older. You cryogenise. And Interior - real name Erick Purkhiser - looks like a walking cartoon of himself (which is exactly as it should be). Similarly, Poison Ivy Rorschach (born Kirsty Wallace) looks utterly fabulous for a woman pushing 50. In her vinyl miniskirt and red patent spike heel boots, a headband holding back her ginger explosion of curls, she looks like one of The Carrie Nations (the band from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), casually twanging out surf riffs on her F-hole Gretsch.
From the opening "Big Black Witchcraft Rock" (from the latest album Fiends of Dope Island) through ancient favourites like "Human Fly", "Surfin Bird" (given a hilariously over-wrought false ending) and "New Kind of Kick", they sound as timeless as they look. And good lord, they know how to entertain. Lux is the satanic clown, falling to his knees before Ivy and miming cunnilingus (while she glances down, unconcerned), bending his mic stand around his head like a pipecleaner, climbing Phantom Of The Opera-style around the speaker stacks, and shredding his trousers to reveal his meat and two veg. Ivy, meanwhile, whips off her hairpiece (to reveal, brilliantly, exactly the same real hair beneath), and hands it to Lux to wear. She takes off her boots, and uses the stiletto to play bottleneck. Lux grabs the spare boot, and sniffs it with a leer.
Regular readers may recall my feature of a fortnight ago, wherein I detailed the nefarious activities of America's Clear Channel group, and added: "Britain does not have its equivalent... yet." Well, there is now a brass plaque in the foyer of the Carling Apollo informing us that it is a Clear Channel venue. (I really must brush up on my music biz politics.) My internal Trades Description bells start ringing when I pick up my ticket. "The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley", it reads. In what sense is tonight's line-up worthy of the plural epithet "Brothers"? In what sense is this not actually The Isley Brother?
In fairness, this situation is not Ronald's fault: O'Kelly died in 1986, and shortly afterwards, Rudolph left to join the ministry. So, when Ronald appears in his white suit, panama hat, walking cane and black shades, flanked by five hired sexy laydeez, Hammersmith goes nuts in a way only a soul crowd can. And who can blame them?
Listening to tonight's set, you become aware how much the Isleys' Seventies output accidentally shaped hip-hop: there's "Footsteps In The Dark" (sampled by Ice Cube on "It Was A Good Day"), "It's Your Thing" (covered by Salt-N-Pepa), "Fight The Power" (as reworked by Public Enemy) and "For The Love Of You" (sampled by The Real Roxanne).
And tonight's band is hand-picked to replicate that era. The guitarist, in particular, absolutely nails that fuzzpedal funk sound on tracks like "That Lady", "Harvest For The World" and "Summer Breeze", giving it the full Hendrix, playing solos with his teeth, behind his head and under his legs.
Then the reason becomes apparent: he was the guy who invented it in the first place. Ronald introduces him as "my brother, Ernest Isley" (so the plural isn't so fraudulent). Ronald himself has an immaculate falsetto for a septuagenarian, and can still hit that "a-haaaa!" at the start of "Summer Breeze". Even if he has to dab his brow with a red hankie, and sigh "Lord have mercy". My thoughts exactly.Reuse content