Rock: Nice face, shame about the lyrics
Sunday 09 February 1997
It must have been music to Gavin Rossdale's ears. His group have long been known as the band who are bigger than Oasis in America and smaller than the Smurfs in Britain. But now their second album, Razorblade Suitcase (Trauma), has arrived in the UK Top Five. Could there be more than one London band, with a four-letter name beginning with B, that can find a place in the nation's heart and chart?
You would have thought so at the Cambridge Junction on Thursday. The four-piece bludgeoned out the chords with relentless drive, and the crowd responded by throwing themselves on top of each other approvingly until the steam began to rise. Give Bush their due, it was without doubt the sweatiest concert I can remember.
Whether this approbation can be scaled up to the rest of the country's pop fans is another matter. The names on the drenched, sodden T-shirts in the Junction were mostly American: Green Day, Metallica and yes, Nirvana. Bush may be selling records to the British, but to only the earnest young British Beavises and Butt-heads who are devoted to US punk, metal and grunge. To them, Bush fulfil all requirements - grinding guitar, pendulous bass, messy crash of drums, and a racked voice howling faintly disturbing and ultimately cheesy lyrics. To quote a recent Bush song: "Strange zoo! Strange blaze! Douse my head in flames! Coming to get some! Happiness is a bad son! Forceps! Kitchen tools!" And if you think those lines could do with some work, that's your fault for not being emotionally scarred enough.
It's a cliche to say that Bush are a mediocre copy of Nirvana, and of Nirvana's influences, the Pixies and Husker Du. But try as I might, I still can't think of anything else to say in their favour - Rossdale's cheekbones aside. Four years ago, no more might have been needed to make Bush heroes on their home turf. But now, I can't help but feel that even if they score some goals over here, they haven't got what it takes to get to the final.
Placebo are reminiscent of Nirvana from time to time, too: there are few other bands whose rhythm sections are so judderingly powerful that you fear for the lives of those teenagers pogoing next to the wobbling speaker stacks. Luckily, the trio have plenty of other records in their collection. Those stuttering, trebly guitar chords bring to mind Ash, Manic Street Preachers, Marion, and a handful of American indie bands - although based in London, their singer/guitarist, Brian Molko, is a New Yorker. The resulting compound is glam-grunge, for want of a better label, with the glam half provided by the androgynous Molko and his love- it-or-hate-it Muppet whine.
The only failing of Placebo's taut show last Saturday was its repetitiveness. After the tenth careening, preening punk blast, such as their current hit single, "Nancy Boy", I had to fight the urge to shout: "You've mastered that song! Try a different one!" But there was no need. In the second half of the show there were enough atmospheric tunes which aren't on Placebo's debut album to suggest that the band themselves realise they have already outgrown it.
Some people have called Placebo gothic. They have called themselves "the Boyzone of Indie". If the first description is inaccurate and the second ironic, the two added together are close to the truth. By writing songs that make proud reference to sex, anatomical features and feelings of alienation, and by throwing in some pseudo-profound, pseudo-rebellious banalities, Placebo serve the valuable function of providing a dress-code for the people who don't fit into the Boyzone clique at school, of elevating adolescent disgruntlement until it is a symptom of uniqueness and creativity. It's the same role that was filled by the Doors, Pink Floyd and The Jesus and Mary Chain in their respective eras, and it's the only reason that goth bands exist at all.
Morcheeba's concert at the Shepherd's Bush Empire was exceptional right from the start, for two reasons. First, there were seats especially installed downstairs; and second, it wasn't very loud. Bizarrely insignificant as these factors will seem to anyone who doesn't go to rock gigs regularly, anyone who does will understand my joy at being able to hear what was going on instead of just feeling my vertebrae vibrating, and being able to concentrate on the band, instead of concentrating on not being crushed to death. To invite this level of attention seemed to be a sign of real confidence on Morcheeba's part, and deservedly so.
They build up a smoky, organic groove that drifts between the dub-blues of Little Axe and the trip-hop of Portishead. Their album, Who Can You Trust? (Indochina) is pleasant enough, but for once it was at the live show where the sound quality was better, where one could appreciate the vibrant drumming, the insistent samples, and the jazzy vocals of Skye Edwards. The star, however, was probably her co-writer, Ross Godfrey, who has a rare awareness of the possibilities of the electric guitar, and indeed the possibilities of the amp and the effects pedals that go with it. This was one band who merited their standing ovation, rather than getting it by default.
Placebo: Belfast Limelight (01232 325968), tonight; Glasgow Arches (0141 221 9736), Mon; Newcastle Riverside (0191 261 4386) Tues; Manchester University (0161 832 1111), Thurs; Sheffield Foundry (0114 272 4076), Fri; Nottingham Rock City (0115 9412544), Sat; then touring.
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