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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
The Royal Festival Hall, London, September 1st 2009 Magazine
Sometimes gigs just don’t work out how you want them to, and to be honest, you can’t always be sure if it’s the fault of the band, the audience, the venue, the sound engineers or, possibly, you.
So I’m not particularly pointing the finger of blame if I say that this gig, or what we saw of it , was a huge disappointment. It was after all a Tuesday night after a day of work and maybe I just don’t have quite the energy I once had. Or maybe the very same could be said of Magazine, that fearsome post-punk creation of former Buzzcocks front man Howard Devoto, who in his heyday managed to combine a distinct intellect with a unique rock aesthetic and a big dose of cadaverous menace, and mix it into some quite stand-out albums. As far as I’m concerned, not being a fan, Devoto has been idling in the wilderness for years, but this year he’s back. And by his side is a pretty good reconstruction of the original band: on drums, John Doyle, who for a while retreated from music into an advertising agency; keyboard player Dave Formula, who has had a spell with Visage and in production, and bass player Barry Adamson, who amongst many accomplishments became a Bad Seed post his time with the original Magazine. Original guitarist John McGeoch, who also played with Siouxsie Sioux and her Banshees, and with John Lydon’s Public Image Limited, sadly died in 2004; he’s replaced by Noko, key collaborator with Howard Devoto in his Luxuria project. And Devoto? Well, like all of us, he’s put on a few pounds but more tellingly, the years appear have robbed him of that sense of threat and disruptiveness that he always seemed to exude. He’s more like a benign uncle than a threatening interloper, looking distinctly like actor Donald Pleasance.
The group reformed for a series of gigs earlier in the year which were met with considerable acclaim, so this should have been a good one. But for some reason, the first half (we didn’t stay for the second) was an uncomfortable and listless affair. The band had chosen to play their 1980 Album, The Correct Use of Soap, in its entirety; a strange choice perhaps as at one time Devoto had almost disowned it as a commercial sell-out (not that it succeeded in terms of sales).It’s a curious collection of songs, including an unlikely Sly and the Family Stone cover (‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’). Some, like the closing ‘A song from under the floorboards’ are pretty powerful, others seem to belong firmly to a former age. Magazine
Between songs Devoto reads from a set of instructions, not about using soap, but rather ‘Enjoying and Caring for your Record Collection’. It’s mildly amusing, but a tad contrived. You could just tell that the band weren’t too happy, constantly gesturing at the on-stage sound-desk, either on their own behalf or that of their colleagues. The sense of unease had been present in the audience from the start, many clearly unused to the formalities of the Royal Festival Hall. You could see people visibly straining to get out of their seats. ‘Turn up the fucking guitar’, shouts an interlocutor from the back of the hall, leading to a series of echoing pleas. A palpable sense of discontent filled the hall.
So at the interval we left for cocoa and A Book at Bedtime. I read that the gig picked up a little, with a ‘greatest hits’ second half, and the almost obligatory invitation for the audience to leave their seats and head for the stage, which like lemmings heading for the cliff-edge, they apparently did. Not the best musical night of the year, and I’m still pondering as to whose fault it was. - Nick Morgan
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