Way back at the beginning of the time known as “the ’90s”, somewhere between the two stools of grunge and Britpop lay a stunning band called The Auteurs. They were fronted by the intimidating, snarling voice of Luke Haines, who wrote lyrics about child abduction and showgirls and sang them with an acid tongue.
Their first album New Wave was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 1993 (they lost to Suede). Sixteen years and several band names later and Haines is debuting songs from his upcoming fifth solo album, 21st Century Man. He’s now made as many studio albums on his own as he has with his former band.
He’s also lost some hair and grown a moustache along the way, but Haines still performs with intensity and dynamism, coldly glaring out to the audience throughout. None of his quick-witted bite has weakened either; he responds to someone shouting for “the hits” by informing the critic that “they’re all hits” while song requests are greeted with “This isn’t a David Fucking Gray gig y’know”.
But that’s where the banter ends. In its place we get a feast of fan favourites. Unsolved Child Murder, a song once famously released in time for Christmas, is fantastic; Showgirl surpasses the tinny restrictions of the studio version to become an absolute beast.
Of the newer songs, the upcoming album’s title track touches on Haines’ loathing of the ’90s, a feeling well chronicled in latter-day Auteurs records as well as in his recently published book about the era, Bad Vibes, in which he rips apart the bands of the Britpop era with a “we were better” attitude. It’s packed with snide, twisted and comical put downs.
His ever-loyal fanbase shows no sign of letting up either; this sold out show is packed out with devotees. There’s a broad range of ages, not just those old enough to remember Haines’ first incarnation. And this continued devotion is no mean feat for an artist getting next to no mainstream coverage currently.
But what’s most rewarding from this gig is, in a musical climate where rehashing and nostalgia-packed reunion and album playback gigs are filling schedules, Haines is far from self-homage indulgence. Instead he remains to be one of the most intriguing musicians this country has to offer.