After five years away, the return to the stage of Siouxsie, one of the most iconic, influential and enduring artists to emerge from the punk scene, was always going to be a major event. A packed Royal Festival Hall played host to a wide range of exuberant fans, ranging from ageing veterans who have followed the Bromley ice queen since her earliest days to callow student goths wearing erratically applied eyeliner and second hand Banshees t-shirts.
One portly skinhead wore a pair of devil’s horns, a striking lady clad all in black sported a resplendent head dress, and one man even went as far as dressing up in what appeared to be a costume from Adam And The Ants‘ Stand And Deliver video. Before Siouxsie had even sang a note at the second of her two appearances at the Yoko Ono-curated Meltdown Festival, there was a sense that this was no ordinary concert.
After a brief but exuberant set from former Slits lynchpin Viv Albertine the room grew dark, and ominous swathes of synthesiser swirled menacingly above the audience as Siouxsie prepared to make her entrance. Even at the age of 56 she didn’t disappoint those hoping for a reminder of the vampish dominatrix of old, striding purposefully to the microphone clad in a white vinyl dress and with her mane of raven hair as lustrous as ever. Surrounded by an anonymous but exemplary trio of supporting musicians, she launched straight into Happy House, one of the Banshees’ most popular songs and still as vibrant and infectious as when it was originally released, an astonishing 33 years ago. What followed was a track by track rendition of the album from whence it came, the band’s third release Kaleidoscope; an important landmark in their career as it signaled the start of the evolution of their sound from raucous post-punk into the pulsating gothic psychedelia that characterised their best ’80s work.
Despite the absence of the other Banshees, the familiar searing guitars, gargantuan, shuddering bass lines and primal drumming were very much present and correct, creating a formidable wall of sound that reverberated around the Festival Hall and sent Siouxsie’s devoted acolytes into fits of frenzied dancing at the foot of the stage, some flinging bouquets of flowers at their heroine’s feet.
The lady herself was in imperious form, strutting purposefully, flailing her arms to the music and flirting knowingly with the crowd; although at one point, as if remembering her punk roots, she told one punter to robustly “fuck off” before announcing that the subject of the rebuke was “almost certainly one of her own family.” Her voice, somewhat ragged in her youth, has matured into a rich, stentorian holler that effortlessly commands attention.
The second half of the evening was more of a greatest hits collection, with coruscating versions of Israel and Arabian Nights among the highlights. The Banshees’ superbly warped cover of The Beatles’ Dear Prudence – remarkably a UK Top 3 single – also got a welcome airing, and towards the end of the set, we were treated to Siouxsie in full cabaret mode, lying stretched beneath the drum kit as she performed Careless Love with Marlene Dietrich-like sultriness.
After two encores, Siouxsie bid the crowd farewell with what seemed like a tear in the eye, having clearly had a ball in her first performances for half a decade. When we will next see her is anybody’s guess, but what her Meltdown revival has proved again beyond doubt is that she remains one of Britain’s most idiosyncratic and compelling artists.