As second comings go The Blue Aeroplanes’ first gig in 10 years was hotly anticipated by fans and music hacks alike. A showcase for the release of a deluxe two-CD edition of Swagger, their iconic 1990 album, and warm-up for forthcoming new album Altitude, hopes were high that the band would deliver a barnstormer to match those etched in memory.
And thank God they did not disappoint. Gerard Langley has lost none of his insouciance. Clad in Armani black and serious shades he could have been a businessman not a poet, but the mischievous smile that flickered across his face gave the game away. This was a night about poetry, rock and the heartbursting joy of Swagger, an album guaranteed to raise the lowest spirits from torpor.
“Well, you know how it begins,” Gerard joked as the ‘Planes struck up Swagger’s opening track Jacket Hangs with a jangle of guitars, crash of drums and Gerard’s teasing intro: “Pick a card, any card. Wrong!” Resident dancer Wojtek Dmochowski swung into action and the place erupted.
What followed was a straight run through Swagger, though as ‘Planes veterans know, nothing about their gigs is ever straightforward. By the time Weightless segued into fourth track …And Stones, Wojtek had launched himself into the audience like a demented bedroom dancer let loose with his favourite band.
Wojtek’s presence is integral to the energy released at Blue Aeroplanes’ gigs. Technically he is not great, but he liberates blokes usually found nodding with arms folded tightly across their chest as if afraid to let go. Once Wojtek takes off they dance like their lives depend on it. Sure other bands get them moving, but not with the same reckless abandon.
Gerard, Wojtek and guitarist/vocalist Rodney Allen have been the only constant points in an ever-mutating line-up. Founder members Nick Jacobs and Gerard’s brother John Langley were among the veterans to join the latest manifestation. John provided powerful backing on drums, but technical problems meant Jacobs’ soaring, joyous guitar break and Gerard’s sinister vocal were lost on the Armageddon anthem Cat-Scan Hist’ry, and what should have been a fitting finale was the only low point of the night.
After 10 years it is to be expected that the band would show signs of ageing. True Allen’s voice has lost some of its sweetness, especially on the lilting REM-esque Careful Boy, but Gerard’s stripped-down delivery – more spoken than sung – has protected him from the ageing process. Though older and heavier, the band remains as vigorous as ever.
Keeping up the energy at an album-based gig is a tough call because tracks better suited to the studio threaten to dissipate the momentum built by earlier songs, a fact of which Gerard appeared aware. Before launching into the wistful poem Your Ages, he nervously announced: “We’ve never performed this live before.” He need not have worried, this audience would have forgiven them anything.
As they emerged back on stage for a three-song encore, including storming finale Tom Verlaine’s Breaking In My Heart, someone in the audience shouted: “Where have you been?” With a wide grin Gerard answered: “Well, we’re back now.” And if the audience at Borderline has anything to do with it, they won’t be gone long again.