Live Music + Gig Reviews

Alan Vega @ Roundhouse FREEDM Studio, London

16 June 2007

Right, you lot, we want some answers. What exactly were you doing on the evening of Saturday 16 June 2007 that could possibly have been better than watching Alan Vega for free – yes, that’s right, for free – promoting his new album, Station, at the Roundhouse?

Answers on a postcard would be appreciated, as it seems inconceivable that out of the several million people who live in London, no more than about 200 were prepared to take advantage of this most generous offer.

Have you never heard of Suicide, the band Vega began with jazz-bander Martin Rev nearly 40 years ago and who have influenced Nick Cave (Grinderman learned everything they know from him) and a host of others over the years?

Were you unaware that his solo projects have been every bit as good as his Suicide work and that he has constantly driven the boundaries of post-rock and art noise forward? Did you not know that as Vega’s original career was as a visual artist, the light sculptures for which he was best known have always featured strongly in his live set, ensuring that it’s likely to be as pleasing a visual experience as a musical one?

Please, please don’t tell me that you chose to pay to watch Motörhead that evening instead?

The world has clearly gone mad but if there is a positive side to this, it’s the opportunity provided to see a truly legendary figure perform in a space you’d expect to find at the back of a provincial pub. For Vega is not treading the boards of the Roundhouse’s main central space, capable of holding several thousand, but is in the FreeDM Studio, a small, intimate side venue of approximately 100 square metres.

The following hour-long show from the post-punk troubadour encompasses a stark light show bathing the stage with a red and green glow that illuminates the raw brickwork beyond. The accompanying barrage of art-rock noise produced by Vega is a family affair, as while he’s sometimes alone, at others he’s accompanied by his wife on a motion-control CD mixing deck, which from the audience looks like a futuristic Theremin, and his 10-year-old son Dante on trumpet.

The result, which is stark without being despairing nor too minimalist, is almost an irony of art rock in itself, considering that the best known Suicide track is probably Frankie Teardrop, about a man who murders his entire family. Co-opting the kid and the missus into a musical collective is a much better idea. It’s a crime that only a handful of people are here to witness it. It may seem like a constant stream of white noise and feedback to the uninitiated, but it’s beautiful white noise feedback.

Vega is only one year shy of his 60th birthday. He has been performing with Suicide for nearly 40, and has dabbled in solo projects since he and Rev originally went their separate ways in 1980. Station is his 10th solo release, but he still sounds fresh, relevant and alive. I ask again – where the hell were you?

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Alan Vega @ Roundhouse FREEDM Studio, London