Live Reviews

Babybird @ Academy, Oxford

29 January 2012

“You’re Gorgeous!”

Two songs in, and someone has started to heckle Stephen Jones for his biggest hit. “I give my permission to tear that cunt’s face off” Jones retorts before adding “in a nice way”. Even with that dash of sugar, his flash of anger is far from sweetened, but for the time being at least Jones is still jovial.

Ignoring the request, Jones leads his band into Failed Suicide Club from the Ex-Maniac album, which a majority of tonight’s audience appears to be largely (if not entirely) unfamiliar with. This in itself is something of a tragedy, particularly when Jones has been writing his strongest material of late with the acclaimed albums Ex-Maniac and The Pleasures Of Self Destruction. Like Them is a heartfelt plea from a father to his children not to end up like the knife wielding youths the song’s protagonist believes populate every school yard and street corner. It’s a perfect summation of what Jones is capable of as a songwriter. On the surface it’s a nostalgic look at the innocence of youth and a dissection of a parent’s love for his children, but there’s an undercurrent of violence too as Jones sings that he will kill anyone who “touches” his kids. This dichotomy is wrapped in perfectly crafted pop songs that can serve as something of a smoke screen for the more brutal aspects of Jones’ lyrics.

Drug Time’s wonderfully jaunty paean to pharmaceutical intake is counterbalanced by I Love Her, a somewhat schmaltzy ballad that describes leaving the drugs and booze behind and embracing parental responsibility. In Jones’ hands however, notions of schmaltz seem to dissolve away, leaving behind heartbreaking songs that could bring a tear to the eye of the most testosterone fuelled spectator.

Things start going awry after an uptempo run through Cornershop, when Jones engages in a surreal conversation/misunderstanding concerning Tjinder Singh of the band Cornershop. The band begins to lose its momentum and Jones seems to become agitated by the peculiar silence emanating from the audience. “We’ve never played in a library before” he jabs as the band start the simply majestic Unloveable. After stumbling over his opening lines he becomes visibly irritated. As the song draws to a close, he storms from the stage and the band follows. Returning from what seems to be an unscheduled break, Jones is seemingly back in better spirits “I’ve had my happy pills, you know what a smack habit’s like” he grins. The beautiful ballad of Bring Me Back My Dreams follows and the show is back on track, although the audience is still proving hard work. An emotionally charged version of Back Together is possibly tonight’s finest moment but bizarrely appears to fall on deaf ears. A raucous charge through Bad Old Man is positively spat out (and dedicated to Louis Walsh). It’s a phenomenal blast of venom, and briefly energizes the crowd as the set draws to a close.

Reappearing for a final encore, Jones walks to the mic and states “this wasn’t my idea” and apparently under duress, the band launch into You’re Gorgeous; teeth clenched. When it ends Jones informs the crowd that if they understood what the song was about, then they’d know why the really shouldn’t have wanted to hear it; implying that they’ve been assuming the exploitative role of the photographer described in the song for the duration of the gig. This time there’s no melody sweetening his words. He may well have a point.

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More on Babybird
Babybird @ Academy, Oxford
Babybird – The Pleasures Of Self Destruction
Babybird @ Scala, London
Babybird – Between My Ears There’s Nothing But Music