Live Music + Gig Reviews

Cardiacs @ Astoria, London

12 November 2004

Cardiacs are without a doubt this country’s best kept musical secret. That they remain a cult band is an all too tragic fact. They have had slight brushes with mainstream exposure; their storming single Is This The Life was an ‘indie’ hit, and then in 1995 Blur added them to their Mile End extravaganza in a nod to the Cardiacs’ influence.

Often too weird or scary for all but the most open-minded music fan, it would be fair to say they produce the kind of music that you either love or loathe. If they had scaled the heights of popularity they would have divided more people that the Berlin Wall. But after 25 years they are still relatively unknown, except amongst a select few – and how lucky those few are.

The show itself is an absolute joy. After five or more minutes of a continuously throbbing intro tape the band take to the stage with a reception more usually meted out to returning wartime heroes. They launch into opener Tarred and Feathered and the place goes wild. New guitarist Kavus Torabi fits in to the setup beautifully, coping with the intricate arrangement of the Cardiacs’ angular songs with considerable aplomb. Meanwhile the man he replaced, Jon Poole (now residing in The Wildhearts), is down at the front losing his mind along with the rest of the assembled throng.

Throughout the set additional backing singers and percussionists take to the stage to flesh out already complex songs: visually the effect is stunning, and aurally it’s even better. When Dirty Boy makes an appearance at the end of the first set, it’s understandable why Cardiacs affect people so deeply. It’s nothing short of epic, it’s Biblical, a musical epiphany, and a fantastic piece of songwriting. The backing singers, (Mel Woods and Claire Lemmon) surely have lungs the size of bin bags – they appear to hold a note at the end of the song for what must be at least three minutes. It is the highlight of tonight’s set and ruffles the hairs on the back of your neck with ease.

For the encore, they almost manage to top Dirty Boy with an old classic that must be virtually impossible to play live, such is its intricacy. The Everso Closely Guarded Line is another epic, and a further mark of just how incredible the songwriting of front man Tim Smith really is. They finish tonight not with a flurry but with a soft kiss on the cheek with the soothing Foundling: a strange choice, but a gratefully received one nonetheless.

Then they are gone, off to whatever world it is that these champions of the unusual inhabit. Hopefully they will return sooner than next year (an annual autumnal gig is something akin to Christmas for the Cardiacs fan) and should they do, you would be foolish to miss out on something as spectacular as this.

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Cardiacs @ Astoria, London