The collective’s London debut gigs at the 200 capacity Soho Revue Bar, we knew, would not be graced by Antony’s presence – the big man is working on his own new material.
Head honcho Andy Butler had accordingly recalibrated his set to feature different vocalists. But would the new set-up work?
With the diminuitive Kim Ann Foxman and leggy trans-sexual Nomi taking on Antony’s vocal lines and providing plenty to look at along the way, the short answer is yes. Butler, looking like a Peterbilt driver in a vest and baseball cap, controlled the set from behind a bank of synths centre stage. He was the focal point of audience interaction, but the rest of his band each found their time in the limelight, and for the most part sparkled in it.
For Nomi it was a step up. Given the vocal line for the hit Blind, she gave it her all within a middling sound mix that gradually improved through the 45 minute set. While her voice isn’t a patch on Antony’s, she rose to the occasion and mesmerised girls and boys alike with flicks of her hair and struts of her legs, getting over a tentative start and winning over the crowd.
The album’s slower paced tracks were wisely dispensed with in favour of running several tracks together without pauses, keeping the atmosphere focused on dancing. The mix of live drums, brass and guitars with Butler’s live electronica came across as acomplished and novel – this is not a band that relies on a programmed laptop to get it through a gig.
On record, Kim Ann’s out-of-tune vocals on Athene sound narcotic. Live, at least tonight, she seemed rather to suffer tone deafness. Whether accidental or deliberate, almost every time she took the vocal lead we were treated to sounds so far off key that they could only either be deliberate or the result of a monitor failure. Nomi’s vocals on Raise Me Up were her strongest yet, but Kim Ann’s part undermined rather than augmented Nomi’s efforts.
The kind of abandoned dancing seen at labelmates LCD Soundsystem‘s gigs was not in evidence; the Hercules audience seems to believe it’s too cool for more than a self-conscious sashay and a swig of champers. Yes, a swing of champers. When’s the last time you saw people ordering bottles of champagne in buckets at a gig? In truth, the pace was far more languid and chilled – rather like that bucket’s contents.
Butler’s mildly amusing attempt at Naughties polari aside, the leader of the pack was too far removed from the action in the curiously cavernous stage area, but his wildly improvising brass section proved an excellent musical and visual match. Like Nomi, Kim Ann and the bass player, they were at the front of the stage. Yet however reluctant a front man Butler may be, these are his songs and it’s him as much as the vocal window dressing that we want to see, even if Nomi proved as striking in pink for the encore as she did in black earlier on.
Following these dry runs the band were set to play Heaven, and it was difficult not to draw the conclusion that their set, tempo and numbers would work better in a club rather than in a gig venue at 9pm. But, despite their notable absentee, Hercules And Love Affair have hit the ground and broken into a gentle, sashaying jog.