Scissor Sisters’ indefinite hiatus since the end of 2012 has so far been interrupted only by a co-authored charity single SWERLK with MNDR, released this summer to mark the anniversary of the Orlando nightclub shooting. But the band’s constituent members have dabbled in a number of collaborations and projects in the intervening years. Front man Jake Shears, continuing with the cutting-implement moniker in preference to real name Jason Sellards, has contributed to albums by Amadou & Mariam, Cher, Queens Of The Stone Age and Bright Light Bright Light, and has just bagged a role in the Broadway revival of Kinky Boots for three months next year. But of solo material, much less an album, there has been little sign.
That is, until now. Emerging from his adopted New Orleans to play a scattering of club gigs, including New York’s Elsewhere and tonight’s London show at Heaven, Shears debuts a set mostly made up of new songs in intimate and decidedly partial surroundings, with his name up in lights on the wall. Taking to the stage in a farmer’s hat, braces and sky blue shirt unbuttoned to the navel, he’s everywhere at once from the off, with bundles of energy to unleash and an infectious grin set off with an evolution in the form of a big bushy moustache, of which more later.
The four band members around him collectively form a straightforward proposition; guitar, keyboard, bass, drums. But there is no doubt about who the focus, spotlight and attention is on – even when it transpires that the all-white-attired bassist is Mr Hudson, who has swapped his Library for living in Shears’ basement.
The new material reveals that familiar aspects of his milieu – charisma to spare, a knack for a melody and sinewy arrangements designed to make bodies move – remain, alongside new ingredients, flowering up from his sweaty new Louisiana home. Kicking off with Good Friends underlined his – justified – confidence in his new material, while Creep City, available to stream for a couple of weeks already, sounded like a single-to-be, replete with hooky harmonies and lines about “cruising grounds”. The opening triad was completed by Sad Song Backwards. “It’s a long time since I’ve been on stage,” announces Shears at its end, “and these songs sure have a lot of words in them. And I’m going to play all of them. But there are a few old friends…”
Scissor Sisters’ Laura is the first of these, and is predictably greeted with whoops. He hops about the stage like a bunny during the guitar solo, and plays with his braces and his hat, reminding everyone just what a rock star he is. “I haven’t done this in a long time and I’m pushing 40!” he pants. “I hope I get to come back more.” When he gets round to releasing the as yet unscheduled debut album, perhaps he will.
The New Orleans influence on the new material is palpable, with a trace of delta-meets-country even in bangers like If It Ain’t One Thing. But it’s never less than entertaining, rarely more so than when he launches into a treatise on his moustache. He likes it, he tells us, and “straight bros love it”. He recalls thinking that he has way more fun than they do, so he wrote a song about it, called Big Bushy Moustache. Musically, it reminds of John Grant’s Snug Slacks. Hammering home the point about having fun, he says later: “Sometimes I just write songs about fucking.” And tonight he plays them.
The biggest departure from Scissor Sisters’ music comes with The Bruiser. All broody bass, red lights and a propulsive beat, it explores what seems like a darker side of masculinity in contrast to the disco-ball camp Shears is known for. It reveals a songwriter keen on exploring new ideas and gaining confidence with this new solo platform. But with a back catalogue of songwriting credits like he has, Shears can well be forgiven for ending the main set with Take Your Mama, a room-embracing anthem sung back at him that results in a stage dive.
He’s away for hardly any time at all before returning for an encore in what looks like checked pyjamas. “I didn’t know if I would make more music,” he says at the opening of new track Mississippi Delta. “I didn’t like anything I was doing. This song is about that.” As it gives way to a slowed-down, acoustic version of I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, the definite impression is given that this room is glad he decided to continue. Jake Shears, solo artist, is born.
Jake Shears played: Good Friends, Creep City, Sad Song Backwards, Laura, Everything, If It Ain’t One Thing, Big Bushy Moustache, Lights, Clothes Off, Sex On The Brain, The Bruiser, Palace, Take Your Mama Encore: Mississippi Delta, I Don’t Feel Like Dancing