T’was the night of the indie gurrrls in Highbury. Nu Yawkers Le Tigre, headlining, were supported by two all-girl groups, of which the second was infinitely more notable. Electrelane, for such is what they were called, sported as their most striking live characteristic a ponderous, unsmiling Ann Widdecombe lookalike, who gazed out at her audience from behind a keyboard or guitar, depending on the song. One got the impression that she controlled this band; she had the best and most instruments and the others followed her cues.
She was prone to amateur mistakes, such as not being able to work out where feedback was coming from when she caused it (try the amp…), but all of this could be forgiven for the driving music she and her sisters offered us. Reminding me a little of a cross between a well drilled version of Ozric Tentacles and Stereolab, the tempo rose and fell and the volume did likewise, while our head honchette glared at the audience. Striking; and a most promising band. Give them a few months to practise their stuff and they will be very slick on stage too.
They were as nothing in terms of stage presence in comparison to our headliners. For the first of these, imagine if you will a thinned-down version of the checkout assistant in The League Of Gentlemen out of a night on the razz and you have this rag-tag creature who may have even been a male in drag. With a peroxide fright-wig flapping about she slid CDs into a CD player on stage while indulging in camp banter with the audience, acting as the band’s roadie in the process, then crossing the stage to reveal herself as the keyboard player/guitarist/vocalist.
Secondly, on came a highly stylised specimen on keyboards/loops who had the appearance of weatherman Ian MacCaskill shrunk by a headhunter and offered children’s mock-’70s clothing to wear as a punishment, or that woman in Jaws who keeps on asking Roy Scheider “are you going to close the beaches?”.
Finally, on bounced the lead singer/rapper/munchkin, complete with schoolgirl outfit, bunches and delightfully chubby chops. Whether through an inducement of helium, fancy vocoder or sheer vocal talent, this bouncy creature managed to reach notes that would make Aqua and Bis cry – constantly. If only she had toned down her Ani DiFranco-esque between-songs speeches (Ani is good at them and is funny – Ms Munchkin wasn’t at all) she may have been passable as an example of care in the community, but she wouldn’t let up.
Against a background of political activism and social documentary (both spoken between songs and projected for our pleasure onto a screen behind the gruesome threesome), we were presented with hi-NRG toons which would on a musical scale nestle somewhere between Brassy and Bis for most of the time; short songs, full of attitude, manic notation and effervescence. As a newcomer to the concept of Le Tigre I was something near to astonished at what I was witnessing – the band’s whole appearance and their music suggest they are simply a kitsch novelty, yet politics looms as large in their songs as in their visual projector slides. A particularly surreal moment came when they had the whole audience singing along to the notion of a white US policeman shooting an unarmed black man 41 times; we got to count the shots. The audience were ENJOYING IT. If this does not define surreal, I don’t know what does.
My real problem with this band stems from this. They make as much political comment as Indigo Girls or Bob Geldof, but then they are simultaneously wacky, even mad, so immediately their message appears less than serious – more like an attempt at shrugging off an unwanted novelty badge. I agreed with most of the audience at the end (save for a few die-hard chauvanist pigs in the little boys’ room afterwards who couldn’t wait to leave the clutches of Clit Power) – the band had given their all and I had really enjoyed the gig. I just felt like I shouldn’t have.