Live Music + Gig Reviews

Lydia Lunch @ Purcell Room, London

18 June 2011

Tonight’s line-up, as part of the Royal Festival Hall’s popular Meltdown series (now on its 11th year!), is a startling oddity. It’s hard to imagine this year’s guest curator, frazzled The Kinks frontman Ray Davies at home sipping on his cocoa and slipping on the latest CD by either a transgendered shoegaze chanteuse or a foul mouthed no wave temptress. However maybe he does, and kudos to him for doing go. This evening’s show is an absolute blinder and the definite highlight of the festival.

First on is Graham Sharp AKA Cindytalk. Sadly somewhat obscure these days, his contribution to popular culture is already the stuff of legend, having appeared on various This Mortal Coil releases and a John Peel session with The Cocteau Twins. Quiet in presentation and frightfully polite, Sharp and band take to the stage with little fanfare, seeming to start their first number over the intro track being piped into the Purcell Room.

This modest beginning is a delightful ruse as the adept musicians find their groove and build up a dense slab of angular guitar noise and skittering improvised percussion. Sharp’s lyrical ennui and fragile vibrato work perfectly within such intimate surroundings. Melodies interweave and disintegrate just as you begin to feel safely esconced within them. The condensed nature of their performance is mesmeric, both loose and scholarly. When they leave the stage, the music hangs in the air and you want to inhale it, lest it decide to leave you again.

After a short interval, it’s time for the main act. A swift pint is always required to steady the nerves before a Lydia Lunch gig, for the voluptuous diva demands obedience and your full attention. She may look more like the OXO mum these days but do not be fooled; she’s still in control, still the voice of reason for a world in denial. Lunch’s present backing group Big Sexy Noise comprises the majority of prolific UK blues rockers and part time Bad Seeds, Gallon Drunk. Lead guitarist James Johnston is an able foil, both leading her on and then blanking her when required.

It would be an insult to the feminist cause to say that Lunch has a powerful erotic pull over the male psyche but her strongest work is when she has sparred against male counterparts, whether it was with her one time beau Nick Cave, duelling with no wave counterpart Thurston Moore or the willfully eccentric Foetus.

Taking digs at Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty and the Daily Mail, then singing dirgy thrusting blues songs with titles such as Pump It Up and Your Love Don’t Pay My Fucking Rent, would seem puerile were they coming from anyone else. But tonight’s show is a call to arms against mediocrity and stupidity. Her anger is contagious, her swagger a welcome riposte to generic ‘icons’. Not one to look back very often, hence no Teenage Jesus numbers, she delights in riling the audience and building her legend whilst demolishing others.

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Lydia Lunch @ Purcell Room, London