Live Music + Gig Reviews

Menlo Park @ Union Chapel, London

13 December 2002

Menlo Park

Menlo Park

Menlo Park‘s Chris Taylor takes flight.This being a chapel, yay it was right and proper that an Order of Service would be given to those who’d seen the light that was Menlo Park. And lo, it did foretell of things to come. Andrew Mellon’s “selection of his organ favourites” was to be followed by a “cello ensemble” and Bruce Wooley with his theremin completing the typically eclectic support for a band whose live shows – more circus acts than gigs – are already becoming legendary.

And as a string ensemble sparked up the first tune of the Menlo Park chamber ensemble set, in they swaggered down the aisles. Brass section, drummer with a fright wig, singer Chris Taylor in the middle of it all, the band resplendent in white suits. It was noticeable this time that several hardcore Parkies were wearing jaunty-looking hats like Taylor’s – make no mistake, this band’s loyal fanbase are out there to be counted.

It was a woozy start to the evening as the delighted audience looked on at the unfolding spectacle – starting with Lord I Want To Help You and progressing through a set of just ten songs, including tracks from the recently released Greetings from Lambeth EP.

As we’ve come to expect from mesmerising front man Taylor, drama was to be the order of the evening. He cut a pose somewhere between Ken Dodd, a circus ringmaster and Jarvis Cocker, all gangly, dramatic spasms and jerks. He passed to the back of the venue to sing along with some behatted fans, he writhed around on the floor, he sang before a pretty audience member, he moved from fast to slow and to fast again with aplomb and seemed possessed of nervous energy throughout.

It was with a cover of Amazing Grace that electricity sparked between the chapel’s sturdy-looking pillars. The audience was asked to stand and sing – the Order of Service helpfully included the lyrics – and before we knew it we were into a cover version of Madonna‘s Like A Prayer. The audience remained standing – what else could it do when the final, epic, track followed?

Porno Rodeo is the wild music from the Guinness advert featuring a volcano and a firewalk – and it is raucous. The main violinist’s bow had shed much of itself in messy strands, and it seemed that at any moment it would erupt in flames. Chris Taylor, however, had taken his known penchant for taking to the ceiling to extremes. He was hoisted up behind the pulpit to the lofty heights of the chapel, from where he offered his benediction as the rest of the band furiously kept playing, the drummer’s birds’ nest waggling to and fro and alarming one of the ensemble’s violinists. A spotlight showed that Taylor could dance up that height too – like a puppet on a string he – quite literally – took the performance to a new height.

A wildly enthusiastic encore lasted fully five minutes, while the chapel’s lighting operator clearly didn’t know whether to expect the band back or not. Clearly there was no intention on their part to return – but the audience kept cheering, clapping, banging and stamping in the hope that the evening could be prolonged. The bar was packed with grinning faces afterwards – and everyone had their own particular moment of this incredible gig to savour.

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