Live Music Reviews

Paul + Menlo Park @ Ocean, London

21 March 2002


Naming a band after the birthplace of recorded sound is a bold and confident statement. But tonight’s first band are fearless.

Menlo Park, New Jersey, 1877 is where Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and first put sound into a ‘machine’. Menlo Park, at Ocean 3 tonight, are six amazing musicians who are equally creative with sound through their tremendous live performance.

The aural pleasures of the band and Philadelphia-born frontman Chris Taylor skip frequently and unpredictably around. The lyrics are brilliantly crafted and twisted tales, including topics of sex, perversity and booze.

Ties, hats, big hair and neck scarves are the order of the day. However, nothing appears false or stylised. They look as if they have thrown on the same clothes as they would any other morning.

Taylor continuously slams around, oozing sexuality and playing with the audience. The small stage cannot possibly contain him as he runs amok, dances with or serenades the ladies. When he is confined to stage he frequently looks as if he requires a priest to exorcise him. Throughout the frequent instrument changes and multitude of musical textures a sleazy rockabilly, ska undercurrent is never far away.

Menlo Park display a fantastic combination of musicianship and showmanship and are certainly a band to look out for, especially if provided with a larger stage.

After a short break the same big haired drummer returns to the stage with the two new individuals. One has a double bass and the other is a girl who goes by the name of Paul and has a guitar. Forget the unusual gender name coupling, the most remarkable thing about this little lady is her playing ability. Her sensible shoes tap away at a plethora of pedals as she belts out at times Jimi Hendrix-esque rifts. She is equally at home on the mandolin and has a bittersweet voice to die for.

The drummer is not the only thing that Paul has in common with the first band. The theme of sex and a desire to shock continues. Tea in Autumn contains the bitter, world-weary lyrics: “Love brings not love, she said, but lots of semen” before ending with “His face was a cheap cheese pizza, but she was already wondering what she’d do with his dick..” followed by banshee-like screams and wails.

This is not a band about cheap tricks and innuendo. There are some amazing heartfelt melodies. Paul has a very refreshing open style, asking the audience what type of song they want next. You get the impression she has no shortage of style or numbers. As she warms up she appears to be almost ad-libbing on guitar and lyrics, requiring the band to follow and keep up. Unfortunately this style can on occasions be her undoing and she might benefit from adopting just a little more of Menlo Park’s rollercoaster showmanship in order to maintain momentum. We do find out afterwards that one reason for this is that they are missing a band member tonight… Regular saxophonist is currently performing on the Pop Idol tour!

A fantastic evening of genius from two ‘small’ bands who in creative terms tower above the karaoke of the pop tarts and even the current safe, inhibiting realms of retro, guitar based rock.



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