Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Con Artists @ Legion, Rhondda

17 November 2006

The Welsh Valleys currently lust for someone to slay the entertainmentmonster of conformity. Our nightlife population is speckled with sun-bed andsteroid kids, jaded thugs and amateur nihilists, and artists have to justifytheir existence with a nightmare reprisal of sentimental pub balladry. Yetsurely, we hope, only in Kafka’s imagination can a climate stay absolutely barren forever.

Tonight The Con Artists are taking their first steps outside of theirhometown, and the huddled streets of Cwmparc conceal a million reasons not to.The atmosphere inside the venue can be cut with a knife, and strangers’throats might also be at risk. Instruments have taken on the importance of medievaljoker’s gags, and any minute now their players could be consigned tocrocodile pit, guillotine, or, worse – a Rhondda disco.

If Johnny Borrell were here he would have had it already, throat slit and ego donated to thelocal darts team, so the gig begins with In the Morning. Temperature issub-zero, and maybe below that, and the old time shimmy of Berry’s Rock’n’ Roll Music is met with a number of people checking their watches forthe length of time that they haven’t heard a Stereophonics track.

Meanwhile, the microphones of singers Johnny Gardener and Stuart Smithsound tinny, and, around here, trust me, without diction, you’re as good asnothing. Suddenly, the whole PA system shrinks like a giant, salted snail.Menace lurks, but the ironic nature of the chanting suggests that completeannihilation of the players might not be the verdict. Maybe drinks have been taken,but when the system croaks back to life again, there’s a new optimism.

The Zutons are probably too foppish to be embraced here in person, femme fatale saxophonist Abi would have to come with a governmenthealth warning, but there’s something about this song and this band that’sburrowing away at all of the crowd’s hostility.

Others like to garner it, so this is pretty unique and alternative edge. Gardener’s superb harmonica on LoveMe Do is another, spectral folk ingenuity floating across the venue likemystery itself. The surprises keep rolling as the retinue stick to only thepop-most nuggets of the recent mainstream-alternative and some quaint rock ‘n’roll, and – whisper it gently – but a haven of philistinism is being quietlyrendered a creative indie feast.

One thing the Rhondda has never lacked in is fine musicians, andlead-guitarist Adam Warren is destined to be up there in the higher echelons ofaxe-heroes with Racing Cars’ Graham Williams. He shoots golden threadsthrough the Manics’ Australia and You Stole The Sun From My Heart withBradfield-like soul, while Gareth Beartup flitters away at drums withstunning precision, upping stakes at will with the cartoon virtuosity ofAnimal.

Of course, the smallest details in indie music often create the killermoments, and the piano/keyboard in the corner is a sign that all the right lawsof performance are being obeyed in this unlikely setting. Smith puts aside hisbass to etch out the opening strains of The Killers’ All These ThingsThat I’ve Done before launching into the vocals with the quintessentialnew-wave strut of Brandon Flowers, and quite brilliantly, The Con Artists arewinning the day without even playing Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69.

Champagne Supernova is portrayed to an atmospheric T, before a fun-timemedley of Please Mr Postman and Stand By Me has people going bona fide crazy.They simply don’t want it to end, and for an encore we get the rare sight ofRhondda revellers dancing to nuggets like The Coral’s Dreaming of Youand The Who’s My Generation rather than, say, jeering along to DJOtzi’s Hey Baby.

Bubbles are more likely to fill the air thanintimidation, and if this is not a Rhondda revolution, I don’t know what is. This maynot be the real thing, but The Con Artists certainly sell the illusion withalternative glee. Cwmparc succumbs, and, if only for a night, freedom is won.

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