Maybe they were not as confrontational as The Slits, or as snide as Bush Tetras, but The Raincoats were real and their 1979 debut album is an undeniably shimmering prickly triumph. It succinctly documents a specific time in female and feminist history where people took a chance of making novel modes of enjoyment. So, when Ana Da Silva announces the show will consist of a chronological run through of the album to celebrate its 40th birthday, the crowd erupts in joyous cheer.
The opening notes of Fairytale In The Supermarket ring out, that furious drum roll kicks in and the denizens of the subterranean basement begin to pogo and jump around, singing along contentedly. Energy crackles in the air; not only does it sound just like the record, but it’s better, heavier, as if time has filled out the empty sections and solidified the youthful energy within.
That may have something to do with recent additions to the band, plucky violinist Anne Wood, drummer Vice Cooler (who in his own right is something of an underground legend for his production work, though he’s happy to shun the limelight tonight) and of course longtime band manager and collaborator Shirley O’Loughlin.
A fan screams out “You’re beautiful!” in Portuguese after the song ends and Ana blushes. He has a point. The girls glow with pride and gratitude. Later on Gina says something dry about boundaries when someone screams out similar adoration and we laugh and we know what we’re going to get for the night, a dizzying blend of introspection, inquisitiveness and a dash of cockiness.
In their formative years the two women were known to have two very distinctive and indeed oppositional characters, with Ana being the introverted literate and quietly tortured soul and Gina being the acerbic but down to earth goofball, the pair of them bouncing around the stage like dervishes. Tonight they may remain more static but it’s a sign that they’ve realised the magic that clash offers. They are so in tune that they’ve learnt to fill in the gaps in each other’s sentences, like enthusiastic school kids. They reminisce about former band mates Palmolive and Vicky Aspinall and brag about how happy they were to recently play with Lora Logic again. It’s a pleasure to behold.
“This one’s dedicated to all you explorers out there,” Gina announces as they rip into Adventures Close To Home, its tick-tocking discordant naivety a genuine tonic for a cold winter evening. When it comes time, halfway through the album playlist, to do their cover of The Kinks classic Lola, the band make fun of how, after a lifetime of playing the song, they think they might finally have remembered how to play it. They certainly do. It’s note perfect, the pauses hit every mark and the crowd belt out every line adoringly. It receives the biggest whoop of the evening but, whilst a giddy indulgence, it’s not the key moment.
There are instead two surefire highlights. Both ballads of a sort, The Void and You’re A Million come later on and both have replaced the youthful eagerness that you hear captured in the studio and instead become sensitive documents of lives well lived and hearts that have broken and healed.
After they’ve run through the record they decide give us even more, including a definitive version of Only Loved At Night from 1981’s Odyshape that stuns those watching with its sombre but optimistic exquisiteness, as Gina’s guitar trembles and Anne’s kalimba melody returns us to a childhood state. The old adage says that life begins at 40. Tonight, The Raincoats made us feel born again.