Band reformations and seminal album tours are a well rehearsed theme for reviews on Birmingham Live!. But there comes a time when a band cannot merely hang ten on a wave of nostalgia and have to come up with the goods in the form of some new material. The question is will new songs appeal to the stalwart fans and will they fit in with the old favourites?
Magazine decided that their wave should only last a couple of years and with the release of No Thyself have embarked on what they hope will be a new chapter in the life of the band or “Magazine, Version 6.0, Service pack 1” as Howard Devoto calls it.
The acid test is of course how the new songs go down live and tonight’s gig showed how, in my opinion, Magazine have got this right. They fit seamlessly into the set along with the likes of The Light Pours Out Of Me and Permafrost. You could say that these songs either sound like they were written in 1979 or that Magazine were so ahead of their time that all their output is fit for the 21st Century. Personally I think its the latter.
So what does Magazine Version 6.0 bring to the live arena in 2011?
The first noticeable change is the shift in the axis of the live band. Tonight like every other appearance this year there is no Barry Adamson; “the rock on which we all stand” as HD used to call him. Preferring to concentrate on his solo material and film work the original band member has been replaced by Jon “Stan” White, late of Groove Armada. He is an excellent bassist but he does not have the huge physical presence of Barry Adamson and as a result the focus of the band has shifted fairly and squarely stage left to Devoto and Noko. It’s here where most things are happening in the live set.
Noko is a changed man from the early days of the reformation in 2009. Rather than slavishly following the solo lines laid down by the sadly deceased John McGeoch, he has added a lot more of his own style to the songs and is much more animated, jumping around, playing off HD and interacting much more with the crowd. As a result he is a stronger visual part of the live performance. He cuts an impressive figure which must go down well in Birmingham as there were a greater percentage of women in the crowd, than for the typical Magazine gig; normally a male dominated experience.
The real rock of the band is John Doyle. From the opening beats of Definitive Gaze he drove the set on relentlessly, being particularly prominent in the new songs, Hello Mr Curtis (with apologies), the bands arch tribute to martyred rock stars, and Final Analysis Waltz, “a plea for tolerance from an old punk”. All the new songs are impressive played live and if there is one criticism of the set-list its is that the new album wasn’t represented enough.
Dave Formula sits a little bit more in the background on the new material, both literally being part of the back line with Mr Doyle, and figuratively with the keyboards acting as a base for Noko’s guitar. He really comes into his own in the more jazzier, funkier songs like Thank You (Falettingme Be Mice Elf Agin) and A Song From Under The Floorboards.
Which of course leaves Howard Devoto. Throwing in everything from Sly Stone to Dostoyevsky to Psychedelia, and being ever cryptic, particularly with the man-sized placards which he had on display during the flying sequence of Definitive Gaze with messages Lets Fly Away To The World and You Do The Meaning. These days his performance is much more gentle and mannered than he showed during his post punk angst. He peers at the crowd as if trying to see right through everyone whilst acting the fool as in the introduction to The Worst Of Progress …. – each dot, punctuated by a huge wheeling of the arm and a flash of a spotlight. Every now and then the veneer will crack and a brief smile will show how much he and the band are enjoying the experience, but over the years he has turned into much more of a showman with a lot of his comments scripted and designed for full impact. There is something strangely poignant about a middle aged man singing “I hope I die before I get really old” in Hello Mr Curtis,but he also shows he is still capable of the cutting comment as in Happening In English.
Holy Dotage is the most impressive live track of the new material and is in fact, in my opinion up with Rhythm of Cruelty in terms of impact. The use of Noko’s strident riff and Dave Formula’s whirling Hammond organ adding huge weight to the prophetic lyrics “more mortal than ever”. In fact getting old seems to be a theme although it sits well with the band. They are very much themselves in terms of image and whilst they are feeding on their post rock past they are not trying to be something other than what they are.
In Fear of Olive, Magazine’s stable mates at Wire-Sound are cut from the same cloth in this regard, only the sound and approach could not be more different. Its often said that the best support bands are ones that are in contrast to the main act and these guys certainly fit the bill with their Americana based indie approach. They rely much more on acoustic instruments then any electronica. Songs like Piece of Mind and Lead Me Astray, with its four part harmonies and slide guitar, belong more to the deep south than Doncaster. Although they did go for it a bit more on songs like Saluting Magpies where their drummer showed that he does not subscribe to the philosophy that a high-hat is for life. All arms and legs he looked as if he was going to kill the drum kit. They got a good reception from what may have been on the face of it a tough crowd. Maybe the inclusion of Folsom Prison Blues as a bit of a toe tapper got them on side.
“We have a new album out” (cheers) “it was nothing, we’ve been around for years, it was easy this time” (pause) “…..I’m lying”. This bit of banter with HD and the crowd maybe shows why No Thyself is not a token release to keep the nostalgia gravy train going but a serious set of songs that are as important to them as the old stuff. That acid test was passed as people around me were shouting for Holy Dotage, Burden of a Song and Do the Meaning as much as they were the old favourites. Unlike some bands there were definitely no apologies for the new songs and I hope in the next tour this new album is better represented and that there will be more to come.
As a personal comment Magazine are my favourite band — ever. Don’t review your favourite bands, its one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to do!
Give Me Everything
Happening In English
The Worst Of Progress….
Song From Under The Floorboards
Hello Mr Curtis (With Apologies)
Rhythm Of Cruelty
Thank You ( Falettingme Be Mice Elf Agin)
The Light Pours Out Of Me
Final Analysis Waltz
Shot By Both Sides
Photos – Stephanie Colledge
Words – Ian Gelling