Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Concert (+ CD): Magazine

The Junction, Cambridge, 2nd November 2011.

Posting this a month or so late, but what the heck.

To start with, a boast. I first saw Magazine in (I think) 1978 at a gig in a university hall, and then again in 1979 at the Corn Exchange. So, having made it to their gig at The Junction, I think I must have seen them every time they've played Cambridge.

Actually, the '79 gig was one of Angela's and my first dates, so we weren't going to miss this one. But first, we got hold of No Thyself, their first new recording as a band for thirty years. I'm not sure if anything on this is quite up to their best work c.1980, but it's definitely real Magazine, recalling, say, the menacing pulse of "The Light Pours Out of Me" in "The Burden of a Song", and the deliberate four-letter shock effects of "Permafrost" (only more so) in "Other Thematic Material". The pushing-for-accusations-of-bad-taste lyric of "Hello Mister Curtis (with apologies)" might almost count as something new, except in that it fits with Howard Devoto's general, habitual post of punky irony. (Though that his disdain clearly extends to punk: "No decadence, no cheap thrills of hate from me...") Some of the songs could probably grow on me quite a lot, in fact; they may look like conscious recreations of the band's old style, but in the worst case, that's a fine model to emulate.

(I was amused when some critics detected a new maturity in "Of Course Howard", incidentally, given that I recognised some of the lyrics from the introduction to a collection of other Magazine lyrics published thirty years ago. Actually, the song seems to represent a dialogue between Devoto today and his younger self, which is interesting in itself.)

But anyway... For those who don't know them, Magazine were a group who evolved out of the punk scene when lead singer Howard Devoto decided to do something a bit unashamedly smarter, then vanished when Devoto apparently just got bored of the whole business, leaving a legacy that took the rock world decades to acknowledge. Unfortunately, since 1981, John McGeoch, the band's authentic post-punk guitar hero, has died. Also, when they reformed in 2009, Barry Adamson, their bass player and other most strikingly capable musician, rejoined, but he's since evidently decided that his career in film music and so forth means more to him, and walked away. The replacements, Devoto's occasional collaborator Noko on guitar and "Stan" on bass, are entirely capable of emulating the originals' playing well enough, but whether they can emulate the original synergistic, innovative brilliance is another matter.

Not that the audience at this gig were too worried (and I speak as one of them, believe me). We may not have had associations with the two guys on his left and right, but that was Howard Devoto in the middle. Okay, a lot of us were clearly there to be reminded of our youth. I haven't seen this many grey hairs and this much male-pattern baldness since ... um ...the last folk gig I was at. And I guess that Devoto, who's gone from "high forehead" to "bald" in thirty years, could feel entirely at home in this company. But enough tacky irony. That's Howard's job.

The set consisted of a mixture of old and new songs, in pretty conventional rock gig style, really, not that I'm complaining. It even used staging tricks I remember from thirty years ago, notably hitting the audience full in the face with white spotlights behind the band for "The Light Pours Out of Me". Among the new songs, "Hello Mister Curtis" was dedicated, a little strangely, to Terry Pratchett; I assume that the point there is that the song is about facing up to mortality, though whether its pose is one of acceptance or defiance - whether the lyrics are addressed to Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain in tones of wry admiration or contemptuous sarcasm - seems unclear. Clarity has never been the point with Magazine, mind; during the first song, Devoto was at one point wandering around the stage with a placard say "You Do The Meaning".

And we will, Howard, we will. Whether we were here for abrasive surrealism, or wry and twisted humour, or to be reminded of our student days, or just because we know the band will rip into that guitar riff in the encore of the monumental classic "Shot By Both Sides", we all likely went away satisfied.

The support, incidentally, were In Fear of Olive, whose country-tinged rock was competent enough, but seemed on this brief exposure to lack sufficiently memorable tunes, aside from the fact that they really didn't look to have much in common with Magazine. But the support act in '79 was Simple Minds, and I didn't think very much of them, so what do I know?

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