I left behind a poorly Boy Wonder, who was of course safely tucked up in bed. On the way into town I managed to find out the stage times of the bands playing, so I was able to duck into the Globe for a quick pint, deciding to forego the bar at the Kaz this time.
As soon as I arrived at the Kaz and settled into my regular on-the-steps-at-the-side position, I was approached by a French guy who quizzed me on where to go to experience the interesting culture in the city. However, I’m not sure I was all that helpful.
Support came from the charming, angular H. Hawkline, who I’d previously seen supporting Cate Le Bon in Leaf back in September 2012. He was backed by Kiwi drummer Dan Ward, new bassist Alex Morrison (who looked like Blonde On Blonde-era Bob Dylan), and the jerky Steve, aka Sweet Baboo, on guitar and keyboards.
Most of the songs he played were from the new album In The Pink Of Condition (produced by Le Bon), which I hadn’t heard due to a much delayed online order that has still not arrived. There was some top notch ooh-ing on an early song that seemed to fall apart deliberately at the end, while the first tune I recognised was the title track of the Black Domino Box ep.
Huw Evans (aka H. Hawkline) confessed that the bassline of Concrete Coloured Clothes was his attempt at impersonating Paul McCartney, then apologising for the cliché of declaring his love for The Beatles in their home city.
After the rocking, 60’s psych-esque Welsh-language Moddion (which means “medicine”) featuring some great guitar from Sweet Baboo, Evans declared that he had voted Labour in the General Election the week before as he “fucking hate[s] the Tories”, which went down pretty well with the crowd. Then came the final tune, the driving and poppy Ringfinger.
After a brief interlude, during which the DJ played Jimi Hendrix amongst others, the main band emerged on the stage in front of a much filled-out audience, after some bizarre kids circus-meets-end of the pier intro music. Then suddenly I nearly lost the phone out of my hand that I was in the process of putting away as the singer Sam France strode through the crowd onto the stage.
Although originally a two-piece, there were actually nine members of the band in action. The other founding member is Jonathan Rado on keyboards and guitar. Every aspect of the performance was clearly highly planned and conceptualised, verging on the ridiculous and extreme at times, but often just staying on the right side.
It was difficult to take your eyes off the preppy France as he cavorted around, and off, the stage. Which considering there were three dancing girls in mini-dresses on backing vocals and synchronised moves says something about his camp magnetism. There were also dolls heads behind the stage, fairly lights on the keyboards and some cuddly dolls at the foot of the drum kit for extra effect.
I loved their album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic from 2013, produced by the marvellous singer/songwriter Richard Swift, which I have literally only just discovered is their second full-lengther.
Unfortunately, last year’s follow-up …And Star Power is considerably patchier. In fact, it’s the classic example of a double album that would be much better as a single, although in this case it would benefit from the simple expedient of just ditching the second disc entirely, which is exceedingly self-indulgent and hardly worth bothering with. Apparently it’s a concept album about the band being taken over by an imaginary group from outer space. Right.
The show kicked off with a frenzied version of the title track from the second album, with the girls lighting up candles and then dancing with them. France continued with his knee drops, high kicks, leaping off and back onto the stage, and the risers, while two of the band actually staged a sword fight between songs at one point.
An early highlight was the camp thrash of Coulda Been My Love from the latest album. Hot Summer off the duff second disc of …And Star Power followed a bizarre on-stage theatrical interlude. Then after only around half an hour of music in all, the band left the stage leaving a rather bemused audience.
After a crackly record ushered them back onto the stage, France told a few lame pseudo-political jokes before Shuggie from the second album was followed by an epic closer, with someone from the audience jumping onto the stage to cavort with the lead singer. The band then went off stage again, returning for the glorious No Destruction from 21st Century Ambassadors, with a more extreme stage invasion eventually being broken up by bouncers.
The gig ended somewhat disappointingly with the new album’s Hang. Hard to know what to make of this gig really, but it made for a bit of a change from the norm, which is always a good thing.
Here is a few selections from the set list: