Thursday 23 February 2017

It's alright, ma, they're only bleeding

The concept of bands performing a much-loved classic album from their back catalogue in its entirety has really caught on in the last few years. It's the music industry's way of tempting retired gig-goers to leave their pipe and slippers at home and give the mosh-pit one more go for old time's sake. After all, in an age when so much music is available for free over the internet, the live sector is one of the few areas where artists can still see the colour of your money.

The bands are offering a 100pc proof pure nostalgia buzz, and the fans know exactly what they're getting -- no waiting around to hear the hits at the encore while the dud new album gets an airing. Instead, the set list is already pre-ordained -- and so we can anticipate our favourite songs to the second (and schedule a toilet break accordingly).

So much for spontaneity, you might object; isn't rock 'n' roll supposed to thrive on unpredictability? Well, when the album in question is as good as The Wedding Present's Bizarro, then I'm quite happy to sacrifice the element of surprise.

The Weddoes, as they are affectionately known, will perform their diamond second studio album in full at the Academy, Dublin, on Friday.

Originally released in 1989, Bizarro has held up incredibly well in its 21 years -- but then great hooks played at a demented speed on loud, driving guitars never really go out of fashion.

With the 20th anniversary tour of their debut album George Best going so well in 2007 -- their killer show in a sweaty, stuffed Village would have made groups half their age green with envy -- it was logical that singer Dave Gedge would move on to their sophomore set when the time came.

For all the plaudits that George Best rightly gets as one of the seminal albums of the indie rock canon, Bizarro is arguably their Maradona moment. Songs like 'Brassneck', 'Kennedy', 'No' and 'Be Honest' still sparkle two decades on.

The record marked the Weddoes' major label debut, being released by RCA, and so it was recorded with a much bigger budget than its predecessor.

But Gedge resisted the temptation to mess with the formula and come over all Sgt Pepper by adding flute solos and tubas just for the hell of it.

No, the standard issue two guitars/bass/drums format was an article of faith for post-punk bands who believed in the short, sharp shock over the meandering scenic route. Which is what made the nine-minute blow-out of Bizarro's 'Take Me' all the more surprising.

For The Wedding Present, using anything more than three basic chords is just complicating matters unnecessarily. They even called one of their EPs 'All The Songs Sound The Same'. But it's some song!

Everything bleeds -- amps, fingers, ears and, of course, hearts. Dave Gedge's lyrics were like hearing one side of an almighty row between him and his troubled paramour. Either she has unceremoniously dumped him because she has just found out where he really spent last weekend, or he has just found out where she spent last weekend... And on it goes, Gedge moving from cuckold to cad and back again with dizzying regularity. First he's the romantic dreamer; then he's the arch-schemer. He's equal parts Don Quixote and Don Draper.

Not that the Wedding Present were slaves to their own aesthetic -- Bizarro came on the back of a flirtation with Ukrainian folk music. Their lead guitarist at the time, Pete Solowka, had Ukrainian ancestry and Gedge was happy to take a detour down the road less travelled. As it happened, the road to Kiev went through Shepherd's Bush -- they recorded the Ukrainian sessions for the BBC Radio 1 show of the late, great John Peel, who championed the Weddoes from the get-go, often inviting Gedge on to his programme for a chat. Indeed, the band regularly featured high up in his annual Festive 50 listeners' end-of-year round-up.

After Bizarro, The Wedding Present went on to hook up with legendary studio alchemist Steve Albini in the same year he produced Nirvana's Nevermind (Albini twisted the knobs on 1991's Seamonsters).

Then in 1992 -- pub quiz boffins, take note -- they equalled Elvis's record of having the most Top 30 singles in the UK charts in one year, thanks to their Hit Parade series, where they released a limited edition seven-inch vinyl single on the first Monday of every month for 12 months.

Fans snapped them up, and so each entered the charts quite high, before falling vertiginously the next week. Nevertheless, they got to gatecrash Top Of The Pops.

The band, originally formed in Leeds, shed members like autumn leaves and eventually Gedge was the last man standing. He formed a new band, Cinerama, for a period in the late 1990s and early Noughties, but eventually changed the name back to the Wedding Present, though members still come and go.

Gedge left Leeds for the west coast of America; fetching up in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. The last Wedding Present album, 2008's grungy El Rey, was written in Los Angeles -- Hollywood, no less -- and recorded in Chicago with old mucker Mr Albini again.

I caught them last winter in Waterford's excellent Electric Avenue venue and they rocked like a beast.

The current Bizarro tour may see them take a stroll down memory lane, but I reckon you'll still need to fasten your seatbelts.

The Wedding Present play The Academy, Dublin, on Friday. nkelly@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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