Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Show Time!

STEVE IGNORANT PRESENTS: THE LAST SUPPER (CRASS SONGS 1977 - 1984) - THE BROOD, Kings Arms, Auckland, New Zealand - 19th June 2011
As much as I love life here in New Zealand, I recall that back in 2007 I was rather pissed off to be here instead in my country of birth, England. Y’see, I was just too young to see CRASS. They split when I was 15 and, if I am honest, back then they didn’t register too much on my musical horizon. I was in my mid-late teens when I bought ‘Feeding Of The 5000’ and I really failed to appreciate the music and the message at that stage. I kept returning to the record though, and over the years my love of CRASS, and the message the band conveyed, increased.
Thirty years on from that aforementioned (and now infamous) CRASS record came the news that inspired and ignited my discontent: Steve Ignorant was staging two shows to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of ‘Feeding...’ during which the record would be played in full “Yep,” I thought, “life in NZ can really suck.”
Spring forward a few years and more UK dates are announced. Neat. Then a US tour. Lucky Yanks. Then, low and behold, some Australian and New Zealand dates! Yep, thanks to the mercurial talents of Tim Edwards at Punk Rock Road Trips, STEVE IGNORANT was bringing the CRASS SONGS show to New Zealand. And yes, I was going.
Of course this was not CRASS, and those who believe they have ‘seen CRASS’ on the strength of these shows are woefully misguided, but it’s probably as close as I am ever likely to get. There has been the cries of ‘sellout’ of course, which I really could not give a fuck about. Those doing such finger pointing really need to get a grip on reality; there is no corporate promoter involved here, there is no ridiculous rider provided, tickets are priced much more reasonably than some of the more ‘right-on’ bands that come to NZ (the soon-due RISE AGAINST and SICK OF IT ALL shows at the same venue are over double what Ignorant was charging) and the band is not a bunch of jaded session musicians doing the tour for a salary.
My greater worry was the fact that Ignorant himself could be just a tired old man, reliving past glories in the most embarrassing of ways. That theory was partly dispelled on my arrival as there was Steve Ignorant in the bar, happily chatting to anyone and everyone who wanted to say, “Hello” and get their photo taken with him. I found him a very warm, personable and witty man - why should he be anything else? If CRASS stood for just one thing, it was sincerity. There was certainly no sense of egotism about him, which is further evidence against the hipster-elite claims of ‘selling out’.
I had to pity THE BROOD somewhat. The Kings Arms is not a massive venue. There is a stage of approx 3-4ft high, a bar, minimal seating and a capacity of, I’m guessing, 500. Essentially, the band can clearly see its audience - and any ambivalence it may display. The band started well, with tense bass-heavy riffs that brought to mind GANG OF FOUR meets FUGAZI-lite. Ultimately the inoffensive nature of the sound lead to distraction for those waiting for one of Punk’s most significant sons. Distraction could be read as evacuation as there seemed to be more amassed in the beer garden than the actual venue.
A familiar descending bass line followed by the even more familiar words, “Yes that’s right, Punk is Dead. It’s just another cheap product for the consumer’s head” signalled the arrival of Steve Ignorant and the exodus from the beer garden. Any thoughts that Ignorant was just a ‘tired old man’ were instantly dispelled. His vocal was still passionate and angry and he certainly wasn’t simply going through the motions. He spent the performance acting out song lyrics, contorting his body and delivering a full-on vocal. It was also clear that some of the most infamous CRASS songs were gonna be dealt with early when ‘Do They Owe Us A Living’ followed.
The band, consisting of Gizz Butt on guitar, Pete Wilson on bass, Spike T Smith on drums and Carol Hodge taking over the female vocals, played the songs faithfully but added a new dimension to them, especially from Spike’s bombastic drumming and the dazzling talents of Gizz on guitar.
As per CRASS days, images flashed on the screen at the back of the stage, most dramatically during ‘They’ve Got A Bomb’ which also signalled the first spine-tingling moment. Up to that point, there did seem to be something missing, a certain intensity maybe, but this song, particularly in nuclear-free New Zealand, certainly revived all the impending fears of imminent nuclear destruction that most UK citizens had in the Cold War days of the 80s.
From here, it was literally the best of CRASS: ‘Mother Earth’ was electrifying with Gizz taking on the opening news-reel vocal; ‘Bata Motel’ saw Carol take the spot light for the first time and do a stellar job; ‘What Next Columbus’ was attacked with a pace and intensity that was literally breath-taking and ‘Rival Tribal Revel Rebel’ and ‘I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just A Trick’ provided the evening’s pogo opportunities.
It was the encores though that really left me numb with a finale of ‘Shaved Women’ and the best track CRASS wrote in ‘Bloody Revolutions’. The former was a screaming, mechanical diatribe of frightening proportions while the sentiments and performance of the latter could feasibly be up there with the best live performances I have ever seen. Both tracks left me wondering what the effect would’ve been of seeing CRASS do them back in the 80s; I can only but wonder but these versions left me disorientated and in awe.
For the Auckland crowd, that sense of awe was apparent throughout. I understand why those in the UK who did see CRASS in their hey-day look upon these shows as Crass-on-45, but for those who never saw CRASS this proved to be no let down - just the opposite in fact. The songs played this evening have, for many, gone on to form the listener's identity, awaken them to the evils inherent in the system and those who support it unquestioningly. To have the vocalist on those songs resuscitate them in such a formidable way on a live platform and to do it all with dignity, commitment and in a spirit which certainly does not tarnish the CRASS name, really does make more of a mockery of those who view this as Crass Karaoke than it does of Steve Ignorant himself. An excellent night and one which fulfilled the hopes of many who attended. Still an inspirational figure.
More pics at www.facebook.com/steve.scanner