Wednesday 27 May 2009

Duchess Says / Bang Bang Eche / DiD at Madame Jo Jo's - 26 May 2009

Duchess Says

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much happening at Madam Jo Jo’s tonight. The pit in front of the stage is empty, and the DJ is playing a selection of prog rock classics, particularly The Nice’s version of ‘America’. Not the most apt of choices, because none of the bands tonight hail from the States, or even the UK.

First port of call is Christchurch, New Zealand and the maniac punk funk of Bang Bang Eche. They hit the ground running and never let up for a second. Frontman T'Nealle Worsley’s face is obscured by his long hair, and he is a non-stop blur of motion, leaping and prancing, or simply jumping on the spot. The rest of the band comprises keyboards, bass and guitar, all of whom switch instruments on a regular basis. The drummer looks to be about twelve.

Bang Bang Eche, don’t do ballads or slowies. Each track is a ridiculously enjoyable full-on explosion of dance. As their track has it, it's '4 to the Floor'. The band may have five pairs of feet between them, but no more than three are on the ground at any one time. The audience is drawn from the four corners of the club like ants around sugar, and soon everybody is bouncing and bopping like loons. It’s not the most original of sounds – mid Eighties bands such as EMF and Collapsed Lung have been here before- but it has such seldom been performed with such enthusiasm and brio.

The set ends with the final guitarist off the stage and in the pit. He leans against a monitor and is playfully strangled by his singer. The music stops and I can hardly tell, my ears are ringing so hard.

Long term readers of this blog will know that the album ‘Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs’ by French-Canadian band Duchess Says was my record of last year. I’ve never had the opportunity to see them live before, so I’m ridiculously excited about rectifying that tonight.

The band is dressed in black and start pounding out an ear shredding motorik of driving drums and white noise. The microphone at centre stage is unclaimed. Gradually, inch by inch, singer Annie-Claude edges into view, determined not to turn her back or disengage with the audience for a second. Her eyes are wide. She looks like a slow loris.

There follows a performance the like that I have not seen since huddled around a TV set in my youth, lusting after Kate Bush from afar. Annie-Claude ‘interprets’ every word, every beat, every keyboard skronk with a hand gesture. Her fingers clasp, stab, point and wave in a constant flurry. Her face contorts, grimaces, breaks into beaming smiles or scowls in an endless procession of emotions. At least one of my companions finds this too much, too ‘silly’, but I am transfixed.

All the songs that I raved about here are performed. The noise is astonishing. The crowd are dancing, but are also bludgeoned by the onslaught. Annie-Claude screams or rolls her eyes into her head until they are completely white. At one point, in mid song, she jumps off the stage, wanders through the back of the crowd to wish some friends ‘happy birthday’ and give them presents.

The rest of the band is having fun too. When a song requires hand claps, they beat their hands together in a gesture signifying wings, possibly a reference to the band’s own peculiar ‘Church of Budgerigar’ mythology. The bassist is playing his instrument at the head rather than the bridge. Annie-Claude meanwhile occasionally jabs at a keyboard, bent over a separate microphone that distorts her vocals even further.

After a rousing version of ‘Black Flag’ Annie-Claude pulls an unhappy face and says she is sad to say goodbye. Her eyes are streaming with tears and she rubs them to smudge her mascara down her cheeks. I had hoped that Duchess Says were going to be good, and they have delivered in spades.

The crowd dissipates before the appearance of the final band of the night, which is rather a shame. Hailing from Italy, the band too puts visual showmanship at the centre of their performance. DiD are dressed in matching yellow hoodies and alternate between dance punk riffs from guitars held level with their heads or beating wildly at various drum kits. It’s another terrific show, and puts a fine end to the best three-act bill that I have seen this year.

Going home, I am in such a happy daze that I barely mind the complete collapse of the train system (First Capital Connect, the shits), nor the ridiculously late hour I finally get home. Nor even that I awake the next day almost completely deaf. I’ve seen and enjoyed three bands that have come from far and wide to entertain me for the price of a fiver. Well worth it.

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