Saturday 17 March 2012

The Chapman Family, Cold In Berlin, The Naturals at Bull & Gate - 15 March 2012

The Chapman Family

The pub is full of young Russians. Not a bad thing, but unexpected. It turns out that they have arrived en masse for a show by popular singer Zemfira up the road. Good for them, but I think that I’ve got the best line up right here.

The first thing that you notice about The Naturals is that they are pedal freaks. Robin Stewart, Harry Wright and Felix Drake have vast banks of gear strewn across the stage in front of them. No guitar is struck unless it is distorted, feedbacked and reverbed to within an inch of its life.

Song structures are intricate and complex. There is a ghost of afro beat, hints of jazz, wafts of heavy metal. But mainly there is noise and thrashing and general guitar mangling head and hair flailing din. I like it.

Robin occasionally adds vocals to the mix, surprisingly plaintive and emotional. And then it’s back to the Sturm und Drang again.

Interestingly, a member of my group takes violent exception to the Naturals for the very same reasons that I like them. She thinks that they are pretentious, indulgent, formless, silly. I classify most of these as good points, although I don’t agree with her assessment.

The band finishes with an even more expansive freak out than previously, incorporating a sudden ludicrously heavy riff that the Bo Ningen boys would be proud of. I am content and very deaf.

This is my first encounter with the transformed Cold In Berlin. Their new incarnation is completely different from the old and yet still utterly extraordinary.

Singer Maya, long dark hair and flowing robes is possessed by the spirit of Barbara Steele. This is proper celluloid witchery in its purest form.

Her devotion to the performance is total. Her body contorts; her arms become talons, her tongue licks lasciviously. Her voice, always strong, now positively roars. It’s mesmerising. She does everything short of levitate and crawl across the ceiling.

The boys in the band wear T shirts adorned with wolves’ heads and occasionally howl at the lights. The ritual continues…

Maya processes from the stage and clears a corridor through the crowd. In the dark, we surround her. It adds to the general creepiness – I feel that I should be holding a flaming and guttering torch.

The band’s set is completely full of new material. Old favourites have been jettisoned. Fortunately, the new stuff is great. Highlights include ‘The Lie’, ‘The Witch’ (naturally) and pounding new single ‘…And the Darkness Bangs’, which is an odd phrase but a helluva song.

Cold In Berlin. They’ll put a spell on you.

I’m equally overjoyed to see The Chapman Family once more. They too have mutated in the past year or so. And they too seem invigorated by the change.

Front man Kingsley has now completely abandoned his guitar, preferring instead to lean on a small keyboard and howl and grouse into a microphone. The rest of the band takes up his mantle – their guitars are ferocious.

As ever with this band, songs are chopped, diced, rearranged. They certainly end with a version of ‘Kids’, but I’m not sure that they don’t start with it too. In between, they simply rage – the barely concealed anger is part of their great appeal.

Kingsley seems battered and worn down. He bemoans that their single ‘Sound Of The Radio’ was lost in the London riots of last summer. Or as he deadpans “It was burned…by a cockney.” He’s not happy and I don’t blame him.

The band have seen line up changes in the past eighteen months, but stalwart Pops Chapman still stands and rants, just as impassioned as his colleague. The rest of the band forms a formidable unit, a barrage of intense sound.

The new material addresses life under the privileged boot of a contemptuous Government. Songs now have titles like ‘Cruel Britannia’ and ‘This English Life’.

It’s good to see. I love The Chapman Family. We need more like them.

I leave the venue with my ears whistling. My train is packed and slow and someone throws up all over everywhere almost immediately. It’s like a charnel house. And you know what? After tonight’s show, I’m STILL happy.

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