Tuesday 18 June 2013

Siouxsie and Viv Albertine at Royal Festival Hall - 17 June 2013

Siouxsie (obviously)

Viv Albertine is golden and gorgeous as she takes the stage of the Royal Festival Hall as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown Festival.

Looking for all the world like a gleefully beaming mumsy gladiatrix in a shimmering metallic dress, the former Slit leads her five piece band through a set that is a deft mix of punky noise, sweeping strings and familial concerns.

Viv acknowledges the passing of time since her eventful youth and jokes that her song 'Needles' might previously have been written about heroin, but is actually an account of her (successful) IVF treatment.

She's moved from 'Typical Girl' to everyday mother. Another song is entitled 'Life's too Short to be Shy'. Viv Albertine completely embodies this sentiment. Good on her.

Siouxsie Sioux has been absent from the stage for the past five years or so and it is a coup for Yoko that she makes her return with a couple of shows here on the Southbank.

The set design is striking- a wall of huge metal blinds and bright light beams that creates an antiseptic, hospital atmosphere. When Siouxsie appears there is an audible gasp followed by wild cheers.

From my lofty perch up in a balcony I can see a heaving rush of bodies crashing over the seats below, forming a pyramid of devotion as the fans pile on top of each other at the foot of the stage. It's exactly like this striking image from World War Z.

Siouxsie is dressed in a skin tight white latex gown, her hair hanging long and black and straight. It's an image directly referencing Japanese horror. Gone is the Victorian lace or coloured scarves of previous incarnations - this version of Siouxsie is dominant and cruel and not in the mood for softness or subtlety.

She starts with 'Happy House'. Her band is brutally loud and battering. For the rest of the night they will hammer us into submission. Siouxsie's voice is perhaps a note lower than previously and there are occasional signs that she can't quite control her breath in way that she used to, although this becomes less noticeable once she warms up.

Siouxsie is a formidable presence. She strides around, high kicking like a Russian soldier or else twirling and shimmering like a belly dancer, her arms weaving mystical patterns in the air.

She rips off the robe to reveal a clinging white latex cat-suit. It's a costume that only the very bravest would even attempt to wear, let alone carry off as triumphantly as this.

The crowd are in a febrile frenzy and Siouxsie playfully growls at them for thrusting gifts and flowers towards her during one of the relatively quieter numbers. They love her for it and they love the music – tonight’s set is very heavy on tracks from the Banshees’ third album ‘Kaleidoscope’.

The second half of the show starts with 'Israel' and the roof pretty much comes off the building. This is followed by a crunching version of 'Arabian Knights' which Siouxsie admits herself is demanding to perform.

It's a devastating, deafening show and an uncompromising performance. As the band leaves following an industrial 'Spellbound' my senses are spinning and my ears are ringing like gongs.

A literally breathtaking show. 

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