Bring Out Your Dead
London has seen many marvels in its near-two thousand year history, but here comes something our great grey greasy city hasn't encountered before. It's an all-day festival of horror punk and deathrock; a gathering of assorted bands whose styles run all the way from 50s-influenced vintage rock 'n' roll to studied post-punk cool, served up in a trendy east end arts venue. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Bring Out Your Dead - the fevered brainchild of Cavey Nik, proprietor of the Dead And Buried club, which is itself going from strength to strength just now. It's still a bit of a shot in the dark to put on an event like this, though, especially as four of the eight bands on the bill are making their debut appearances in the UK. Fortunately, the London regiment of the Dead And Buried barmy army is on parade, and a contingent of positive punkers from the further reaches of Europe have hit town for the show, so we have a crowd. We also have some bands - so let's pay attention to them.
The Torpedoes have the slightly awkward task of going on first and warming up the punters. Nevertheless, they hit the stage with a certain no-shit confidence. I've never seen this lot before and know nothing about them, but I immediately get the impression that they're a bunch of experienced veterans - there's a certain 'paid our dues' demeanour to the band as they get stuck in to their accessible, eighties-ish pop punk. The principal musical idea on show seems to be a mash-up between crunchy, punky, guitar work and pleasant harmonies between the lead and backing vocals. It all reminds me of hearing The Vapors on Kid Jensen's early evening alternative show on Radio One, back when I was a teenie punk, waiting wide-eared for the John Peel show to come on. I remember that I quite liked The Vapors, but Iwished they weren't quite so nice - and I find myself coming to the same conclusion about the Torpedoes. Sure, they brew up a good old punk-rockin' storm, but you know that if their mums came in and told them to turn it down, they would.
Casual come from Spain, and have a name which probably sounds pretty darn cool if you're Spanish, but frankly doesn't travel well. I half expected to see a bunch of chavs take the stage, decked out in designer footy gear and trainers that cost approximately the same as a family car. Fortunately, Casual are not as casual as their name. The lead singer is a deceptively reserved individual in a neat shirt 'n' tie combo. 'We are honoured to play at tea time', he remarks by way of introduction, and then the band kick off. Casual are, essentially, a gothic rock band, but as the set progresses they become distinctly less gothic rock and, encouragingly, far more crazy. The music tends towards fairly standard-issue gothisms at first, but gradually the energy levels rack up from song to song until it's all fairly rattling along. The vocalist in particular slowly but surely transforms into a rock 'n' roll wild man. To begin with, he's crooning at the crowd, all just-so poses and swept-back hair, then, little by little, his poses become more extravagant, his vocals become more intense, until eventually he's turning somersaults on stage in a freak-out frenzy, as the band rumbles and churns around him. It's a fine display of showmanship, all the better for being so unexpected - you'd never guess, when the band first appear, that they're going to get so manic. But it is a show, there's no doubt about that. Even amid his most crazed antics, the vocalist always remains entirely in control. From time to time he breaks off from his freaking to make fine adjustments to an array of electronic gear neatly stacked up near the vocal mic position. Quite what this is all about is a mystery - there's certainly no discernable difference to the sound, no matter how earnestly he twiddles his knobs - but it's interesting to watch him instantly drop the rock 'n' roll madman schtick just long enough to fix his equipment, then instantly switch the madness back on. In the end, Casual transcend their name, and the audience responds by giving them an enthusiastic ovation. Even if it is only tea time.
And now, those good ol' boys of rock 'n' roll, The Vincent Razorbacks. With this bunch, you know what you're in for right from the start. Rollicking good-time rock 'n' roll is the name of the game. In their heads, I'm sure the band think they're playing a hot rod show somewhere like Fresno, California. Well, we might actually be round the back of Spitalfields Market in Commercial Street, London E1, but they almost manage to convince us. Frontman Vince Ray, an amiable rock geezer in shades, barrels out the songs with an easy-going demeanour while, alongside him, his guitarist does a fine job of contributing backing vocals without taking the roll-up out of his mouth. The songs, based as they are on familiar vintage rock stylings, are instantly accessible - even the cover of the Osmonds' 'Crazy Horses' sounds like it could be an old Little Richard number. The final tune leaves everyone grinning. The band keep a bluesy riff recirculating while Vince 'n' the lads exchange some ad-libbed quips, mostly, it seems, relating to where they've been putting their dicks recently. It must be said that The Vincent Razorbacks are not about pushing boundaries or exploring new musical territories. This is a combo which is in no danger of falling over the cutting edge. But that's OK, because the band never made any claims to such stuff in the first place. They set out their stall, and they tout their wares with straightforward good humour. Behind those impenetrable rocker shades, Vince Ray is winking.
The Other look like they've been dunked head-first in a bucket of Halloween make-up, and they sound like they've been locked in a darkened room for several years with only a Misfits album for company. Yes, folks, we are in the horror punk zone here, that strange musical area where the bands dress up like extras from a very cheap splatter movie and the principal musical idea (no, wait, make that the only musical idea) is to play fast, but curiously smooth and unthreatening, punk rock with - an absolute requirement, this - choruses that go 'Woah-oh-wooooah-oh!' Sure enough, The Other stick closely to the blueprint, to the point where it's frankly not really necessary to pay attention to the entire performance. After the first three songs or so, it's clear that the band aren't going to do anything different. It's standard-issue horror punk-isms all the way. Perhaps that's why the set features an interlude in which the drummer - worry lines painted on his forehead, as if he's nursing a secret fear - comes out from behind the kit and distributes candy eyeballs, pickled in sickly-sweet alcohol, to the crowd. It's a bit of theatre, deliberately inserted to break up what would otherwise be an utterly homogeneous parade of the same old sounds. Certainly, a substantial chunk of the audience seems to like what The Other do, but it all gets rather dull for me. Definitely a head-for-the-bar band in my view, I fear.
Flapping about in overlong sleeves like a one-man wardrobe disaster, Mary O, frontman and lead carnival-barker with The Last Days of Jesus, appears in before us, doing his customary bug eyed loop-the-loop dance. I'm pleased to report that the band, always more of a travelling medicine show than a rock outfit, are just as baffling and barmy as ever. I've become familiar with Last Days Of Jesus songs such as 'Guns 'n' Fun' and 'Connected Or Infected', both of which crop up in the present set, but I still can't tell you what they're about. That's all part of the charm, of course - that bizarre other-worldliness which seems to be a natural part of the band's anatomy. Mary O reels around the stage as if attempting human powered flight, while his colleagues maintain a (relatively) sensible demeanour and keep the music - angular, fractured, battering avant-rock - surging forward like a mad tide. If you didn't know that The Last Days Of Jesus came from Bratislava, you'd surely be able to hazard a guess. There's something about this band that is a world away from the usual Anglo-American angle on rock music. As such, they're refreshing at this event, which is predominantly populated by just such bands. But then, I think The Last Days Of Jesus would probably stick out like a naggingly odd sore thumb in any company.
It's probably fair to say that Bring Out Your Dead is a one-off special performance as far as most of the bands on the bill are concerned - but not for Devilish Presley. For Jacqui and Johnny, this is just one gig of a 20-date tour which, by the time it's finally over, will have taken them from Belgium to Brixton, Dublin to Dudley, and to Germany twice - an impressive itinerary, and exactly the sort of touring that I've heard too many faint hearted underachiever-bands insist just can't be done these days. Devilish Presley have a new album - Memphisto - to kick around, and a set which exhibits all their trademark traits of gonzoid rock 'n' roll riffs and between-song jokes, banter and vituperation. New album notwithstanding, there are still plenty of old favourites in the set - 'Levi's Dog' jumps up to bite us early on, and 'Black Leather Jesus' is in there, too, although now demoted from its former position as the grand finale track. New songs shoulder their way in, such as 'Black Glitter' - not, it would seem, a tribute to the fallen glam-rock hero, who now seems to have dug himself into an even deeper hole, but an appropriate ditty even so. And then there's 'Robert Johnson', roaring like an entire pack of hellhounds, and Jacqui Vixen hollering fit to be heard accross Texas on 'Billy Rattlestick'. Somewhat frazzled by their tour schedule they may be, but the Devilish Presley rockin' experience still hits the spot like a slug of moonshine in your gut.
These days, Bloody Dead And Sexy are scrabbling up to stardom level in Germany, but in the UK they're still an unknown quantity. This means that their appearance tonight is something of a make or break show for the band. Turn in a good one, and they'll have well and truly dropped their calling card on the mat. On the other hand, if it all goes horribly wrong it'll be goodnight Vienna. Weirdly, the band appear before us in a slightly rearranged incarnation: their drummer is playing guitar, and on drums, returning to London only five minutes after he came through with The Last Dance, we have Stevyn Grey. I can't fathom the reason for this odd switch-about - maybe someone had a premonition of a bizarre gardening accident, or something. The band cranks up 'A Friend In Mescalin' and - yes, it hits the spot. The dry, almost offhand vocals compliment the precise, mannered post-punkisms of the music perfectly. Bloody Dead And Sexy don't venture quite so far into the dark heart of Europe as The Last Days Of Jesus, but nevertheless the band does have a very European sound. That vocal style - at once phlegmatic and acerbic - sits amid the bump 'n' grind of the music with neat exactitude, and from the way the crowd presses forward it would appear that the essential calling card/mat interface has indeed been achieved. But time is also pressing, and the band are forced to chop the last few songs out of the set to make room for the big finish - a version of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', with members of every other band at Bring Out Your Dead on stage to shout along. It's obviously intended as a fun finale, but personally I'm rather fed up with hearing that hoary old tune trotted out whenever anyone wants a no-brainer encore song. So, I retire gracefully to the bar until the set is entirely over. But aside from that rather unnecessary finish, that was a fine set. Let's hope Bloody Dead And Sexy hit the UK again before too long.
Suddenly, a strange man leaps on stage to give us an impromptu stand-up routine. Actually, on close inspection, it's Cavey Nik, promoter of the event and London's all-round man who makes deathrock happen. He dishes out credits and thank-yous, and introduces the final band - the mighty Psycho Charger. Now, I'd seen this bunch do their stuff in New York just a few weeks previously, so I know what to expect. Most of the London audience, however, have no idea. So, three near-naked crazies walk out on stage, wearing nothing but underpants and some glutinous red substance which looks disturbingly like that weirdly squishy jam you get in the middle of doughnuts - and you can practically hear the entire audience cry out in unison, 'What the fuck?' But don't let the whacked-out appearance of the band fool you. While Psycho Charger might look like the aftermath of a road accident, they have a decidedly no-nonsense sound nailed down. Close your eyes to shut out the visuals, and their stripped to the bone boogie works well by itself. They're a stock-car version of ZZ Top, keeping everything rivetted to the killer riffs, the drums an economical kick-and-snare rattle behind the guitar-led jitterbug. Samples and electronic fragments are fed into the fray, keeping it all contemporary and ensuring that we never slip into the retro zone. All of which would work fine by itself, but if we cautiously open our eyes, and discover that all this is being delivered by three lunatics who seem to have come fresh from a strip poker game at the local meat packing factory - well, I think it's fair to say that Psycho Charger are definitely a unique experience. As the set unfolds, any lingering connections with rock 'n' roll as the normal world knows it drain away, as the band's blood-soaked alter egos take over. The guitarist wedges his instrument into his Y-fronts (I am irresistably reminded of Felix And His Amazing Underpants, from the pages of Viz) while the bassist engages in a bit of back-door action with the Dead And Buried shop window mannequins. They end up on the floor, writhing around in a mess which I'm sure is going to give the venue cleaners a few headaches later on. And throughout all this, the riffin' never stops. Psycho Charger are a cartoon come to life, three rock 'n' roll Fritz The Cats running riot in a butcher's shop, and yet you can take them entirely seriously as purveyors of down-home rock and they'll work on that level - even as the blood trickles into the underpants and the stage becomes a crimson skating rink. Like I said up there, London has seen many marvels in its near-two thousand year history, but not only is this gig a new departure for our long-suffering rock 'n' roll circuit, I shouldn't think the dear old place has seen anything like Psycho Charger since the Romans stopped holding orgies.
For more photos from Bring Out Your Dead, find the bands by name here.