The Garage, London
Wednesday May 14 2014
The four great certainties in life: war, death, taxes...and
the regular appearance of Christian
Death on the London gig circuit.
Now a good three decades on from their Astoria-headlining heyday, and with an appeal that has become decidedly more selective over the years (last time I saw them, the audience barely topped double figures), Christian Death keep on gamely plugging away, although they must be starting to wonder if the game is worth the candle by now.
But still, here we go around the mulberry bush again: Christian Death's latest London gig, interestingly enough promoted by Club.The.Mammoth, who as far as I know have never previously gone for the classic goth band market.
Perhaps that's the only way Christian Death can get a gig these days - via a promoter who's never worked with the band before, and doesn't know just how low the numbers can go.
I suspect tonight's gig will scrape into the respectable zone, numbers-wise, although that'll be largely down to the support bands, both of whom have usefully-sized fanbases.
Here come Puffer to kick things off, doing their heavy heavy groove thing in a red haze.
Puffer are an anonymous bunch - I guess intentionally so. They hide behind the lights and the smoke and their curtains of rock muso hair, while their sound stomps and grinds like a grunge Hawkwind. It's a bit like punk never happened - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But as the set wears on I confess Puffer's relentlessly one-dimensional heaviosity does rather wear me down.
Manflu are a band that probably wouldn't exist if punk hadn't happened...and if prog hadn't happened before that. They hurl elements of these supposedly at-odds genres together like a rock 'n' roll version of the Large Hadron Collider.
The results of this experiment - such as the clang and stutter of 'Cheval Surf' and the mighty, relentless 'Tek' - are highly effective exercises in cerebral killer grooves, although I do wonder how the diehard Christian Death fans at the front are taking this onslaught of precision weirdness.
I mean, notwithstanding vocalist Aza's black Pam Hogg catsuit (I'm sure Siouxsie would approve) and the band's glowering presence, this ain't no gothic rock experience.
But the Manflu barmy army
- or at least a platoon or two - is in the house, and every song clatters
to a halt amid cheers. It's a short set - just the hits. But it hits the
Never let it be said that Christian Death are afraid to bring on the hokum. Bassist Maitri sweeps on stage in a wedding dress, which is, of course, Gothic Cliche No. 475 in a steadily expanding series. Artificial flowers are strapped to the mic stands - I think that's Gothic Cliche No. 297, although I don't have the handbook to hand. It's definitely in there, though. Before we even start, Christian Death look like a Youth TV producer's idea of a goth band.
Fortunately, Christian Death have material stong enough to transcend the clunky visuals. Tonight's set majors on their 1984 album Catastrophe Ballet, although of the three people on stage only guitarist Valor was in the line-up that made it.
Still, the modern three-piece Christian Death lends the vintage songs a raw, stripped-down feel that does actually work.
'The Drowning' is dominated by some extravagant drums, 'Cervix Couch' is a sepulchral rumble - again, punctuated by some heavy-duty drumming. Jason Frantz, Christian Death's current drummer, is clearly intent on stamping his presence on the songs.
'This Glass House' barrels along, thunderous
and punky, and I find myself wishing the band would just keep hammering
at the songs like that - loud and unpretentious and not too subtle. It
But the hokum gets in the way. We get costume changes - three outfits for Maitri, two for the boys - which adds another layer of cheesiness to the Christian Death fondue, and, not incidentally, breaks up the flow of the show.
What's more, as the set progresses it's apparent that
Valor isn't entirely in the moment. Head down, squinting at his guitar,
he's a semi-detached presence, leaving it up to Maitri to carry the show
- which she does with much rocking out, and more than a few pointed glances
over to Valor, who she clearly feels isn't pulling his weight tonight.
It's an odd feeling, watching a band going off the pace before your very eyes, but Christian Death are steadily losing ground tonight. The songs fall flat. Valor seems subdued, getting through it but not really going for it. Eventually he explains that the band has only had one hour's rehearsal, he's over-indulged on the rock 'n' roll refreshments, technical problems have occurred, and - well, what with one thing and another, it's all gone a bit pear shaped.
Um, yes. We'd noticed.
Valor's candour is refreshing, but it's a bit late to save the show. 'Narcissus Metamorphosis', usually a good old rifferama stomper, is given an underwhelming run-out, a monster with its teeth pulled.
A swift blat through 'You Can't Give It Back', with Maitri on vocals, brings a welcome blast of attitude, and 'This Is Heresy' is an effective mutant-blues grind, again largely due to Maitri's vamping on the bass.
But the big finish, 'Church Of No Return' has a fraction of the impact it should have, with Valor, squinting at his guitar strings throughout, cutting an incogruously marginal figure in his own band.
I can't help feeling that Christian Death would be a much better band if
Maitri became the full-time front person - it's her contributions tonight that
have clawed the gig back from a rather ignominious fall-apart. Or maybe it's
just about time to put Christian Death back in its box and move on to something
I'm not taking bets that'll happen, mind. Keep watching the gig guides. They'll be back.
For more photos from this gig, find Christian Death by name here.