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Julian Cope
White Hills

Koko, London
Thursday February 16 2006

Yes, folks, the Archdrude has returned, somewhat implausibly in the guise of a guitar totin' sludge-rocker, and he's got a London gig to prove it.

White HillsJulian Cope's musical career of late may have been a little erratic - increasingly, it seems to be taking second place to his new status as a kind of gentleman-amateur mystical archaeologist - but he's just released a new album, Dark Orgasm, and this time the guitars have been turned up loud. In Copey's world, big, bad, dirty guitars are, apparently, in.

With this in mind, our support band tonight has apparently been engaged with a view to softening us up for some heavy-duty rockin'. White Hills come from New York, and do a kind of heavy-psychedelic krautrock thing, rather like a jam session collaboration between Black Sabbath and Neu. Long, sinuous instrumentals are the order of the day, rhythms that unfurl like never-ending balls of string and twist like DNA. Naturally, everything is suitably heavyweight. The bass rumbles, the guitar crunches, the drums keep it all nailed to that implacable beat. Somewhere over on the far side of the stage - incongruously hidden away from the lights, as if he's not really supposed to be there - an impassive gentleman twiddles knobs, and sends electronic squeals and shivers into the mix. It's a big sound, and it works. Those rhyhms are as infectious as influenza, and you can't argue with that guitar. Eventually, some vocals arrive, and in truth they're a bit of an anticlimax - the guitarist more or less shouts over the musical swirl for a song or two - and then it's back to the instrumental grind, which is obviously where White Hills' expertise really lies. Curiously addictive stuff.

ArchdrudeShamelessly milking the applause before he's even played a note, Julian Cope has perfected the disarming swagger of the eccentric rock star. He hammily basks in the adulation of the fans, happily sending himself up - 'I'm filming everything through my third eye,' he remarks with a grin, gesturing at the hippyish badge on his military rocker cap. But you just know he's genuinely enjoying the fan-worship at the same time. Fortunately, Julian's got the tunes to justify this shameless posing. Pulling a succession of greatest hits out of his musical hat with a cheery flourish every time, he gives us a prime selection from the Cope songbook - with everything rearranged for max heaviosity and rampant guitar mangling.

Now, it must be said that giving his earlier, nimble, psychedelic pop material a heavy rock makeover is not, perhaps, the best idea Copey's ever had. Some of the older songs - 'Sunspots', 'Read It In Books', 'You Disappear From View' - almost visibly quail under the Stooges-style onslaught from ex-Spiritualized guitarist Doggen, while Julian himself administers a good duffing-up on the bass. But elsewhere it all works splendidly, especially on later songs like 'Double Vegetation', which were plenty tough enough to start with, and on the new material - which, of course, was written with maximum guitar noise in mind. 'She's Got A Ring On Her Finger (And Another One Through Her Nose' is probably the best counterblast against fundamentalist Islam that Iggy Pop never wrote. And just as we're digesting the message (while also surreptitiously screwing our earplugs in a little tighter), Julian regales us with his crazed plan to write a rock musical - title: 'A Dick In The Afterlife'.

ArchdrudeAt times, the show becomes much more of a spoken word extravaganza with musical interruptions than a straightforward rock gig. Julian is on stage for well over two hours, of which I'd estimate a good hour, in total, is spent regaling the audience with anecdotes, tall tales, surreal asides and mystical-political ranting. This is all vastly entertaining in itself, although it does mean that the show never really picks up momentum. Just as everyone's getting ready to mosh, Julian brings the proceedings to a halt once more to recount another in his endless repertoire of stories. The band vanishes offstage for a while, allowing Julian to indulge in a solo acoustic spot - 'Robert Mitchum', oddly enough one of the most obscure songs in the entire Cope oeuvre, goes down a storm here. Then the heavy stuff is cranked up once more, and we get an assult-and-battery version of 'World Shut Your Mouth', and a positively megalithic 'Zoroaster'. Julian climbs atop his custom mic stand to wave goodbye, a shaman in his element.

Well. That was an oddly erratic gig in some ways, and I doubt if a performer with less genuine charisma (and less indulgent fans) than Julian Cope could have carried it off. But the Archdrude did it again. Bizarre genius, or just bizarre? Either way, long may Copey continue.


Essential Links:

Julian Cope: Website | MySpace

White Hills: Website | MySpace

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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