This, I suppose, must be what they're calling alternative rock. Tonight's three bands are all no strangers to loud - and, indeed, at times downright metallic - guitars, but none of them are quite heavy metal in the sense that, say, a Trivium fan would identify it. For this, I am suitably grateful. Because I don't do metal. But I do do rock. So let's get a beer, get down the front, and do it.
It's been the best part of a year since I last saw Lilygun. In that time they must've had an alarming series of bizarre gardening accidents, because aside from the singer, the entire band has now changed. There's a new guitarist and a new bassist, both trying to disguise a certain nervousness. On drums - it's Belle, London's very own superstar drummer, and every band's number one go-to man whenever there's a crisis in the rhythm department. As if to inject a note of continuity, the singer is wearing exactly the same clothes as she was at the last gig I saw, almost a year in the past. That's either a bizarre coincidence, or maybe she's only got one outfit. Lilygun's music hasn't changed, either. It's still a straightforward drivetime-AOR experience, a little more hesitantly delivered this time (that'll be the new member factor, I suppose) but it's still the acceptable face of rock. Smooth, competent...and bland. The singer chats pleasantly to the audience about the weather, and on the last song whips things up to a judicious frenzy - just so far, and no further. Like Lilygun's music, the applause is polite. Excitement, it must be said, fails to break out.
Mab seem to spend most of their time touring in Italy these days, where it seems they've gained quite a following, and a major record deal to boot. Here in the UK, they're still an underground phenomenon, as yet undiscovered by the unwashed masses who are buying Trivium albums so enthusiastically. That may be a slightly frustrating state of affairs from Mab's point of view - at the very least I'm sure they'd like to be headlining the Borderline tonight, rather than holding down the middle slot. But you know how it is. The nation's rock kidz need to be told what to buy, and so far nobody's told them to buy Mab.
Undaunted, Mab hurtle into their towering anthems of rock 'n' roll melodrama with their customary nonchalance. The band's ability to brew up a roiling stew of thunderous guitars, beat the sonic soup into a froth with rampant drums, top it with a Wagnerian caterwaul of vocal, while maintaining an offhand cool throughout, is a genuine delight. 'Illusion' is a riot of sound; 'Motherfucking Magic' gets cranked up to the point where it makes Black Sabbath sound like the twittering of little birds. 'Last Tango In London' is all shifting dynamics, and yet still manages to be as punk as fuck. It's as if Mab inherited the bashed-up tiara of Babes In Toyland, and now they're kicking it all over the stage. Motherfucking magic, indeed. Now, will someone please go and tell the kids?
Bathed in a pastel purple glimmer from the Borderline's interestingly feeble stage lighting (the venue has had its conventional lighting rig replaced by ultra-modern LED units, and the new technology is not an improvement over the old, to say the least) Die So Fluid are an oddly mismatched band. They're fronted by the glamourous and feisty Grog, on bass, vocals and slinky cat suit. Beside her stands the dour and downbeat figure of Drew (sorry, that's Mr Drew to the likes of us: he's officially billed with that strange blend of formal informality), on guitar and scruffy casualwear. Grog rocks it up with plenty of take-no-prisoners attitude. Drew just stands there, impassive, detached, rinsing out the riffs with session-muso indifference while looking like he'd much rather be down the pub with the lads, watching the footy. In the middle Al Fletcher, on drums, works hard in the engine room, but, as a three-piece band, it's the two people at the front who give Die So Fluid their visual identity, and the yawning gulf in image and approach between the band's two plank spankers is so marked that I just can't rid myself of the feeling that they must've sacked the stylist when the job was only half finished, or something.
Now, I know what you're going to say. Hey, man, appearances don't count. It's the music that matters, yeah? Well, leaving aside the fact that Grog's rock 'n' roll catwoman attire gives the lie to that notion (she doesn't have to dress in a slinky cat suit: the fact that she does indicates that she, at least, reckons that appearances do count) it must be said that the music doesn't grab me much, either.
Die So Fluid have set a course straight up the middle of the musical mainstream. Their post-grunge, nearly-metal rock has a professional gloss, the choruses are never less than rousing, and Grog never misses a chance to sustaaaaaaaiiiiiin all the notes she can for as long as she can, as if the Rock Vocalists' Handbook has instructed her that this is how you prove that you're a 'belter'. It's all done with commendable ability, and it's all, ultimately, entirely conventional.
I dare say Die So Fluid's conventionality will prove no barrier to success - after all, the music biz always has room for one more orthodox rock band. But I'm looking for that indefinable quality of out there-ness - the sort of thing that Mab conjure from the ether without even trying - and Die So Fluid don't do it for me. They're nice, but normal. Not bad, but no surprises. In the end, Die So Fluid don't quite manage to live up to their singer's image. They're too much scruffy casualwear and not enough cat suit.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.