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Faith & The MuseFaith And The Muse
The Eternal Fall
Dingwalls, London
Sunday November 1 2009




It's taken eleven years, but Faith And The Muse have finally made it to the other end of Camden High Street.

In 1998, when I was living my previous showbiz life, I promoted the band's first-ever London gig, just a few hundred yards down the road at the Camden Underworld. The start of great things, I assumed, since the crowd got to within a push and a shove of a sell-out. No mean feat given that the band were playing a full-scale tour in the same week, culminating at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, then at the height of its reputation as the main event in the UK for aficionados of the dark side. Normally, that kind of schedule would cut the attendance at a London gig right down, but Faith And The Muse bucked the trend and packed 'em in.

Tonight, however, it must be said that the scores on the doors are not so good. I reckon we've got about 150 in - a drastic decrease on the '98 total. That may tell you something about the UK goth scene, from which Faith And The Muse draw their audience. Reliant as they are on the scenesters to make up the numbers, the band are obviously vulnerable to any decline in the fortunes of the scene. And, ironically, as general interest in the darker side of post-punk music has grown, the goth scene itself in the UK has indeed declined.

But the show must go on, so let's have our support bands.

Apparently, The Eternal Fall come from Spain, and are usually a three-piece. Tonight they're down to a duo - a bassist, a vocalist, and a laptop. Perhaps unwittingly the band thus resemble the archetypal two-men-and-a-drum-machine variety of goth band, examples of which seemed to be everywhere in the UK back in the 90s, when goth went DIY and, perforce, the bands of the scene tended to become a bit economy-sized.

The Eternal Fall also sound pretty archetypal - their music is all Sisters-esque basslines and sepulchral, melodramatic vocals, declaimed by the singer with suitable intensity and a little help from an effects unit. Just to add to their old-school authenitcity, the bassist is even sporting a hat - hats, like drum machines, being one of the key signifiers of 90s goth.

Undeniably, The Eternal Fall are masters of their art, but it's a very generic art. They're good at what they do, but it's been done umpteen times before, by umpteen bands that sound - and look - much the same. That's surely going to limit any potential success the band might otherwise enjoy, for although they go down well tonight, not even the most diehard fans of sub-Sisters rumblings could claim that The Eternal Fall are necessary.

It seems RazorBladeKisses are also a little short-staffed. 'Our guitarist couldn't make it', says the band's bassist, who's taking care of the six-string action tonight, while the bass gets bumped onto the backing track. I supress a small but tactless cheer at this point, for I have never been a fan of the band's guitarist. Her classic rock influences, in my view, diverted RazorBladeKisses from the True Path Of New Wave Coolness and made them sound like any old rock band.

Not that sounding like any old rock band is any great disadvantage in the band's chosen field, the Elegant Gothic Lolita scene. This Japanese cult of frills and flounces has always been more about the visuals than the music, and I speak as one who has seen - and been thoroughly bored by - the top band in EGL circles, Moi Dix Mois. The basic premise in this stylistic area seems to be that as long as you're rockin' the look, the music can indeed be any old rock.

Still, tonight RazorBladeKisses sound a bit more punky and punchy, and although this might be by default rather than by design, that's not a bad result in my book. Frills and flounces are in full effect as the twin vocalists pout and pirouette like Victorian baby dolls who have escaped the nursery - one in white flounces, one in stripes and a coquettishly tilted hat. They caterwaul the lyrics in assertively petulant wails, while the guitar chops up riffs for the nursery tea.

It all works well enough, especially for EGL fans in tonight's crowd, for whom RazorBladeKisses hit all the right visual buttons. But for anyone who is not steeped in the ways of Japanese Lolita fashion, the band's elaborate costumes perhaps err on the side of OTT - not that there is any such concept as OTT in EGL, where more is always more. The white-flounces vocalist, trussed up as she is in a costume that's more Lily Savage than Little Lolita, looks downright awkward at times. It would be a brave man who suggested to RazorBladeKisses that they should perhaps ease up on the visuals (or at least loosen that uncomfortable-looking choker collar), since that is such a big part of what the band is all about. But elegance should surely be a subtle dance. And preferably to a new wave soundtrack, if you ask me.

After a lengthy wait, Faith And The Muse finally arrive. They're mob-handed tonight - nine people crowd the stage, an impressive feat of band-origami since the stage at Dingwalls is of the traditional postage stamp dimensions. Those nine people jointly and severally play cello, violins, basses (one conventional rock 'n' roll variety, one a bowed electric upright), guitar, rock 'n' roll drums, and Japanese Taiko drums. There are anything up to four vocals on any given song, plus outbreaks of Faith & The Musemime-like Butoh dancing, another Japanese concept the band seem to have assimilated. We're certainly in Virtual Japan tonight. Bizarrely, there's also a laptop on stage, which seems barely necessary given Faith And The Muse's extensive instrumentation and extended line-up. Perhaps they couldn't find anyone to play the nose flute.

Any nagging suspicions that Faith And The Muse have gone gratuitously overboard on the hardware and wetware are dispelled, however, as soon as they kick off. The sound is rich and full; every instrument, every performer, has a role to play in creating the show and the music. Nobody is a spare part; they all pitch in right from the start. The band are definitely putting on a performance tonight, rather than simply kocking off another a gig. They're giving it everything in spite of the fact that it surely can't have escaped their attention that they're hardly playing to a packed house.

Monica Richards, flanked by the Butoh dancers like a faery queen attended by sprites, presides over the revels with an easy grace and a controlled, powerful, vocal. Now, wait a minute: faery queen? Sprites? You're probably thinking I've gone all hippy-dippy on you now, but there's certainly a touch of the other-worldly about Faith And The Muse. Fortunately, the band is anchored to the real world by plenty of punk rock grit - and a rolling thunder of drums, which hammer everything along with real physical presence.

'Battle Hymn' is a tumbling, implacable, statement of intent; 'Bushido' a veritable riot of rhythm. 'Nine Dragons' puts a menacing drone and thrum behind the drums, while William Faith, mohawk bristling, hollers mightily on the theme of 'Fires on the distant horizon' - an incongruous image to conjure under the cold dim glow of the venue's LED stage lighting. Never mind the horizon, we could do with a few fires in here, mate, that's for sure.

Faith And The Muse's older songs have plenty of heft to survive the onslaught of the band's drum-heavy new material. 'Sredni Vashtar', always something of a punk rock wake-up call, is a real rush and a push tonight, while the swaying lilt of 'Sparks' brings things to a celebratory conclusion. It's all a lesson in how this performance thing really should be done, and not for the first time I'm left thinking that Faith And The Muse are really too good to be wasted on the goth scene. Never mind the Whitby Gothic Weekend, this is a band that should be playing Glastonbury, or even Womad.

The 150 people who made their way to Dingwalls got a real treat tonight. Now all Faith And The Muse need to do is get the rest of the world interested.



Essential links:

Faith & The Muse: Website | MySpace
: Website | MySpace
The Eternal Fall
: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.