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London After MidnightLondon after Midnight
AlterRed
Night By Night
Monument

Islington Academy, London
Saturday October 25 2008

 

'Club De Fromage' says the sign outside the venue, rather confusingly. This is a club that kicks off later, not anything to do with tonight's live bands. But further down, we see the disconcerting words 'Live Gloom'. Is this a reference to London After Midnight's music?

They're still regarded as stars of the goth scene in the UK, but more than a decade has passed since London After Midnight last played in London. Their previous London show was way back in 1996, and since then many things have changed. London After Midnight's vocalist and all-round mainspring Sean Brennan has assembled an entirely new line-up of musicians, released a distinctly industrial flavoured album, and pushed the political side of his band very much to the fore. All of which means that old goths should beware: the LAM we're about to see tonight is not quite the LAM some might recall from yesteryear.

First time around, London After Midnight tended to be regarded as a kind of quintessential Californian glam-goth band, and as such sparked quite a bit of interest within the UK goth scene of the time. London After Midnight seemed so much more exotic than our own home-grown contenders.

These days, I'm not sure how LAM are regarded in the UK. They've been absent for so long I couldn't even begin to guess at what sort of fanbase they have in the here and now, or whether the new, more industrial, harder, version of LAM has attracted a new crowd of rivethead rockers. However, glancing around the venue as the audience trickles in, I'm interested to note a fair number of younger people who, I suspect, were mere infants when the band last passed through. Have LAM spanned a generation as well as spanning the genres? Tonight, maybe, we'll find out.

But first, the supporting features. Monument, I'm told, are a side project band involving certain members of The Faces Of Sarah. I can't be sure what the intention behind the project might be, since Monument both look pretty much the same as The Faces Of Sarah (a buch of scruffy rock blokes, basically) and they sound pretty much like The Faces Of Sarah, too.

Atmospheric rock anthems are the order of the day, with Faces Of Sarah vocalist Nick Schultz demonstrating his best melodramatic holler, and, not incidentally, his winning way with microphone technique. All of which is well and good, but we can get all this stuff from The Faces Of Sarah themselves. Frankly, Monument seem to be nothing more than a rebranding exercise. Maybe the intention is to make things a bit more ethereal; a bit less full-oNight By Nightn and rocky.

But it's a fine distinction, and by the end of a set of rather underwhelming grungy power ballads I'm left wondering what, exactly, the point might be.

The point of Night By Night, it would appear, is to be a boy scout version of Bon Jovi. Night By Night's songs are scaled-down stadium anthems; soft rock workouts precision engineered to incorporate surging harmonies and punch-the-air choruses.

All members of the band seem to positively glow with fresh-faced youthfulness, as if they'd just been awarded their Rock Band badges at the scout jamboree. Frontman Ben Christo - who also does duty as the current guitarist in the Sisters Of Mercy, for whatever that's worth - has a grin so cheerily disarming that he almost looks like he's just stepped out of an Enid Blyton story (Five Go To The Enormodome, anybody?).

I suppose, from a youngster's perspective, the lush, wallowing sound of stadium AOR might sound thrillingly visceral, but for me it's a bit like the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a nice, sensible family car. Night By Night are a musical Ford Mondeo; blandly competent at what they do, but not something that could ever inspire excitement. No matter how enthusiastically the band might rev its rock 'n' roll engine, we know that they're riding on soft suspension, comfortably surrounded by plush uplolstery and squashy air bags to ensure that everything stays nice and safe.

Tellingly, the impromptu interludes in which the bassist and drummer improvise rhythmic workouts to cover Ben Christo's emergency guitar strap repairs sound more interesting than the band's tiresome transatlantic enormodome tart-abouts. It's like punk never happened. For the members of Night By Night, maybe it never did.

I'm not even sure how you pronounce AlterRed, but I can tell you that this is the new band assembled by Mikey, formerley of D.U.S.T. After umpteen line-ups, incarnations, and musical tangents D.U.S. T. eventually mutated into a new band AlterRedentirely, and this is it: an electro-organic hybrid that seems to inhabit the crossover zone where Combichrist and IAMX meet.

Or, rather, don't meet, for you wouldn't normally expect to see those two names in the same sentence. But AlterRed have found fertile musical territory in what most might suppose to be a bomb-scarred no man's land between bangin' dance anthems and theatrical rock 'n' roll.

Here they come, lurching onto the stage as if they've been at the firewater in the back room: yes, there's certainly a touch of theatre to the AlterRed show, and that's no mean achievenent given that Mikey himself carries the visuals, while his musical colleagues remain stationed behind electronics and bass guitar.

He's a puckish figure in smudged make-up, gesticulating hugely and pushing his vocals out over the monitors while the beat churns and pumps. The sound mix tends to squash the detail out of the songs, so what we're getting here is probably a bit more of a full-on beatfest than would ideally be the case. In fact, it's the first song, the carnival ballad 'Emily', that works best in some ways - the sparse, sway-and-stomp arrangement cuts through the sonic murk rather well. Perhaps significantly, although it has no thumping disco beat, 'Emily' does feature a piano motif interestingly similar to 'President' by IAMX, and here perhaps AlterRed drop us a clue to their point of origin. Theatrics on the dancefloor - it's a crazy idea, but it might just work.

A large video screen unfurls. The London After Midnight show is a multi-media extravaganza these days. But the band don't just use the screen to display their own graphics and images: they've assembled a nightmare newsreel in which the ills of the world are displayed, complete with statistics and alarming facts. London After Midnight do not espouse any particular political party. They aren't in the business of telling us to vote for anybody. But they certainly want to make sure we know what we're voting for.

London After MidnightFor all that, the band are still as glam as all get-out, and Sean Brennan himself is still the very model of a modern glam rock star, even if he cuts an incongruously downbeat and introspective figure between the shape-throwing swaggers of the guitarist and bassist.

He keeps his head down, his face half hidden by curtains of hair. When not attending to his guitar, he tends to clutch the microphone stand, both hands in front of him in an oddly defensive stance. It's curious in a way: on stage, Sean is hardly the extrovert, edgy glam star some might assume him to be from the slick online publicity effort that surrounds LAM's every move.

While I'd prefer him to lead from the front, claiming the limelight as the undisputed master of ceremonies, it seems he's content to be the eye of the storm as his bassist and guitarist rock it up on either side of him.

And yes, 'rock it up' is the operative phrase. The toughened-up, hard-hitting, industrialised LAM sound works well as played by a full live band. My principal bugbear with the new London After Midnight album - that it was essentially made by one person sitting at a computer, and it sounds like that - is soundly trounced by tonight's full band blast.

The best of the new songs has to be 'America's A Fucking Disease' - a rampaging anthem of bile and wormwood, a guided missile aimed, if not at the heart of America, then certainly at certain other rotting organs of the band's own nation. The song neatly skewers the principal things that are bad and wrong about the USA (complete with supporting statistics reeling out on the video screen), to the point where I can't help wondering whether, one day, LAM might fly home from one of their European tours to find themselves locked out of their home country. How far can you insert the political skewer these days, before the men in dark suits and sunglasses take an interest? The Republicans may be on the way out, but nobody's repealed the Patriot Act yet.

A handful of older numbers make it into the set, including the melodramatic bump 'n' grind of 'Your Best Nightmare' (here the video screen unfurls the lyrics like captions in an old silent movie), and the slinky bass-driven groove that is 'Kiss' - a song which might have been LAM's crossover hit when it was released back in the mid 90s, if only the band had toured it to death at that time.

Down the front, the younger fans greet everything with unrestrained enthusiasm, but I see some old-skoolers at the back who are taking things far more cautiously, unsure how to greet this band that isn't quite how they remember it used to be.

When Sean instructs us to 'Watch the video' - and the musicians quit the stage, leaving Sean alone, the proprietor of a nightmare cinema - the show wobbles sightly, as the momentum dips. Although I assume the purpose of this interlude is to focus attention on the message, the old fans would, I think, London After Midnightprefer the band to simply keep the gothic rock classics coming. There are certainly some frosty glances further back in the crowd: the old-skoolers aren't going with it.

It's interesting to see this generation gap opening up, and maybe it's a function of the band's long absence from the UK. We never got to see the process of change: we simply discovered that London After Midnight have changed.

Change is no bad thing, of course, but I think there are those here tonight who rather wish it was 1996 all over again. Can London After Midnight transcend their history? They don't quite manage it this time round, but they're not out of contention, either. As long as London After Midnight don't allow another decade to pass before they hit London again, they might do it yet.

 

 

Essential Links:

London After Midnight: Website | MySpace
AlterRed: Website | MySpace
Night By Night: MySpace
Monument: 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.