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Lene Lovich
Parka
Rapid Fiction
Metro Club, London
Monday April 3 2006

Maybe I've been missing out here, but the recent comeback of Lene Lovich caught me entirely by suprise. Perhaps she's had a successful ongoing career, and I've somehow overlooked it all, but I was under the vague impression that she'd retired years ago. But not so: she's back, with a new album and a flurry of gigs, and that's a fine thing in my book. Lene Lovich always was one of post-Rapid Fictionpunk's true mavericks, and I'm very happy to discover that she's steering her unique musical course into the 21st century. And that's why I'm here, in the murky W1 cellar that is the Metro club, to witness Lene do her thing in front of an encouragingly varied audience that encompasses everyone from teenage post-post-punkers to veterans of the early years.

Two support bands are bundled on stage to warm us up. Rapid Fiction do a kind of high-drama indie thing, the singer swooping and gesticulating around the stage like he's had a hefty dose of Morrissey medicine. His stagey intensity strikes a rather jarring note with his fellow band-members, all of whom cleave to the 'just stand there' school of performance. The nearest thing we get to crowd-pleasing antics from the band is when the keyboard player tilts his instrument forward, as if to show it off. It's as if he's saying, 'Hey everybody - look what I got for Christmas!' But although the visual presentation might be a little awkward, the band brew up a swirling sound that fits the singer's angsty delivery, and in the end I find myself feeling quite well disposed towards Rapid Fiction. Not bad, lads. Not bad at all.

ParkaParka look like a bunch of extras from Trainspotting. They're down from Scotland to gig up a storm, and they've got bags of enthusiasm and some 100mph choppy funk guitar riffs to hurl at us. I find myself wondering if they're influenced by any of those 'sound of young Scotland' types of the early 80s - those bands who took the energy of punk and mashed it with funk/soul influences to make a new kind of pop music, half Motown, half Mclaren. Parka seethe like baking soda and rattle speedily through their songs, each one a full-tilt assault on the glittering towers of pop. At one point, the guitarist - amiable and wisecracking throughout - leaps from the stage and executes a neat somersault at the feet of the audience - and he keeps playing. That's a new stunt on me. Gleefully frantic, Parka come across like a shaken-up can of Irn Bru.

Lene LovichUp on the makeshift stage, mere inches from the noses of the crowd, Lene Lovich is unexpectedly small and delightfully kooky. Wearing a head-dress which appears to be made of orange plastic construction barriers, and accompanied by long-term musical (and life) partner Les Chappell, she's confident and chirpy, an eccentric school teacher whom the Head, somewhat against his better judgement, has permitted to conduct morning assembly. Without a full band, the sound is perforce somewhat minimalist. Just guitar or keyboards, and Lene's voice. But then, Lene Lovich posesses a voice so varied, so wayward, so everywhere-at-once in its shrieks and whoops and cackles, that she fills all the space where a band would normally be just by stepping up to the microphone and letting it go.

It would, of course, have been an easy option to perform a golden oldies set tonight, but Lene Lovich doesn't do easy options. There's a new album on release, and much of the set is new material. Athough the new songs are unfamiliar to most of the audience, everything has the essential instant-connection quality that sets the crowd grinning delightedly and bopping like elves. Of the newies, 'The Insect Eaters' is an immediate hit, a crazed gypsy dance with gloriously ludicrous lyrics: 'Earwigs in my fridge at midnight puts me in a dancing mood!' It says much for Lene Lovich's commanding presence as a performer that she can deliver such stuff with effortless conviction, even as she hams it up, bug-eyed and grinning, and the crowd willingly goes along with her.

But there are, of course, a few classics in the set too, all sounding as fresh as if they'd been harvested from the kitchen garden this very morning. 'Birdsong', with its chirps and trills, is delightful; 'Home' strikes a note of austere defiance. The grand finale, as I'm sure everyone knew it would be, is 'Lucky Number', probably the Lene Lovichoddedst song ever to get into the charts, and still a splendidly off-kilter anthem to this day. Tonight, in its guitar-and-voice version, the song features some rather disconcerting pauses where the arrangement seems to allow gaps for the non-existent bass and drums to come in. Without such instruments to hand, at certain moments it all goes uncannily quiet while both Lene and Les Chappell more or less stand there and listen to the band inside their heads. Most odd. Still, if anyone can get away with such strangeness, it's Lene Lovich.

Essential Links:

Lene Lovich: Website | Myspace

Parka: Website | Myspace

Rapid Fiction: Website | Myspace

for m ore photos from this gig, find the bands ny name here.

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