London's rockers have certainly crawled out of the woodwork tonight. Look at the crowd: the guys all look like they've come fresh from an audition to join the New York Dolls, the girls are wearling killer smiles and killer heels. The bar is doing big business in Mr Jack Daniel's refreshing grain-based concoction, and there's so much sleaze in the atmosphere the Underworld management will have to fumigate the place when the gig is over. Yes, something tells me tonight's gig is going to rock. And that's as in RAWK, y'all dig?
The Skintight Jaguars have a name that sounds like a fetish club's fancy dress night, and a big blasting sound that doesn't mess about on its journey from the speakers to the human brain. They come on like a bunch of Motorhead heads, keeping the songs pounding out like a well-drilled artillery barrage, pow, pow, pow. In a sense, this opening slot, in front of a sparse audience, with most of the rockers still hanging about at the bar, isn't really the band's natural habitat: they need a packed crowd of sweaty denim 'n' leather merchants for their music to really make an impact. There are moments where the band seem a little nonplussed, the singer leaning on the mic between songs and gazing out beyond the monitors as if searching for the big reaction that doesn't quite come. The songs are tailored to get a moshpit rockin', and in the absence of a moshpit, the band's big bad rock concept falters a little. But for all that, the Skintight Jaguars make a suitably boisterous racket. I'll raise a glass of Jack Daniels to that.
It's American independence day today, which presumably explains why the lead singer of The Priscillas is costumed as Wonder Woman, and arrives on stage bearing the stars and stripes...and fireworlks. Then again, perhaps she always dresses like that. But notwithstanding their American singer, the Priscillas are more in the tradition of vintage British rock 'n' roll girls - think biker molls hanging out at the Ace Cafe with all the ton-up boys, teddygirls with flick knives in their handbags and guitar riffs in their hearts, garage punk prima donnas with bad attitudes and bright lipstick.
And they sound just like they look. Brash and punchy, rattling out a lo-fi garage groove that has more to do with souped-up Ford Zodiacs in lock-ups in Muswell Hill than T-birds on California freeways, they rattle into their set with an animated glee. They kick up a sound that's somewhere between The Shirelles and Siouxsie, The Crystals and The Cramps. A certain pop sensibility fences with an inner force that's entirely punk rock. The guitarist, a rock 'n' roll Marilyn wearing a Gibson SG as casually as if it's a handbag, chops out licks as gritty as sandpaper; the bass and drums tumble over each other as if life begins at the hop. The Priscillas rock it up like they're having a party, but that serrated edge to their music which means you're never in any danger of mistaking them for a mere good-time band. They manage the retro-versus-contemporary thing with a natural flair, and I'm a fan within three songs.
Hammering at a bright orange organ, tattoos on fire, giving it the full Iggy Pop, the Lords Of Altamont's frontman dominates the stage as if he might just rip it up and take it home with him. Radiating energy like an electric fire, he lurches and lunges to and fro, tilting his keyboard at crazy angles while a veritable storm of rock 'n' roll breaks out around him. The Lords Of Altamont, as you might guess from their name, deal in fuck-you Hell's Angels biker blues, a sound they appear to have created by stoking their furnace with old Stooges and MC5 albums, and then turning it all up to the notch on the dial marked 'Burn, baby, burn'.
If all this sounds a bit retro - well, I suppose it is. The Lords Of Altamont sound is as vintage as valve amps, as rough as gravel burns, and as loud and uncompromising as a Triumph Bonneville with a busted silencer. Sure, it doesn't have much to do with the twenty-first century, but it's a fine commotion. The band slams into song after song, keeping up the pace and certainly never venturing into dreaded ballad territory. Most of the set is a non-stop barrage of deafening garage anthems (and somehow you just know that the Lords Of Altamont's garage contains the dismembered remains of several crashed motorbikes), but there's an interlude of pure rock theatre as the Lords crank up a long, loping groove, and keep it coming while the singer dismantles the drum kit, and moves it, drum by drum, to the very front of the stage. While this is happening, the drummer, naturally, never drops a beat, even when he's having to follow his snare as it's dragged away from him. Crazy stunt, crazy band. And what a splendid set of pure, distilled rock - the sonic equivalent of Uncle Jesse's moonshine. Rough stuff, but it gets you there.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.