Under a railway arch in Lambeth, something stirs. This unlikely location is the home of Corsica Studios, purveyors of art to - well, I won't say the masses; they're all sitting at home watching TV. But the venue is sold out tonight. It's packed out with punks, post-punks, post-post-punks, future-punks and never-were-punks. Videos flicker in the back room, and I've just bumped into Jim Thirlwell at the bar. It's turning into my kind of night already, and we haven't even brought on the bands yet.
So, let's bring 'em on. An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump have made quite a name for themselves among the wave-heads of Shoreditch, and other denizens of London's East End subcultural swirl. Even that barely-relevant music biz promotional pamphlet, the NME, has winched its head sufficiently far out of the industry's arse to pay attention. But there are still new worlds to conquer. Tonight's crowd of art-punkers and alternotypes seem largely unfamiliar with the band. The Birds troop impassively on, and crank up their tribal turbulence. I see expressions of bemusement in the crowd, as the penny drops that we're not in the usual rock 'n' roll zone here. This is swiftly followed by a ripple of appreciation, as the other penny drops - that this band is good.
Switching roles, switching instruments, all three Birds alight on bass, other bass, drums and vocals as the set progresses. There's a sense of flux and fluidity as the band rings the changes, even as the bass sound drills its way into the floorboards and the drumbeats hammer off the railway arch like someone's hijacked a military tattoo. But although the rhythms are implacable and the bass never gets out of your face, it's the vocals that shoulder their way to the front of the sound: this is what New York no wave would have sounded like if everyone had been secretly listening to Aretha Franklin alongside PiL.
As the set concludes, in a flurry of reverberation off 19th century railway brickwork, the man next to me asks, impressed, 'What's the name of this band?' It takes four attempts to enunciate the name into his ear, and even then I'm not sure if he gets it. But I suspect he'll have no trouble recalling the racket.
The pre-gig blurb billed Lydia Lunch's performance tonight as the last-ever gig by her seventies noisenik outfit, Teenage Jesus And The Jerks - and the first of her new band, Big Sexy Noise. In fact, the distinction between the two bands is a little academic, not to mention decidedly on the fuzzy side. It's all the same bunch of musicians, who chop and change roles on stage as the band-identity shifts, mid-gig.
One thing that doesn't change is the presence of Lydia Lunch herself, who is centre stage throughout. She's a don't-mess mistress of ceremonies, exuding a fuck-you force field that's almost tangible. I sometimes wonder how much of Lydia's prickly persona is assumed for performance purposes, and how much actually goes backstage with her after the show - but she certainly commands attention with no more than a baleful glance at the audience and a winning way with a bottleneck guitar.
Setting up a grinding, pulverizing pandemonium, the band scrapes out a heady bedlam, Lydia's sardonic vocal topping it all like rust on steel. 'Orphans' is as thrillingly nihilistic as ever - and I suspect only Lydia Lunch could get away with delivering lines like 'In the blood, in the blood, in the blood' with such offhand aspersion. As the band shifts into its Big Sexy Noise identity things get down and bluesey, with Terry Edwards giving it some keyboard colour - it's as if the Bad Seeds got really bad. 'Another Man Comin'' is a classic Lydia Lunch put-down song - 'No more kisses, I can't stand the taste' - while on 'Your Love Don't Pay My Rent' she punctuates the lyric by giving the audience the finger. The audience, naturally, loves it. Even when, as it all scrapes and clatters to a close, Lydia snarls, 'Don't ask for more, 'cause you're not getting it,' her words are greeted with cheers.
In a way, Lydia Lunch's abrasive persona has become so well-known and welcomed now that I suspectthe only way she could really upset her fans would be to be polite and accommodating - and play a five-song encore. Everyone expects - wants - Lydia Lunch to be the acrimonious mistress of snark, and I wonder if that amiable acceptance of her abrasive style means that her bite doesn't sting as hard now as it used to.
Well, maybe. But this much is true: as a purveyor of sonically assertive and lyrically pointed ripped-up rock 'n' roll hullabaloo, you still can't beat a bit of Lydia.