(with Lene Lovich)
Well, this makes a change from London's usual rock 'n' roll holes. Tonight I'm propping up the bar at the Cafe de Paris, a very old-established London nite spot where, in the 1920s, flappers and spivs would sport themselves to thumping trad jazz.
Over the years, glamourous stars-o-yesteryear such as Marlene Deitrich, Noel Coward, and Liberace have performed at this venue. I like to think the aforementioned stars, showbiz troupers all, would appreciate tonight's entertainment - although I suspect they would keep their earplugs fimly screwed in. Because tonight the dear old Caff (as we flappers and spivs like to call it) hosts the dark forces of loud guitars, as played by splendidly crazed Italian metal divas Mab.
And that's something out of the ordinary, too. Me, at a metal gig? I don't do metal. But tonight, as Mab's special guest, Lene Lovich will be taking the stage for a couple of songs, and that's enough to haul me into the metal zone. Not that Mab are your average metal outfit, mind. They're an all-female band, still a rare thing in metal circles. They dress like Miss Havisham's bridesmaids - an image far from the usual metal-band look. Why, there's not a pair of New Rocks in sight.
Their publicity photos invariably depict the band about to murder each other, or show them in cold storage after the fact, imagery usually associated with zombie-obsessed horror-punks. In short, Mab do their own thing, and to hell with the generic rules of rock. Given that metal - of all contemporary music genres - is hedged about with more rules and conventions than most, to find a band in this area who unequivocally do it their way is a rare thing.
What Mab also do is kick up a huge rock noise, a maelstrom of duelling guitars and monster riffs. They rumble like trains, they roar like avalanches. They make Black Sabbath sound like the twittering of little birds. They make Big Black sound small and grey. For all their metallic modus operandi, Mab have been necking enough of the punk rock pills to give their music an edge, and they never stray into overblown Spinal Tap-isms. Everything is kept tight and ruthlessly focused - the songs are fired off like bullets from a sniper's rifle, and those riffs are coming straight for your head.
And yet Mab do all this while maintaining a poise of easygoing amiability: lead vocalist Psycho Jeremy (who appears infinitely more sane than her name) addresses good-humoured remarks to the crowd between songs, before transforming herself into a rock diva of the apocalypse as soon as the riffs kick in. She sings in an operatic howl fit to strip the paint from the ceiling at La Scala, but if any singer can match her it's got to be Lene Lovich.
Lene takes the stage in widow's weeds, the senior sorceress at the witches' graduation party. Without ceremony, the band pitches in to 'Adrenalina' - a song originally by Giuini Russo, a name that might not mean much in the UK, but in Italy she apparently enjoys a status akin to Shirley Bassey. I dare say the original didn't sound like this, mind: in the hands of Mab, it becomes a towering, bug-eyed anthem, faster than dragsters and as punk as fuck.
Lene Lovich leads from the front, her voice pushing the chorus so forcefully out there you can practically see the chandeliers hanging from theCafe de Paris ceiling twitch nervously as the soundwaves strike.
Then it's straight into 'Astrophel', a Mab/Lovich original in which deceptively mild-mannered opening leads into a fearsome bout of rampant riffing. It's downright scary, but everyone on stage handles the song with the confidence of lion tamers who just how to get the big cat purring.
a splendid performance, more so because it's obvious that the band are
so utterly on top of their art. Catching a band like Mab in full flight
makes me realise how many other bands I've seen who are...well, just getting
away with it, basically. And, as the remnants of the final riff tumble
to the floor, I realise something else: I've just had a fine old time
at a metal gig. But - I don't do metal!