Wait long enough, and even the most out-there weirdos find their niche. Tonight, absurdist art noisemakers Nurse With Wound stage a full-on concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, no less - a salubrious venue for a bunch of left fielders, to be sure. But after twenty-odd years of doing their weird thing, Nurse With Wound have built up a formidable reputation, and a formidable audience to go with it. It's a packed house tonight.
Support act Christoph Heeman turns out to be a kind of found-sound DJ. He sits behind an array of CD players, and builds up a many layered rumble from his technology. It starts with traffic noise, and it ends with traffic noise, and in between it sounds like machinery and hurricanes, ice floes cracking and electricity crackling. There's not much to look at, but I suppose that's the point. This is exclusively a sonic experience.
Nurse With Wound aren't exactly Bon Jovi, either. Arrayed behind benches, hunched and concentrating like factory workers trying to hit their quota, the band certainly won't be giving us the full showbiz treatment tonight. But there's a video screen above, which cycles through imagery of morphing bodies as the set progresses, and the venue's lighting system is deployed effectively throughout. Beyond that, it's all in the sound, electronics and percussion and bowed guitars, ebbing and flowing like the tide, as items from the extensive NWW back catalogue are deconstructed and reconstructed before our very ears.
Stapleton - the head Nurse - has always been partial to bouts of surreal
humour, and in fact this is the element that has helped Nurse With Wound
stand out from the proto-industrial crowd, most of whom were always
a pretty dour bunch. Tonight, for shits and giggles, we get an endrearingly
faithful snatch of Sheena Easton's pop classic, 'Nine To Five', gruff
and forbidding, but entirely recognisable. We get vocalisations through
a gas mask tube, human heads used as drums. And all the while the sonic
tide rises and falls around us. In a rare concession to the norms of
live performance, David Tibet comes on, barefoot and manic, and gives
us a lead vocal on 'Dead Side Of The Moon', and then again, for a pulsing,
almost danceable 'Two Shaves And A Shine'. By way of a grand finale,
the band pitch in to a full half-hour rendition of 'Salt Marie Celeste'
- the natural culmination, I suppose, of this ebb-and-flow performance,
and a fine piece of looming ambience from a band which is as much about
atmosphere as they are about chuckling up their sleeves.