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Skeletal Family
Chris Reed
Slimelight, London
Saturday March 31 2007

There's a man strumming an acoustic guitar on stage at the Slimelight, and astonishingly he's not getting bottled off by disgruntled clubbers. Perhaps that's because the man in question is Chris Reed, former frontman with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, now, apparently, embarking upon a solo career as a guitar 'n' drum machine troubadour. Well, you've got to give the man 'nuff respect, haven't you? It must be said, though, that Chris Reed's solo songs do tend to blur into a fairly formless mish-mash of strumming and murmering, without much to grab the attention or separate one number from another.

His voice, an implacable rumble amid the sturm und drang of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry's music, reduces to an indistinct mumble without the force of a full band around it, and his guitar style - essentially, strum-strum-strum-strum-strum-strum - is crying out for a punchy, nimble bassline to give it a bit of counterpoint. A few old RLYL numbers crop up towards the end of the set, although reduced to dehydrated minimal-solo versions they sound distressingly like they've had their balls cut off. I'm disappointed. I expected something with more force, more brio. I mean, sure, 'nuff respect and all, but sometimes respect ain't enough.

'We're Skeletal Family', remarks the Skels' vocalist, Claire, just in case we thought we were about to get Elias And his Zig-Zag Jive Flutes. And then, without further ceremony, the band slams into a thunderous set in which every song seems to have been stripped down like a rally car: out with the soft furnishings, in with the roll cage and turbocharger. 'Promised Land' is thrown in (you could Skeletal Familyalmost say it's thrown to the wolves) three songs in, and that tells you something about the twenty-first century incarnation of Skeletal Family. They could get by on a retro ticket, playing the oldies for the nostalgia crowd. But they're not doing that.

The band has new songs and plenty of stick-it-to-'em-in-the-here-and-now attitude. And it works: far from shouting for the old hits, the crowd slurps up the new juice and feeds greedily on that attitude. Taciturn and purposeful, the chaps in the band hunch over their instruments and keep the noise churning. For unexplained reasons, the band's usual bassist, Trotwood, is absent tonight. He's replaced by a punky-funky geezer who puts Gang Of Four-style snaps and twangs into the basslines, neat touches which helps to keep the sound taut and tough. But the show is commanded and controlled by Claire, who always maintains a certain cool distance even when she's pogoing like a good 'un, or ripping vocal lines at the crowd like tin tacks out of a blunderbuss. 'All My Best Friends' is a menacing throb, while 'Black Ju Ju' takes off into a dubbed-out interlude, all skittering reverb and effects-pedal warp-outs. It all wraps up with a romp through Devo's 'Gut Feeling', and Claire abrubtly leaves the stage. But an unexpected drumbeat starts up, and the rest of the band throw together a little coda, a mash-up of guitar and keyboards, just because they can. A bit of a stormer, that: focussed energy and controlled madness from a band who need no lessons in how to turn it on.


Essential links:

Skeletal Family: Website | MySpace
Chris Reed: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Skeletal Family by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.