Never let it be said that I'm not a man of my word. Last time I caught Theatres Des Vampires on stage, I found myself unexpectedly impressed with their rampaging, glammed-up vamp-rock. I'd gone in to the gig expecting to chuckle heartily at the naff antics of gormless heavy metal thespians. To my surprise I came out thinking, hmmm. That was actually rather good. Wouldn't mind catching the band again, I thought. So, here I am, in the grubby post-apocalyptic surroundings of the Slimelight, doing just that.
It's a four band extravaganza tonight, and the first of the four appears before us now. A bunch of downbeat muso blokes clomp out some solid, bluesy rockin', while, on vocals, a nice lady in a minimal rubber outfit injects some personality into the proceedings. These are The Courtesans, and the nice lady in minimal rubber is horror movie star Eileen Daly, who alternates between sassy confidence and endearing self-consciousness as she stands before the crowd in tall heels and a short skirt. 'I hope this dress doesn't ride up,' she mutters, much to the distress of every male member of the audience, who are all hoping it'll do exactly that.
The Courtesans (or is the band called Courtesan? Nobody seems to know) are a fairly regular bunch of rockers, and their music never really strays from that four-square clomp-and-grind that you can hear in the back room of umpteen British pubs every Saturday night. If truth be told, if it wasn't for the engaging presence of Eileen Daly herself, there would be very little to write home about here. As a frontwoman, she has an assertive style, leavened by a neat line in self-deprecating humour, and a strong voice that I'm sure could do more than the restrictions of the band's stoic pub-rockin' allows. But it's that stoic pub-rockin' that's the problem for me.
An abrupt change of style now, as our second band, Dolls Of Pain, arrives on stage. With a name like that you'd think they were some sort of fetish burlesque outfit, but, alas, they prove to be vastly less interesting.
What Dolls Of Pain do is, by and large, that distorted-shouting-over-bangin'-beatz brand of industrial-dance. Frankly, I've heard this stuff far too often from far too many bands to be impressed by it now. Sure enough, the beats slam out of the PA in a suitably aggressive manner, and the vocalist - a gentleman in a neat-o shirt and tie combo which makes him look amusingly like an estate agent on a spree - makes the usual 'Haaarrgh! Haaarrgh! Haaarrgh!' noises over the top.
This unholy racket does have its fans - one particular hardcore industrialist spends the entire set headbanging like a demon in dangerous proximity to the bass bins. But for me it's just one big endurance test.
It's rather a relief when showtime for D.U.S.T. comes round. Showcasing yet another new line-up (by my calculations, the band are now on line-up number 485, give or take), D.U.S.T. have reinvented themselves as a full-on rock band, drum kit and all.
Of course, D.U.S.T. reinventing themselves is not exactly a new phenomenon. The band have been through so many line-up changes, name changes, split-ups and reformations over the last few years the band's family tree must look more like Japanese knotweed by now. However, it must be said they are certainly convincing in this latest guise. Roaring out of the traps they come, like they're in hot pursuit of the hounds of rock 'n' roll hell, with vocalist Mikey giving it the full angsty holler like Brian Molko after a course of assertiveness training.
But while D.U.S.T. might kick up a powerful noise, they never let the structure of their songs fall apart. Everything is kept under control, even as they're stamping hard on the loud pedal. I'm sure, if the band hadn't become sidetracked with all the chopping and changing, they would have hit some sort of paydirt by now. That's still all to play for, of course. Could be D.U.S.T. have only just started.
These days, Theatres Des Vampires have ruthlessly expunged most of the, er, theatrical stuff which used to interrupt their performances. In former times, the band's live sets would grind to a halt for frankly rather cheesy and unconvincing bouts of 'spooky' role-playing, as various members of the band acted out their then-lead singer's vampire obsessions.
But that was then, and this is now. With a new vocalist and a cut-the-crap-and-rock approach, Theatres Des Vampires have become a surprisingly palatable proposition. That's not to say that all the theatrics have been junked, mind. Before the band themselves come on, we're treated to some topless mud wrestling (without the mud, although the general Slimelight grime does the job) from two boisterous rawk chyks, who may be acting out some sort of mythological tableau...or alternatively they might just be trying to get each other's kit off. Having thus ensured that everyone is looking at the stage, it's time for the Theatres Des Vampires crap-cutting rock show to begin.
Decked out in new-wavey gear (it's interesting - and possibly significant - that the band look much less metal and much more alternorock now than before) the gentlemen musicians nail down the riffs with insousciant aplomb.
In the middle of the melée, vocalist Sonya Scarlet - now there's a rock star name if ever I heard one - presides over the proceedings like a dominatrix intent on showing us her party tricks.
Striking ever-more extravagant poses, fixing the front row with a stare both ascendant and amused, she's at once the eye of the storm and the storm itself. She certainly bawls out the vocals with hurricane force, and yet notwithstanding her fearsome persona she always manages to maintain friendly relations with the front row. She's the dominatrix you can take home to meet mum, confident that she won't whip the ornaments off the mantelpiece just for the hell of it. The music swaggers and swirls, every song a masterclass in rock 'n' roll braggadocio.
Nice boots, and they know how to rock. It's what you want out of a band, isn't it?
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.