Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
The Gossip/Bonde Do Role/Pre/The Violets: Shockwaves NME Awards Show, Astoria, London; February 24
How does the coolest person in rock celebrate her birthday? With bin-liners and camel toes, if you must know
To begin, New Cross’ The Violets take us on a monochrome journey to the heart of darkness. Like Siouxsie Sioux supping from a ’50s housewife’s vial of Lithium, they have an icy, detached sheen. While the music reeks of style-mag ‘cool’, it has an intricacy to match its noir influences, a disorientating energy that attracts as it repels, and instantly silences the chatter of the evening’s early-arrivers.
Unlike Pre, possibly short for preposterous. Essentially a scuzz-metal shouting match, Pre are fronted by a tiny Japanese petal who is either very angry, or is giving birth to an alien. Sadly, we never learn which, and the band soon relent, to grateful applause from a bewildered audience. From the preposterous to the ambitious, as Brazilians Bonde Do Role bound on hoping to turn their Beastie Boys party electro-mash-hop into “this year’s CSS”. It’s a bold aim and one they come dangerously close to. Their time is probably due about… now. But there’s only three people most of the Astoria are here to see.
The Gossip are a band in which a mouth and a position on a list now threaten to outrun a back catalogue of spring-heeled rock’n’soul. From the moment the famous Ms Ditto arrives, clad in a cobalt jumpsuit, overtopped by that old Topshop fave: a black bin-liner, her every move shrieks “cool ain’t nothing but a number, baby”.
First off, a double celebration. Today is not only something of a landmark for the band: their largest ever show, it is also Beth’s birthday (“I’m 26 today. I got a sore throat for my birthday”). The throat opens. Gradually at first, during the Southern-fried rusty blues of ‘Listen Up’. Then more strident, via a rousing ‘Eyes Open’, rushing toward the God-stubbing-his-toe vocal cavalcade of ‘Holy Water’.
The paradox, of course, is that it’s the restrained moments that really compel. Melting down into wintry ballad ‘Coal To Diamonds’, the blast is reined-in to a sickly, bloodshot tremble. Equally as captivating is Aaliyah cover ‘Are You That Somebody?’, which comes tarnished with lovelorn fatigue; peeling away Timbaland’s oily R&B gloss reveals the bitter soul song within.
Throughout, Beth continues to essay her concept of couldn’t-give an-Arctic-Monkeys cool, with her totally unvarnished stage presence. Whether it’s offering her audience £100 to eat snot, or simply talking at explicit length about the state of her crotch, America’s largest musical export clearly delights in puncturing whatever mystique she may have developed. And, as is the law of cool, every wilfully false move only serves to expand her legend further.
The XXL finale of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, is, rather predictably, a riot on stilts. Not least because, in a moment that would make Marilyn Manson cringe, Beth puts a finger to her own – ahem – camel toe and then directs that same finger onto her mouth. Something you definitely won’t be seeing on TV when a phone company inevitably snaps up this adland dynamite.
Cool? You can’t buy it, but you can still buy tickets to it.
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