The Roundhouse, London, Thursday, January 27
While the question on everyone’s lips tonight at the Roundhouse may be “How many hats does Grace Jones actually have?” (she’s playing in the main hall this evening), Luke Haines has a more pressing conundrum.
“What do you do when you’ve made your masterpiece?”
Well, if you’re left-field rock’s most beloved curmudgeon, publishing
a memoir that serves as a cutting indictment of the generation that failed to embrace you seems the obvious course of action. Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall, the book from which Haines is reading tonight, is just that, and Haines begins by regaling the rapt audience with tales of over-excited European midgets and how Metallica judged ‘After Murder Park’, his album with his band The Auteurs, to be “baroque Jesus Lizard”.
The acoustic set that follows it excuses a Q&A session that could easily pass for self-congratulatory indulgence, despite Haines’ hangdog air and magnificent assertion that “You don’t have to be grateful for anything if you don’t want to.” The stripped-down format lends itself perfectly to both the elegant songwriting of Auteurs tracks such as ‘Lenny Valentino’ and ‘Unsolved Child Murder’ (possibly the loveliest song ever written about infanticide), and the quintessentially British lyricism of the more recent ‘Leeds United’, which is steeped in ’70s culture, referencing everything from World Of Sport to the Yorkshire Ripper. It’s soon clear that his criticism of his peers (particular bile is reserved for Crispian Mills) arises from the fact he does it so much better than everyone else.
In the solitary new song of the set, Haines reaffirms his earlier sentiments, singing, “I was all over the ’90s, I was all over in the ’90s”. If tonight proves anything, it’s that the career of the man who Jarvis Cocker referred to as the best songwriter of that decade couldn’t be further from over. The musician who brought us The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder and a string of solo projects that far outshine those of his contemporaries should have a place in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: tonight has proved that history isn’t always written by the winners.