Waking up the Queen, stage invasions and cowbells: let the anarchy ensue
Has anyone thought about how close this venue is to Buckingham Palace?” yells Mystery Jets frontman Blaine Harrison midway through the psychedelic prog-poppers’ frenzied set at London’s posho Institute Of Contemporary Arts. “I bet if we yelled loud enough we could wake up the Queen. One, two, three… AAAARRGGHHH!”
As rallying cries go, “One, two, three…AAAARRGGHHH!” sums up these Eel Pie Island freaks perfectly. They may look like a bunch of feckless hippies with their unkempt hair and penchant for wearing neckerchiefs, but since they first played a series of ad hoc gigs in a dingy basement in Baker Street back in 1998 to their now-legendary boathouse parties on Thameside, the band, whose ages range from 20 to 55, have propelled themselves from art-damaged outsiders to one of 2005’s most wanted. Tonight, then, is a vindication: bringing their DIY-flavoured boathouse gigs to Buck House’s backyard, Mystery Jets are coming as close as ever to being endorsed by The Establishment.
“What made those boathouse gigs so great was playing in our own environment,” reflects an excited Blaine backstage pre-gig. “Tonight is us trying to take Eel Pie on the road and make wherever we play feel like home.”
Anyone lucky enough to catch those off-kilter performances on the island will be familiar with the way that the ICA is decked out tonight. Red and green Turkish rugs line the walls, lightbulbs are strung across the ceiling, and at the back of the stage a nautical life ring frames a picture of Jets hero Syd Barrett. The hijack is completed with a partisan crowd of Jets fans, scenesters, beatniks and weirdos.
No sooner has Blaine sat down on an office chair held together with gaffer tape at the hub of his makeshift percussion-kit (colanders tonight have sadly been replaced with more orthodox cowbells), than the band blast into experimental space rocker ‘Zoo Time’, provoking massed lighter waving and audience chanting.
It’s deafening enough to rattle the Palace crockery, but a mini-riot during ‘Alas Agnes’ proves to be the night’s real Peasants’ Revolt, as the innocent recruitment of one fan to help out on percussion turns into a full-on stage invasion as waves of massed loons grab anything from maracas to snare drums and rattle away, even after the house lights have come on.
The chaos onstage may look like the stuff rock’n’roll clichés are made of, but there certainly isn’t anything conventional about Mystery Jets: tonight they’re confirmed as art-rock royalty.