London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

The slew of guests makes this more of a twisted soul revue than traditional rock gig and you soon wish you could go to twisted soul revues every night of the week...

Halloween has been and gone. So has Guy Fawkes’ Night. But Death In Vegas don’t care. They intend to stage both occasions again and have prepared a supreme mix of sonic fireworks, gunpowder and trepidation for the task ahead. Also drafting in the spirit of St Valentine’s Day, a cascade of passion and delight is on standby.

It’s not long until the valve is turned and the cascade flows. When the righteous reggae intro music comes to a halt, Richard Fearless and his ever-expanding [a]Death In Vegas[/a] team take their places. First guest, Dot Allison, grabs a guitar and claims the front of the stage, Fearless adjusts his supersized shades and they’re off, gradually cranking up the heavy mantra of ‘Dirge’, hellbent on showing that, with a dance DJ having made the rock album of the year, ‘The Contino Sessions’ can be explored with just as much love in concert halls.

James Ellroy, Dr John and melodica-brandishing dubster Augustus Pablo are among the folk who’ve most influenced Fearless‘ life and in the form of tenebrous drama, contorted blues and a mighty monster of a bottom end, all their traits are in effect tonight, on the final date of the NME Premier Tour. But what you notice first about DIV is how tenacious they are. Make no skull-and-crossbones about it, they out-rock almost all rivals at present, encouraging kids to go as far as making devil signs with their digits when ‘Death Threat’ drops its arsenal of crazed techno codas and brick outhouse-proportioned riffs.

It’s music with the sharpest fangs and biggest claws. Music that wouldn’t mind jumping you in a dark alley. But the speaker-warping power and Blair Witch beats that are causing the Empire’s walls to groan are, relatively speaking, the easy bits. More special is the majesty and delicacy which DIV retain amid this howling hurricane.

Cue Bobby Gillespie – newly shorn hair, same old shambling demeanour – for evidence. Dancing badly yet singing admirably, he’s keen to hex us with the deviant rhymes of ‘Soul Auctioneer’. “The narcotic creatures are happy”, he drawls madly and happily, to a far from sober Sunday evening audience.

Next is the strangely satisfying sound of Orbital on Quaaludes provided by ‘Flying’. Followed by ‘Broken Little Sister’, the setting for The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s Jim Reid to weave 24-carat despondency through funeral march drums and Beelzebub’s favourite guitar noises. Showing that the DIV of ’99 is not entirely disconnected to the earlier model who made the ‘Dead Elvis’ album, ‘Dirt’ is played and segues comfortably into the new mode. It’s more skewed now and thus less big beat. And when the brass section rolls back in, it sounds like it might explode and blow the back out of the venue.

But mainly it’s ‘The Contino Sessions’ we’re here to praise. The multidimensional, undulating, tambourine-thwacking groove of ‘Neptune City’, to which the stage lights morph the band into close associates of The Velvet Underground. ‘Aladdin’s Story’, complete with achingly beautiful refrains from a six-strong choir. The slew of guests makes this more of a twisted soul revue than traditional rock gig and you soon wish you could go to twisted soul revues every night of the week. Oh, but someone is missing: Iggy Pop, of course, who couldn’t make it over to snarl malignantly through the gloriously mental ‘Aisha’. Which is disappointing but, given the performances by all those who have made it, not the end of the world.

Tonight, in short, feels like a special night. A packed house, an electric atmosphere and a band who live up to expectations proving new music still matters. DIV do strung-out hypno-rock on a par with Spiritualized, rasping white noise as fine as Mogwai and lucidity-shredding post-punk which frankly leaves The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s back catalogue for dust.

So, having mastered Halloween, Guy Fawkes and St Valentine’s, [a]Death In Vegas[/a] went on to bring us several Christmas Days at once.