London SE1 Royal Festival Hall

[B]Meltdown 2000[/B] gets off to a nicely controversial start.

[a]Scott Walker[/a]’s Meltdown 2000 season on the South Bank gets off to a nicely controversial start. What the hell are human beings with any lingering sense of decency to make of tonight’s opening act?

Fuckhead are Austrian techno terrorists who appear nude in the name of performance art. Except that venue restrictions have forced them to hide their lack of modesty with gaffer tape. And the horrible, garbled, overtly theatrical [I]sturm und drang[/I] of what passes for the music (dated theatrical techno rock with loud guitars and chants in fluent, stentorian German) is best ignored. The four men goosestep around the stage, in mock irony, and gradually remove items of clothing. Time for a swift exit.

No-one can subsequently upstage Fuckhead. And A Touch Of Glass don’t try. In another delicious irony, after attracting hordes with the promise of Jarvis Cocker as an instrumentalist, the five-piece proceed to offer something very similar to a church organ recital, with circular keyboard pieces held together by guitars, and centre stage reserved for a bass harmonium. Ah, Northern humour.

Only after an admittedly affecting close relative of Joe Meek‘s ’60s hit, ‘Telstar’, do the avant-gardists give the crowd what they want, as the Swingle Singers accompany Jarvis on ‘My Body May Die’ and a cover of [a]Scott Walker[/a]’s ‘On Your Own Again’.

Bill Callahan too pays tribute to tonight’s patron and mentor, but in a roundabout way, by performing under a film of a flickering single eye, shot in detail, which could be a variation on the cover of ‘Scott 3’. And, of course, in the baritone he uses to convey the songs of Smog. People at the end of their tethers and those in the depths of depression understand this man. ‘Cos he seems to feel for them even when he concentrates solely on his own peccadillos, strengths, nastiness and frailties. A way too accomplished backing group that includes Tortoise‘s John McEntire on skins, puts paid to any thoughts of Smog being lo-fi. This is quintessentially American storytelling, amped-up or laid-back. And it’s a shame not to feel complete empathy. Maybe we should blame Fuckhead?