...it's hard not to feel short-changed in the charisma department...
It is widely acknowledged that Death In Vegas‘ mop-topped figurehead Richard Fearless is a man of impeccable taste. Graphic designer, film-maker, DJ, musician, producer: he’s an artist in the Warholian mould, whose body of work documents his interest in the seamier side of bohemian living. In today’s safe musical climate, where experimentation is actively discouraged and a slavish regurgitation of garage rock’s past receives unconditional approval, the very fact that Fearless has creative interests beyond music means he’s regularly hailed as a kind of renaissance man.
Yet music is his consuming passion. As soon as Death In Vegas arrive in Glasgow on their first UK tour in over two years, Fearless heads to his favourite record shop to buy a stack of cutting-edge vinyl. After the show he’s due to road-test his purchases at a messy warehouse rave in the West End. Before that, however, Fearless and his DIV partner Tim Holmes have their own party to host.
It’s as a live spectacle that Death In Vegas is often best experienced. Here Fearless’ short films of biker chicks and military processions are projected onto the band, who hammer the spectral drone-rock of opening couplet ‘Leather’ and ‘Girls’ with lairy abandon, almost drowning out Dot Allison‘s disembodied cooing. Yet the noise generated by the seven blokes onstage – three guitarists (each resembling Tim from The Office), keyboards, drums, effects – is murky and claustrophobic. It’s a frequently charmless racket that demolishes those nuances that make ‘Scorpio Rising’ Death In Vegas‘ most dynamic album and reduces their back catalogue to one unchanging linear rumble. Still, attempting to replicate the intricacies of that album live would be pointless and it’s as a no-frills electronic rock’n’roll outfit that DIV at times excel. Proto-big-beat bruiser ‘Dirt’ is smeared in feedback, a beefy ‘Neptune City’ sounds especially sinister, while the heads-down no-nonsense R&B thrash of ‘So You Say You Lost Your Baby’, the Gene Clark standard belted out by Paul Weller on the album but performed here as an instrumental, is a rude jolt amid the narco-symphonics.
Much of DIV‘s allure lies in their choice of vocalists, none of whom are present tonight. No change there- this is how DIV have always operated – but when you hear Liam sneering through ‘Scorpio Rising’ or Adult.’s Nicola Kuperus barking orders on auto-erotic anthem ‘Hands Around My Throat’ but actually see sweat-sodden men chugging away onstage, it’s hard not to feel short-changed in the charisma department.
By the time ‘Dirge’ and the Hope Sandoval-enhanced ‘Help Yourself’ are aired for the encore, Death In Vegas‘ indie-goth cruise-control is numbingly familiar. For one who evidently thrives on variety and excitement, you wonder how Fearless could let his group become so one-dimensional.