Quite a show

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Lee, Arthur & Love : London Royal Festival Hall

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Lee, Arthur & Love : London Royal Festival Hall

“You don’t know how long we’ve waited for this!” hollers one overcome devotee as Arthur Lee glides from the wings with a puff of smoke in drainpipe black jeans, gleaming white tassled shirt and glue-on shades. “No”, he drawls back, smooth as marble, “you don’t know how long I’ve waited for this!”

Six years in the State Pen have clearly not affected Arthur Lee‘s detachment from reality. At fifty-seven he twists and shuffles with a grace only available to someone who once burned all his hair off during a heroin binge. But then having recorded bleak masterpiece ‘Forever Changes’ in a fog of drugs just as the sixties turned sour, he and his band Love have retained a ghostly hold on rock’n’roll’s outlaw wing ever since. Not that it means anything to Arthur: when you’ve spent as long hanging out at the crossroads as he has, everyone else is just passing through.

No one needs to tell him we’re not here to listen to his new stuff. Starting with a terse ‘7 And 7 Is’ and ‘Orange Skies’ he skips through the highlights of second album ‘Da Capo’ in a hurry to get to the main event, an orchestral rummage through ‘Forever Changes’. When it arrives, it’s almost impossible not to be blown away. A thousand armies of distorted guitar bands couldn’t be creepier. When his voice soars, clear as a bell, all the way from ‘Alone Again Or’ through to epic goodbye to the universe ‘You Set The Scene’ even the ushers get the shivers.

In the encores, things get weird. “We have a special guest for you tonight” Arthur booms, “Mr Bram Caxton!” After which a sheepish looking Graham Coxon emerges to play solo while Arthur crouches on all fours shaking some maracas. Lee then announces it’s time for a new song called ‘My Anthem’. A lone bagpiper appears at the back of the stage and a dirge starts up during which Arthur bellows “bye, bye California!” and, slightly worryingly, “hello England”, which could make life at the Camden Monarch a little more interesting.

Then, in another puff of smoke he’s gone. Quite a show. After all, it’s not every night you get to hear what the Devil plays on his walkman.

Paul Moody