London W1 Emporium
Twelve years after he left the Bad Seeds on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a decade after he released his debut solo soundtrack ‘Moss Side Story’, Barry Adamson is back onstage again. Unfortunately, surrounded by a thicket of plastic ivy and a couple of fake Grecian statues, he remains largely invisible to much of a crowd sunk deep in an ingenious moat around the stage. It’s not a particularly auspicious start.
Still, tonight is the continuation of a process that began with the more conventional songwriting of 1996’s ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ record and reached its logical conclusion on the recent ‘As Above So Below’ album, where Adamson finally started singing himself. As such it’s a chance for the usual trivia of his records (you know, heaven and hell, good and evil, God and the Devil, why toast always lands butter-side down) to be made flesh. And any fears that he would struggle to recreate his elaborate studio sounds live disappear with the colossal opening groove of ‘Deja Voodoo’: all swinging psychedelia and Hammond drones that recall both Portishead and Felt, as well as the bleaker moods of The Bad Seeds and the sheer panache of his earlier soundtrack days.
Adamson, meanwhile, although not much of a performer beyond a few extravagant hand gestures and a red shirt, makes up for that with his sheer presence. Impeccably debonair throughout, whether making the strange panting noises that precede ‘Jazz Devils’ or introducing his band Las Vegas-style, he’s eerily reminiscent of Sean Connery. Only with better clothes. Better still, he doesn’t just stick to the blueprint of the current album. Also included tonight are an improvised and reworked take on Suicide’s ultra-claustrophobic ‘Girl’, which lapses into a version of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, a sedate stroll through Alice Cooper’s ‘Blue Turk’ (minus guitar solos, naturally), and finally an emotional cover of ‘Perma Frost’, a song originally recorded by Adamson’s first band – Magazine – in 1979 and tonight dedicated to “absent friends”.
It completes a staggering performance of richly inventive and furiously original music, and Adamson seems genuinely touched as he thanks the crowd for their applause. A success, then. Even if all we did see of him was a sweating forehead.