Hoxton Bar And Kitchen, London, February 5
If you’ve ever asked yourself what really happened to James Allan when the Glasvegas frontman transformed himself from all-in-black rock’n’roller to born again dressed-in-white angel at some point at the beginning of this decade, the answer’s here tonight. Baby Strange’s snarling Glaswegian singer, Johnny Madden, is Allen circa 2008 incarnate. Songs like ‘Pure Evil’ and ‘Want It/Need It’ ooze with the spittle-flecked spirit of The Clash, but are drenched in cold, disenfranchised detachment. Recent single ‘Mess’ is everything ‘Euphoric Heartbreak’ could’ve been, and Madden’s Johnny Cash-meets-Nick Cave baritone rumbles all over the sombre ‘Sleep Paralysis’. It’s a cold-blooded build-up to tonight’s headliner.
“My name is Gabriel Bruce, yes it is, and these are some songs that I wrote,” purrs the singer as his band join him onstage. Bruce’s main mission seems to be to prove he’s alive as he possibly can be. There are the moves, which are less like dancing and more like his entire being is being possessed by the spirit of Shakin’ Stevens. Then there are the wild, preacher-like sermons he delivers between songs (“again I get to thinking whether the things we’re doing are worthwhile, whether there’s anything more important in life than love…”) matched with the tongue-in-cheek punchlines (“or you could just screw around – that’s fun too”). Plus there are the songs – a combination of Springsteen’s heart-on-sleeve anthemics, doused with Billy Idol’s lip-curling filth.
‘Dark Lights Shine Loud’ struts with purposeful keyboard parts and Bruce’s howls of “incestuous chains” and “ridding yourself from evil”, while ‘Honey Honey Honey’ is a seductive update of Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’. Both are completely joyous and eyelash-flutteringly alluring, and as ‘Car’s Not Leaving’ closes proceedings with a bout of team choreography, it’s most definitely love.