The Buff Medways and the Von Bondies
May 17, The Boston Arms
Tufnell Park, London
12:30 p.m.: Okey-doke. The Von Bondies are playing with garage godfather Billy Childish (in his incarnation as The Buff Medways), and the gig is right down the street. Of course, the show is going to be ridiculously oversubscribed and the place is a fucking firetrap of the highest order. Of course, as per usual, I have no contact numbers, no name, no nothing, so I’m just gonna show up with a copy of Metro Times and see if I can swing it.
4 p.m.: Hiked down to the Boston Arms, and all the doors to the venue are shut. Walk back home, start calling to see if anyone I know knows anyone who works there.
8:30 p.m.: Walked back to the Boston Arms and into the downstairs pub and ran into Von Bondie bassist Carrie Smith. Asked her what time they were going on, and found out they weren’t. It appears that the promoter pulled a fast one, promising Billy Childish/Buff Medways a completely untouchable backline while telling the VB’s that they could use their own gear. Plus, the VB’s are playing the “Jools Holland” TV show tonight, so it was going to be a scheduling nightmare. The Von Bondies are going to come back to see the Buff Medways at 11 p.m., and there’s no way I’m growing old in the Boston Arms for three hours until the Buff Medways come on. Carrie is nice enough to offer to put me on the list for the Underworld show next week.
11:05 p.m.: Partner Tim shows up and we head down the road to the Buff Medways. After some ’assle with securi’y, we get in.
Billy Childish reminds me of my mate Dave’s grandfather — if my mate Dave’s grandfather lived in his mother’s garage and painted strange paintings and wrote poetry and recorded incandescent garage music all day and most of the night. Onstage, there’s a scrawny Englishman of indeterminate age. He could be a 28-year-old coal miner staring out of a prewar photo, he could be in his 60s. It’s not important. Try not to think about it.
What is important is that he is making an impassioned racket. Billy Childish has been doing this since the late ’70’s. It is his life’s work. He means it, maaan, and has more to show for it, made more sacrifices for it, than any hipster in the audience tonight. This is a launch party for his 100th record. Can you imagine an angst-ridden major-label artiste working that hard? Name one.
I only came with £15 in my pocket. I buy a round, and then a sense of holy obligation compels me to go to the merch stall, because this man should not be living in his mom’s garage. Where I buy a book. And this is what I love about this country — that a man like Mr. Childish, who is a genuine, card-carrying eccentric, can get up on a stage and play noisy, primal rock and roll to a bunch of 20-year-old hipsters without any self-conscious baggage.
The Buff Medways sound like every fuzzy, worn-out mono garage single you ever wish you’d owned. They did a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” and it probably sounded more like the original (which may well have been played live in the same room) than all the GIT-schooled, perfectly amplified mooks in America. God save Billy Childish, God save rock and roll.
The Von Bondies with Modey Lemon
May 27, The Underworld
Camden Town, London
I went to see the Von Bondies with Modey Lemon and lived to tell the tale. Fucking amazing stuff. Blinding songs and rock and roll hearts all around.
Modey Lemon are a two-man tag team with a Moog, an electric guitar, a fuzz box parade and a drummer who beats the living shit out of his kit. Fantastic. Want to see more.
The Von Bondies come onstage and take that rock and roll heart, throw away the fuses and plug it straight into the mains. Nothing precious, just true, intelligent rock and roll overdrive. Conviction. This is like a musical trust fall — close your eyes, let go and believe that the noise will catch you and carry you skyward. And it just keeps getting better. The show is sold out, the audience is up for anything, and the band is giving everything away. This is their last date on this tour, they’ve been working their asses off — and tonight is about letting it all go. Copious amounts of alcohol are involved.
For the encore, the Modey Lemon return, plus members of the Datsuns (another fantastic band from Australia) pile on stage and generate mayhem. Bondie Marcie is getting a piggyback ride from one of the Datsuns, Jason is hanging from a railing, wailing; Carrie and Marcie are standing on the kick drum, back to back, grooving like Josie’s Pussycats on red wine and amphetamines. Right now, this is the coolest place on earth.
Afterward, everyone is high. The audience leaves a fragrant fog of cigarette smoke, adrenaline and pheromones when they finally scramble to catch the last tube. The Von Bondies crack open the Jägermeister and everyone is exceedingly friendly. I promise to go see the Modey Lemon on the 29th.
May 29, Thee Acid Ranch at the Notting Hill Arts Club, London
Some British Film Board-approved company made a Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant fiction called Notting Hill, which had some vaguely multi-culty neighborhood with charmingly scruffy and arty graduate types who were still young enough to not have a fat paycheck or a retirement fund. Complete bollocks. A vision of a kinder, fluffier, browner Britain that could never afford to live in this part of town. One of the reasons that I’ve never been to the Notting Hill Arts Club is that this part of town can be unbearably pretentious and expensive, and I can only handle those traits one at a time.
And I’ve missed out, because this is a charming little art-school bar-type venue, a really intimate little gig. Of Arrowe Hill is the opening band. They’re alright, but just. There is a certain Liverpudlian accent that makes someone Scouse — it’s nasal and sounds like radio interference crossed with someone spitting. And then there’s the Professional Scouser, who sports baggy jeans and an S-shaped spine with a fishing hat on top and says “Sound,” when practically any other word will do. The singer in Of Arrowe Hill is a Professional Scouser, par excellence. He slouches around the stage and does his Northern thing, but there just weren’t any songs to back it up. Besides, I used to live in Liverpool, and I fucking hate the place. Burn it down, I say. You’ll notice the Beatles moved to London as soon as they could.
The Von Bondies are all in attendance and dutifully sucking up their daily allowances in liquid form. The cocktails were £6 each (about $9) so we had to stick with beer. Modey Lemon finally came on, and were in the process of making a Joyous Noise Unto the Lard when we realized that we were going to miss our last train and had to abandon this lovely clamor midsong. Somewhere in my sprint to the train station, I also managed to lose my notebook.
June 13, Barfly at the Monarch
Camden Town, London
Brendan Benson walks on stage with a beautiful old Guild, so good-looking in a totally careless way. The lyrics of “Pleasure Seeker” are a little questionable until the pure high chorus. He makes the act of singing look delightfully effortless.
I never hear English bands this relentlessly tight. I blame the British lack of garages and summer — the two main teenage accessories to starting a band. Benson’s lyrics can be very easy on the ear, while failing to nourish the brain, but it gives Benson the opportunity for that effortless phrasing that makes his singing sound so divine. Zach Shipps deals out tight, percussive Telecaster punishment and the drummer plays like he harbors a personal resentment against Ludwig, and the effect is perfect. It all goes to prove that pop does not mean weak, weedy, wussy, or any of those other “W” adjectives.
The number of “girls” per song is still suspect. She does this, She does that, I feel … something. I love your record collection, Mr. Benson, now please make it your own. My grandmother was born the year that American women got the vote, and I am never more aware of my newly minted human status than when I listen to pop music. For all its sexual liberation, it’s still the most conservative form for this brand of bullshit.
Then they pull out a coruscating version of “Let Me Roll It” and give Paul McCartney back his bile, and all is forgiven. Mostly. Almost. Great band, though.Shireen Liane is a freelance writer based in London. She’s in a band called the Lumiere Brothers. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org