Saturday, 29 March 2008

LIVE REVIEW: Long Blondes, Cabaret Voltaire, 19 March

The trouble with reinvention is that it often leads to confusion. Take the self-appointed Queen of Pop, Madonna, for instance. One minute she's a prowling, cock-hungry chanteuse, the next an electro-lit hippy-chick and now, it would seem, she's all bingo-wings and muscles, directing shit films while leeching off fellow careering connoisseur Justin Timberlake. Christ only knows what her original fanbase thinks of this latest incarnation, but I'd imagine they consume Madge's wafer-thin Optimus Prime-isms (y’know, she's a transformer…) with a kidney disease-inducing pinch of sodium chloride, if even at all these days.

Now, this may well seem like a tenuous attempt to link Mrs Guy Ritchie with The Long Blondes but anyone who's heard the Sheffield ensemble's new LP Couples has to admit there are definite parallels to be drawn in both acts' predilection for reinvention. The record is the antithesis to the chipper schmindie-punk of 2006’s debut Someone To Drive You Home and one that's sure to polarise a fanbase made up of vintage shop fashionistas and hair-straightened pretty boys as it straddles the robo-pop bandwagon currently pillaging its way through the British charts.

So when the quintet take to the stage of a sold-out Cabaret Voltaire, it’s fair to say there’s a certain amount of apprehension in the ripple of applause that greets them tonight. And as they launch into the ring-rusty goth-groove of recent single ‘Century’ there’s considerable weight behind the suggestion that reincarnation isn’t to the benefit of all. Perhaps it’s down to the aesthetic anomaly of witnessing Pride and Prejudice-dressed front-gal Kate Jackson gyrating to a futuristic blur of bass and metallic riffage, but this underwhelming intro does little to ease the concerns of an increasingly subdued audience.

Made up almost entirely of cuts from their forthcoming record, the set will no doubt have disappointed those who ventured out for a night of unabashed scruffbag sing-a-longs, but as the first-song nerves erode, Miss Jackson and her skinny-fit cohorts pull out a showing that signifies a steadfast belief in their new direction. The backseat breeze of ‘The Couples’ is first to impress, impregnating the venue with a summertime fluster of guitar janglery that eventually cascades into the basal impulse of ‘Too Clever by Half’, a track that gloriously accentuates Jackson’s wispy mew amidst the lustful nuzzle of a slow-handed nocturnal rhythm.

Having witnessed many an act stumble spectacularly when confronting the perils of change, there’s an admirable air to the way The Long Blondes sure-foot through the sugar coated confectionary of ‘I Liked The Boys’ and ‘Erin O’Connor’ without any self-questioning trepidation. Admittedly, a portion of tonight’s crowd – the ones here to be ‘scene’ - appear ill-at-ease with this new-fangled beast sprawled before them, but in the glam-stomp glow of ‘Here Comes The Serious Bit’ and ‘Guilt’’s milky-pop aloofness the heads of less-image conscious sceptics are turned, senses perked by each track’s sleek, Blondie-like reverberations.

Despite the wilful presence of these new numbers, the rapturously received arrival of angle-jerking closer 'Giddy Stratospheres' is the truest indicator of the band's standing at present: caught between wide-eyed reminiscing and the future’s un-sauntered pastures. But on the strength of tonight’s triumphant display, it’s safe to say The Long Blondes will make their move much more credibly than a certain decrepit, genre-hopping hag.

Rating: 7/10

Photos by Loraine Ross
First published here

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