Skunk AnansieVillage Underground, Shoreditch
Wed 5th September 2012
For the first time in a long time, and thinking about it, probably not since I saw Skunk Anansie at the Electric Ballroom in 2009, I was heading off to a gig without my cameras... an odd feeling indeed. However, this was a pre album launch gig sponsored by Kerrang!, so the photo passes were strictly limited to their own staff. Apologies therefore for only having two so-so photos accompanying this review, that were taken on a six year old compact that I was able to bring into the venue.
On 17th September, Skunk Anansie will be releasing their 5th album (if you don't count their “Smashes & Trashes” greatest hits album released in late 2009 which also included 3 new songs), Black Traffic, and from the seven songs that made tonight's set list, fans have a treat in store.
Sporting a very fetching mohawk Skin and the boys sent out a statement of intent from the opening song Tear The Place Up, as for the next 90 or so minutes, almost without respite, they surely did tear up one part of London with a typically energetic show. As a performer, Skin is actually one of the rare ones who truly connects with her audience, and not just physically when crowd surfing whilst still singing! Little winks here and there, beaming smiles that almost turn to snarls, hands reaching out in supplication or encouragement, in-jokes with her “followers”... the connection is definitely there. Sometimes cheeky (such as when she announced a new song at the start of the encore) sometimes angry (the politics are still a major part of the lyrics of some of the new songs) sometimes funny (kneeling in mock prayer when her mic suddenly died four words into the final song) but always humble, always loving and always giving of her all.
It didn't take long for a mosh pit to form just in front of centre stage, and even elsewhere around this converted warehouse everyone was jumping up and down and dancing to the music, singing along to the familiar songs and joining in with the just-learnt choruses of the new songs. I'm not sure how many attending were at their first ever Skunk Anansie gig, but looking at some of the fresh-looking faces it would seem that even some of the current generation of Kerrang! readers at least realise that the best and coolest bands are often the bands that fly just under the radar. Never really a part of Britpop (though sometimes labelled as Britrock) Skunk Anansie stuck two fingers up at the critics, who wrongly, never seemed to take them too seriously in spite of huge success. Yet on current showing this is a band that fully deserves greater air time on all radio stations.
Of course the old favourites went down a storm with the crowd; who couldn't love songs like Weak, Twisted, Hedonism or Charlie Big Potato. The newer classics from their last album, Wonderlustre, were also well received, but some of the biggest cheers came for the new songs, which were getting their first public airing before the band embark on a month long European tour in November ending with a solitary London date at Brixton Academy on 1st December (and yes I already have my ticket for that gig). Probably the best known of the new songs tonight was Sad, Sad, Sad which those of us who had pre-ordered the new album were allowed to download a little while back, but musically the strongest of the new songs were all grouped together in the middle of the set. It's Not a Game and Hero are typical Skunk Anansie commentaries on the political and social malaise facing society today whilst Spit You Out had hair-parting bass lines from Cass and Mark thumping his drums ever harder... and does anyone hit drums any harder than Mark? Not since the late lamented Bonzo have I seen a drum kit take such punishment. Yet, in spite of the hard hitting, there is also a delicate finesse to Mark's playing. Ace's guitar screams as a guitar should and Skin continues to display a vocal range that puts so many other singers to shame. She's no mean guitarist, either, when she dons one mid set. Earlier in the set we also got a first taste of what will be the single from the album, I Believed In You, a typical angry lament at the way the politicians we elect always end up letting us down. With its social commentary, catchy beat and easy refrain (I believed in you... well I was wrong) this song deserves to be a hit.
Other than the few minutes break they took before returning for a three song encore, the only respite was when Skin's mic failed at the start of The Skank Heads and the crowd patiently waited some 5 minutes for the problems to be sorted. Yet this time was taken up with jokey banter between Skin and the audience. Over the last 40 or so years I've had the pleasure to see thousands of bands. There are hundreds that I have enjoyed seeing again and again. Many times I will have said to friends, “that was the best gig ever”, but when I look back on all that I have seen and heard, I would have to say that as a live band, Skunk Anansie are on a par with The Clash. For me, there can be no higher praise. Roll on Brixton on 1st December
Set List: Tear The Place Up, I Will Break You, God Loves Only You, I Believed in You, Ugly Boy, Weak, Twisted, It's Not a Game, Hero, Spit You Out, Because of You, Sad Sad Sad, Charlie Big Potato
Encore: Sticky Fingers in Your Honey, Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) and The Skank Heads
Photos/Review copyright Bob Singleton 2012 Used by Permission