Friday, May 18, 2007

Xposure Live

Beth Ditto of Gossip at Xposure Live; photo Val PhoenixBarfly

When I awoke yesterday, I had a stiff neck and a band of bruising on my left leg, both courtesy of this gig. It wasn't violent, but it was lively.

Playing a small show by their standards, headliners The Gossip were the second coming, judging by the adulation Beth Ditto received with her every sashay, holler and aside. Too bad about the two security guards stationed on the two entrances to the stage, blocking my view (hence the stiff neck) and creating a barrier between her and the crowd. Ironic, really, because the only crowd problems were caused by devotees reaching out to La Ditto when she ventured into the crowd, sending me crashing into the monitors (the bruises). I digress.

The Gossip, of course, are this year's most unlikely top 40 act in the UK, and Mlle Ditto has settled well into her double role as lesbian and anti-fattist spokesperson, even writing an advice column in a daily paper. It's amazing what a few remixes and some timely TV exposure can give you, after years of labouring in obscurity.

I met the band at Ladyfest Scotland in 2001 and spent one enjoyable night sitting up late and talking with Beth into the small hours. By 2003 when they played The Spitz, they had a small but devoted fanbase, while White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were playing festivals and big venues. I wondered what the band had to do to reach the same level of success. It appears to have happened by accident but it's well deserved, nonetheless.

Not having seen them in action since 2003, it still came as no surprise when Beth stripped down to bra and girdle, exposing her round frame and flab with delight and defiance. What was new was the numbers of men with cameras surging forward to capture the moment. One called out to her: "You're fit!", leaving the singer bemused. Having disposed of her own garments, she then procured a heart-dotted T from the audience, recognising it as coming from a certain discount chain that starts with P.

Her gifts to the crowd were equally Beth-like: clumps of hair extensions and some sanitary towels secreted in her bra. Sanitary towels: the gift that keeps giving.

Musically, the show wasn't much different from what they were doing four years ago, just with Nathan doing double duty on guitar and bass, and a different drummer, Hannah. Unfortunately, the sound in the venue was crap, badly distorting her powerhouse vocals. Yet it sounded fine on sponsoring station XFM, which played out excerpts later on. Hmmm.

"Jealous Girls" and the opener, a rocked up cover of "Careless Whisper", were standouts, as were the monsta hit "Standing in the Way of Control" and small snippets of "Rebel Girl" and "Mississippi Goddam", perhaps tips to her musical foremothers.

But, the emotional apex for me was the closing song, which she delivered from in front of the monitors. We made eye contact and she started asking me on mic where we had met. "Do I know you?" I nodded and she kissed me on the cheek and we held hands for a few seconds while she sang. It was a moment.

There were no such touch-feely moments from the support acts but they were also impressive. I had heard little of openers Peggy Sue and the Pirates, a quirky sit-down duo who share one guitar and shaker. With a nice line in arch delivery akin to Kate Nash, they had the wittiest lyrics of the night, with one song rhyming "actor" and "wanker".

They were followed by the thunderous Blood Red Shoes, also a duo, comprising guitar and drums. What a wondrous racket they make. Even with earplugs my ears were ringing. It was hard to hear the words but they were spellbinding.

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