Saturday, January 17, 2009

Young Marble Giants

Exterior of HAU2 in Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixHAU2
16 January 2009

What this gig had to do with "music, money and society after digitalisation" I don't know but the opening night of the Dancing With Myself conference featured a gig by post-punk minimalist legends Young Marble Giants, a welcome return after their decades-long exile. "Was anyone at our last gig here?" Stuart Moxham asked. That would be the lone Berlin gig in 1980. "No? You're all too young."

And it was a surprisingly fresh-faced crowd for such a grizzled band, if one can call the unassuming YMG that. Certainly, bassist Philip Moxham is becoming a dead ringer for Samuel Beckett, with his spiky greying locks and chiselled features. Alison Statton, though, still looks like the shy teenager she was when the band started in 1978. They make an amusing contrast on-stage, the rangy bassist stalking the stage while the diminutive singer stands at the mic, poised for action that never comes and fixing the audience with an unwavering gaze. When not singing, she looked possessed.

By contrast Stuart Moxham, the primary songwriter and historically frustrated vocalist, kept a low-key presence, concentrating on his guitar-playing with a series of agonised faces, and on the lovely, spiralling organ that marked the band out from their metal and punk peers back in Cardiff. At the back, younger brother Andrew performed the difficult function of human drum machine, playing sampled sounds from the original recordings.

The audience was rapt, adoring, demanding more from a tiny songbook that only numbered one album and one single, plus the odds and sods that turned up on last year's compilation. In fact, so pressed were the band for material that they performed a second encore of songs they'd messed up earlier. And these were the gems of the evening: a transcendant "Choci Loni" complete with the guitar lines missed out earlier and a "Wurlitzer Jukebox!" that turned into a singalong.

In truth, the gig was a bit ropey, with Alison forgetting the words to "Eating Noddemix" (which she co-wrote), and Philip and Stuart flubbing a few notes. But YMG were never about technical perfection and stagecraft. The songs, lovely, delicate, full of open spaces, are still wondrous. And it was wonderful to experience it live.

I can't imagine when they started in Cardiff that YMG ever thought they would be playing at a festival named after a Billy Idol song. In fact, the HAU space is hosting two conferences in the immediate future: Dancing With Myself explores the music industry in the current climate of uncertain economics and relentless digitalisation, while the upcoming The Politics of Ecstasy looks at altered states of presence.

I keep conflating the two into one imaginary one called The Politics of Dancing. I guess these shebangs will just keep going until the supply of '80s song titles is exhausted.

Dancing With Myself runs thru 18 January at HAU.
The Politics of Ecstasy runs 23-31 January at HAU.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments: