Independent on Sunday (7.14.02)


Simon Price

In 1975, pop's womankind was still meekly Loving You (it's easy, cos you're beautiful) and Standing By Your Man (and showing the world you love him). In 1976, if Siouxsie Sioux had not stomped onto the stage of the 100 Club in stiletto boots, peephole bra and swastika armband to squawk "The Lord's Prayer", it is not stretching credulity too far to argue that nothing would have changed. This, as much as any other reason, is why this particular rock reunion is absolutely fine by me.

Siouxsie Sioux, one of the most influential style icons of all time, is one of the few people whose silhouette alone carries meaning. Standing with her back to us in a pinstriped suit (as the night wears on she'll gradually strip down to a sequinned bra - nothing we haven't seen before), her unmistakeable outline stark against a blood-red backdrop, it's difficult to imagine any human being looking cooler.

Turning to face us, her mouth's default setting still a scowl of dread and disdain, she launches into the eerie, wordless muezzin catcall of "Pure", segued into the skittering art-punk of "Jigsaw Feeling" - tracks one and two from her very first album - then introduces "Metal Postcard" ... in German. From this early statement of intent, it's clear that, although the Banshees have a Greatest Hits album due soon, this will be no mere singles set, and although we will hear "Happy House", "Christine" and a particularly delirious "Spellbound", you can forget about dear bloody Prudence. Instead, the Seven Year Itch tour (that's how long it's been since they split) is aimed at fans familiar with the darker corners of The Scream and Juju, or even ("I Could Be Me Again") the B-sides.

Siouxsie's voice - hollow, harrowing, always one refusenik semitone flat - can still make the blood run cold, and grinning maniac Budgie's falling- down-the -stairs drumming, Steve Severin's snaky basslines and former Psychedelic Fur Knox Chandler's sheet-metal guitar whip up a black vortex of sound which defies categorisation.

The Banshees always transcended goth, the genre which they inadvertently created. Tonight, hearing "Cities In Dust", which used the volcanic demolition of Pompeii as a metaphor for the ruin of civilisation itself, and the finale "Peek-A-Boo", which deconstructed the ambiguous power relationships of the stripshow, it hits you: you didn't get that from the bleedin' Mission.

When the fat lady sings at the start of a show, you know something's seriously wrong. So it proves with Culture Club, the band for whom I ran away from home in 1984 and slept on Bristol Parkway station.

Boy George was the first role model I had encountered who showed another way of being a man, and his music - lilting lover's rock and the sweetest white soul - was holy. But Culture Club at the Royal Albert Hall is one of the most depressing experiences of my adult life, and I feel physically sick for days afterwards.

The fat lady in question is a replacement for the great Helen Terry, and she does a no more than adequate job. If she isn't the real thing, neither, at first, is George: "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" is performed by his lookalike from Taboo. It's a mean trick (George himself eventually lumbers on dressed as Leigh Bowery, or the Judder Man meets Andy Pandy), but by the end, I leave the half-empty hall wishing the doppelganger had stayed on.

Contributed by Jerry Burch.

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