Melody Maker (11.18.78)
Live Review by Oliver Lowerstein
Banshees: too much control?
Station to Station with The Feline Dance... in this case the terminus being the Hammersmith Odeon; at best a renowned mausoleum, at worst a deathspot. The difference is minimal. The only absolute it elicits is a denial of both atmosphere and instinctual communication.
Even so, both parties came probably hoping for something, though not expecting much, and getting only a messy, muggy evening of celluloid, vicarious pleisure. The Banshees, you got the distinct vibe, hated the whole affair - much as they have probably hated this whole tour - and consequently turned in a dour, lousy set; the audience needed to enjoy it. One had paid, after all. But no primacy, only speculation, and more nostalgia for ages round the corner...Time disobeys us.
Why here, then - apart from, that is, finance? A need to prove something? Worthiness? Manhood? A sense of Russian Roulette? Or the most obvious, arrival? A point, perhaps, of this whole tour, to emphasise this arrival. So this review can warble "to be reckoned with," "a major force," ad infinitum.
Because ascendancy for The Banshees has been nothing if not swift. Because "Hong Kong Garden" has found the "pop" market. Because the album, have no doubts, will be massive. And finally because they’ve been the unfortunate recipients of the most bloated media overkill since... well, probably the Clash.
A confused and misleading hype, too. For whilst the easiest of descriptions may well be "Ice Queen," "The Cold Wave," they fully deny the - albeit chilling - passion of the Banshees’ wail. For whilst Manson and Neill are references of sorts, they just pander to the obvious - these are far more children of Christopher Isherwood and Marc Bolan. And although the accuracy of their major debt - the Velvets - is undoubted, it isn’t contained to the music. One had, and the other has, the same tingling sense of reminder, a similar threat of darkness to their respective generations. If the Velvets - and the Doors - were the original sin of psychedelia, then the Banshees are this to punk.
The band, three asexual stick insects dressed black for a funeral march, never for a moment assume hysterics, but a visual reverse; the strength in reserve. A workmanlike posture. Another kind of dominance.
After them, Siouxsie - the feline dance. Predatory and stalking, she exudes a dominant, isolated sexuality.
As with the visuals, so too the music. From the opening "Helter Skelter" to the closing "Pure", the power of repression, whether guitar, voice or drums, is extreme. And sometimes extraordinary. John McKay’s guitar blisters and tingles with obsessive precision. Kenny Morris’s drumming, the exquisite conclusion of punk’s revaluation of the instrument as a tribal, metallic, rolling backbone, remains immaculately controlled.
The sound is a conjunction of Bowie, Roxy and Television, a mutation from the Pistols - the latter particularly so on their much overrated "Carcass" and "Metal". Still, it’s main stimulant is the Velvets, sharing a mutual distrust of melody. In it’s place comes an emphasis on a spartan rhythm. And in texture too, as in best moments of their best numbers: the fragmented rush of "Switch," the spiralling claustrophobia of "Overground," the hypnotic melancholy bass and guitar intro to "Pure." They also cry out for the subtle augmentation of viola, but John Cale’s got hepatitis, and who else would understand?
Only in the encore, the neglected "Love In A Void," is there a moment of dissolution. Otherwise the control is impeccable.
Which may be the reason for the audience’s shimmering unease at knowing it is submissive to this band and their singer.
But the audience will always let the Banshees down. They never demand more than a spectacle. A night at the Odeon. Alternative family entertainment.
Tonight then, overground from normality, a severe case of miscasting. The Banshees looking nothing if not out of place, and a venue rethink is a necessity.