Siouxsie Takes NYC Back in Time
Banshees offer bitters and sweets in reunion show
Some 2,500 black-clad fans packed into New York City's Roseland Ballroom on Friday night to catch a resurrected Siouxsie and the Banshees on their 7 Year Itch tour. And though the ninety-plus-minute set was heavy on the atmospherics, the Banshees' roots in punk ("art punk," as some clever music guidebook writers like to distinguish it) weren't entirely neglected, either. Contradiction, or maybe just dichotomy, has always been an element of the Banshees' appeal, both musically and especially in singer Siouxsie Sioux's demeanor and delivery. During "Night Shift," the theatrical frontwoman threaded her arms into a backward white long- sleeved shirt she had previously removed. Mimicking a loony in a straightjacket, she yelped "I'm out of my mind with you . . .," flailing between verses.
Standing, squatting, crawling, rolling, writhing, nearly floating at times, her stage presence Friday was as diversely representative as the gentle serenade "I'll be watching over you" in "Lullaby" or the repeated spitting of "son of a bitch" in "Eve White, Eve Black." Accordingly, each change was supported by drummer Budgie's pounding assaults and his sparser tempos, by bassist Steven Severin's heavy rhythmic drive, by guitarist Knox Chandler's acoustic melodies and his piercing electric distortion.
While one hand holds bitters, the other offers sweets. Mystic, then venomous. Gracious, then demanding. Gruff, then graceful. Temporarily resurrected, Siouxsie and the Banshees are now as much the friendly "alternative rock" act they became in the late Eighties as the irreverent circa-'77 British punks they started out as. The sum may be eclectic, but each component is consistent and complete. And so was the show, fulfilling Sioux's early forewarning: "Buckle your seat belts . . . the ride is going to be bumpy." Not a problem --most time warps are. After all, despite the still-rabid fan base, this is nostalgic indulgence at its best. With no new Banshees songs to offer since splitting seven years ago (when Sioux and Budgie committed themselves full-time to their side project, the Creatures), even the late tunes sound dated.
While one discontent attendee might have been overheard to say upon exiting, "I can't believe they didn't play 'Love in a Void,' they did throw in two excellent B-sides ("I Could Be Again" and "Drop Dead/Celebration"). Thanking the crowd for "coming to a show with no MTV," they nevertheless played their one relative hit, "Kiss Them for Me," which with MTV promotion made them a semi-profitable addition to that first Lollapalooza lineup. In all, the selection managed to cater successfully to the newbies as well as the veterans, the dabblers as well as the dedicated.
Slamming through a total of twenty songs, the show was career- spanning, including samples from almost every album, from Scream (1978) to Superstition (1991) -- yet strangely avoiding Hyaena (1984) and Peep Show (1988) entirely. This second installment of the 7 Year Itch Tour was not, for the most part, unlike the first, which took place in Washington, D.C., two nights earlier. Substituting a song here and there, both shows began by setting the tone with the gloomy guitar chaos and lyric-less caterwauling of "Pure." Both ended with an aggressive version of the Beatles' darkly psychedelic "Blue Jay Way" (a nod to the late George Harrison, who composed the tune). In the interim, the energy crested and crashed from one number to the next, and at times within a single song.
It's obvious that Siouxsie and the Banshees didn't outlast their contemporaries without good reason. Their live performances had as much to do with their early success and impressive longevity as did composition and persona. Based on Friday's show, they're scratching that 7 Year Itch long and hard enough to continue to keep their fans satisfied, for a while at least.
ROBIN A. ROTHMAN