Melody Maker (3.21.92)

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Siouxsie and the Banshees

Concert Hall, Toronto

Sometimes North American "modern rock" radio is a democratic drag, a dog's breakfast of good bits, wacky chancers and all the Depeche Mode b-sides you ever hated. Some nights it's the magic radio of your mind. I'm driving up Yonge Street singing along at the top of my lungs to "Radio Ass Kiss", out of tune and happy. (And I'm not alone-there goes a pack of Goths up the street. *Skipping*.)

That same "Hey, if it ain't Genesis, it's alternative" mentality puts the Wonder Stuff on a tour with the Banshees from Seattle to Pittsburgh, with a few Canadian pit-stops along the way.

And now it is time for one of the other faces of that-which-is-not-Genesis: Goth. Disclaimer: the only artists of the genre worth their salt love the G-word like my cat enjoys a hot bath. But the term is just so darned succinct. Whatever her American record sales-like the Stuffies', too low-Siouxsie's image is a perennial best-seller. Despite the various permutations, and tonight it's a trim Calamity Jane Fonda Goes Berlin, she's alway been a Face of authority.

But rarely a face of fun, and it's the good humour quotient rather than the music that threatens to make this bill a mismatch. But the worries are not without just cause. It's been a rough 16-year ride on the old pop horse for Siouxsie and to her credit she's still in the saddle by force of bloody minded will. Still playing clubs in America, still a "developing act", still something Geffen hopes will turn into something else, blander. Never mind where we are-if it's not called Billboard, we're not there yet.

I don't know what she thinks, looking out at us all. Perhaps about last summer's Lollapalooza, where extra-thick Toronto security refused to let the livid woman onstage for her won set. Maybe about the new album, whose material commandeers the first half of the set and sounds samey, disappointingly undynamic. Looking up at the stage there's plenty of time to reflect on strange things. Like Steve Severin turning inexorably into Gary Numan. Like Budgie pounding, pounding, pounding, eyes glued to centre stage. Like the new guitarist, sonically a pale replacement for McGeoch's sheetmetal exuberance, but incontestably the strangest acid casualty I've ever seen, squiggly black designs (runes? road maps of Mars?) drawn on his spectacular forehead.

She doesn't really warm to us. The performance takes all of her concentration, the variables of the stage being a thousand times greater than the studio when you're aiming for epic theatre. In reality she needn't worry. She's always had that voice: sometimes off-key and sometimes on, but always with a brilliant mind of its own and running off the leash at every turn. Tonight it's loud, and maybe too strong to be delicate, which is why the "Superstition" material is listless where "This Wheel's On Fire" is steely triumph.

But by "Kiss Them For Me" she appears to have thought better of us, slapping hands with the front row during the intro. Not exactly matey, but closer. We're on a roll, and before the collapsing kaleidoscope of "Peekaboo", she resolves suddenly to let us in. "Have you got your rabbit costumes on? We're going to be bunnies tonight!" she says, startlingly, for all the world like the crotchety aunt who frightened you at age six and then one day seized you in an awkward bony hug.

She knows the way home from here, and we know why we came. "Cities In Dust", "Fear", "Give Me Your Skin", command everything in sight and sound like hit records into the bargain, and Siouxsie keeps dancing breakneck long after we're all back to puffing and standing. Going on as she could, and very well might, for another 16. Billboard be damned.

Jennifer Nine

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