Friday, 27 February 2009

"Standing on a beach with a gun in my hand..."

It was the last song they played.

They'd gone on past the curfew at the O2 and my pal who was officially filming the event feared the band would have to pay a fine and end up out of pocket. Boo and hoo. Still, it was an encore that made the event worth it for the thousands of middle aged air-punchers whose pockets would only be taxed an extra hour of babysitting fee (I'd managed to once again persuade my mum to babysit, which she does for a small fee of Guilt). But driving home, tailgating through the Blackwall Tunnel, I couldn't stop thinking about that last song...

The gig we were at was the NME Awards Big Gig - a show sponsored by Shockwaves, which for many of the fellas keeping babysitters in business that night, seemed an inappropriate product given our follicular state. It wasn't all about the headline act though - The Cure may have managed to pretty much fill the 23,000 capacity venue but it was Franz Ferdinand who gave it some NME flavour - I doubt whether many of the folk there had ever heard of Crystal Castles and you know my thoughts on White Lies already - we missed them both last night by the way, as we were more usefully spending that time patrolling the cavernous Dome looking for its Box Office, queuing up, being sent to another Gate because of a 'ticket misprint' etc etc. White Lies were about to release their follow up album by the time we got in.

What a strange audience. Perhaps its a sign of the times that a youth-branded event has to use the carrot of a vintage band to get punters through the gate but it certainly resulted in a mixed crowd. There were loads of boys who looked like the daughter's boyfriend in Jack Dee's sitcom Lead Balloon - hiding behind curtains of hair and jutting their chins out they sloped around the venue looking confused. And along with their Peaches-a-likey girl mates, they were obviously all really excited in their own special way about Franz Ferdinand. Along with Les Kids there were also many drunk people who looked like they'd accidentally walked into the show from the Salsa Night going on the Mexican restaurant outside, add to this suited businessmen making jazz hands to Just Like Heaven and all those Cure Mums and Cure Dads and you've got a Dome full of weird. It's a shame that Franz Ferdinand were so ordinary.

I wrote about Franz here a few weeks ago, how I was longing to hear their new album. I must say that I've heard the album a few times now (on Spotify, natch) and it's made absolutely no impression on me. It's done what we've identified here as 'A Killers' - pleasant while it lasts before sailing directly from memory. A shame, I was looking forward to it. They were still enjoyable but it was old songs like Michael that had the snap and verve you expect from them. They should split now and quit while they're relatively ahead. Then they could reform in five years and do a Blur. I was chatting to a friend about this this morning - as with Magazine, isn't it better to quite while you're ahead or just beginning to fall from grace then reappear fresh-faced and lean when everyone's palettes are ready again? This is rapidly turning into the most reliable music business model for bands, I think. For years Terry Hall had trouble getting arrested - now he can't move for Brixton Academys, they're coming out of his ears and all because he's got the name Specials attached to his name again. You might think I'm being cynical (and of course I am) but surely reforming without the guy who wrote all the songs, came up with the whole Two Tone idea and look, and effectively was the spirit of the band ranks is a trifle opportunistic. I don't know, I like the Specials, but I can't get that excited about the Sans Dammers reunion gigs as so many people seem to doing.

Travis should have split up just after the Invisible Band album started their downward turn. Instead they've been playing on regardless to fewer and fewer fans and you can't move for copies for their last album in Fopp where it retails at £1. I can't bring myself to buy one, it seems wrong.

The Cure have never split of course. How could they? That would be like Mick Hucknell splitting up - a tantalising thought indeed. It's all about Robert Smith, isn't it? Or Fat Bob, as I seem to remember him being called in the press in the late 80s. Twenty years later and he's no fatter or thinner, his hair is the same and so, incredibly, is that squeaky, boyish singing voice. The bulk of the show last night was from their new album. I wonder if he had split the band or just retired after, say, Disintegration, whether they would be any bigger than they are now. It's true, they're having something of a renaissance now, Goth is very much back in the air, but I suspect that if they had split up 20 years ago their show would have been leaner and more enjoyable. The crowd last night swayed politely through songs from 4:13 Dream but really got hot under the collar for 10:15 Saturday Night. Myself included.

I could wax lyrical about the Cure in a similar way to how I did over Magazine the week before last. Much of my formative pop experience is connected to them (saw them by accident supporting Siouxise & The Banshees in 1979, learned guitar by playing their songs, kissed my first girlfriend in a bedroom featuring a mural of the artwork from Boys Don't Cry, used Robert Smiths name in my English O Level...) But I'm resisting the temptation because I want to talk about that last song they played.

The second part of the set was a track per album and we were blessed with a stonking Three Imaginary Boys, A Forest , Primary, In Between Days and so on. To our right, a large florid woman flailed her hands and buttocks, in front of us a fortyish couple, who smelled of air freshener, gave each other loving looks through Boys Don't Cry, even Les Kids seemed to know the words . The encore just after the 11pm curfew featured more early stuff including the quite superb Jumping On Someone Else's Train and Grinding Halt. And then they played it, they played the song. I think you will have guessed which one by now: Killing An Arab. Or not, in fact. No, the song they actually played appeared to be called Killing Another - I wasn't going mad, my film producer friend confirmed it:"Yes, they've changed its named - too sensitive."

I don't know where to start on this - I'm still in the Blackwall Tunnel, baffled and jammed. I mean, the song is a take on Albert Camus' L'Etranger where the central image is the man on the beach who shoots an Arab. It's a song dramatising a story he's read. It may as well be him singing "I have woken up and discovered I am a giant insect!" or "My name is Holden Caulfield and I'm really pissed off".

Is this the climate of fear we live in? Must we shy away from saying anything that might risk offending other races and cultures? Is this the legacy of the Satanic Verses? Rushdie's fatwa happened exactly 20 years ago this year - have we not moved on? I can't believe that in a music world where I don't seem to be able to download a version of American Boy for my daughter without getting Kanye saying Fuck half way through, where I can't get Lily Allen's single without the same word, not to speak of her favourite Sugababes track Hole In The Head featuring 4 Shits - I cannot believe that we're still in a climate where the BBC would probably still ban Relax (25 years ago this year, pop pickers).

Apparently Smith changed it initially to Kissing An Arab in 2004 then switched that to Killing Another in 2006 for a Royal Albert Hall show. I could understand if they'd been playing Dubai Media City or the Abu Dhabi HMV Forum (made that one up) then they wouldn't want to cause offence. But really. In front of a load of middle aged fans and some NME readers? Am I missing something? Please tell me if I am.


  1. And another thing, when they played the NME Awards itself the previous night, it was a 30min set packed with hits, no new stuff, to an industry audience, admittedly with a graveyard slot on C4, but it went down a storm, causing even the most hardest of hards audiences to stand up and wave their arms (yes you Grace Jones). So why did The Cure (democratically I'm assured) take the decision to go for a concept set list on the Thursday night. Or at least why didn't they ditch it when the aforementioned oddly-matched crowd remained unmoved?

    I can tell you something for free, "I wish I'd stayed asleep today..."

  2. Personally, Ben, nothing the Cure do could ever be deemed wrong.

    However, I imagine Mr Smith is just making sure that the Daily Mail don't start an anti-Cure hate campaign claiming he's inciting the youth of today to commit race crimes. Just because it's an NME gig doesn't make it safer!

    Just listening to your description of their second-half set list makes me jealous. I last saw them in 1991 around The Wish tour and they played a 10-minute version of Forest and then finished with a rare rendition of Subway Song!

    I was both excited and disappointed - overwhelmed by such a cool finale and gutted that I didn't get the full 10:15 into KAA that they're famous for.

    Incidentally, I believe The Cure are famous for playing past the curfew - they were once fined a ridiculous sum for going overtime in France.

    Final observation: nice piece on MBV in Saturday's Guide :o)

  3. Thanks for both these fact-filled comments.

    I wouldn't say the crowd were unmoved at the O2 show but they certainly perked up during the 'hits' that's for sure.

    As for R Smith's Daily Mail attentiveness, a friend of mine who is far better read reminded me that Camus' original text is an critique of French colonial racism in Algeria making the song even more powerful given the times we live it. A shame that those whose reaction Robert is presumably afraid of would probably not investigate the song's origins before taking to the streets. That's if the Satanic Verses is anything to go by.

    Interesting that the Cure are well known for curfew-baiting - that fits with R Smith legedary night owl reputation!

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