The idea of watching a band 30 years on from their seminal release is almost always a mistake. Indeed the last time we caught a band of a similar ilk was in the downstairs of The Masque and it turned out to be an abomination.
Five tussle-haired men in faded denim, pot-bellied and distinctly lacking in the oomph department dragging their heels through a ’69 rock and roll classic: that band were MC5 and that gig truly blew chunks.
So, it was fair to say we approached last night’s offering somewhat gingerly. And things hardly got off to a flyer as a late shift in work means a sprint up Bold Street and entering into the furnace-like, sardine-packed loft with the band minutes into their opener resulting in a balancing act on an orange plastic chair outside the main room just to get a glimpse of what’s unfolding.
What is unfolding is four decades of vine-like dreads cascading beneath a turquoise headscarf so thick you’d imagine they double as Mowgli’s primary mode of transport. And shaking this most impressive of barnets is chief Slit Ari Up – as charasmatic a frontwoman you could possibly dream of.
Whether it be summoning up sounds of the jungle, exotic bird calls, shaking her body in all manner of tribal dances or inviting audience members up on stage for their own spot at backing vocals and percussion – she’s the very epitome of strident individualism.
Given her unique tongue – German by way of Jamaica – even her in-between song banter makes for arresting listening.
It’s Up’s enduring spirit which not only ensures underground classics from the punk canon sound as on the money today as they did way back when they were supporting Joe Strummer‘s lot, but she also brings a sense of purpose to tonight’s proceedings – it never once feels like an exercise in nostalgia – despite the was-there-then look to many of the gathering throng.
The set too is a delicious blend of the golden oldies, (a bracing Shoplifting, a pared down Love and Romance), ragged newies (Reject – basically two fingers to The Man) and swaggering reggae classics (a triumphant dubbed-up Fade Away).
But it’s when the singalong adopted anthem of I Heard It Through The Grapevine (‘ our version’s better than Marvin’s – announces Ari with cheeky self-belief) – complete with ‘I heard it through the bassline,’ refrains – that the party really begins to swing.
Punch-in-the-gut bass and minimalist drums thrusting through the mix and it’s not hard to see the lasting influence this primal, rootsy band have had on a vast landscape of today’s bands. From Tricky to DFA’s James Murphy, PiL to dubstep they’ve all paid their dues at The Slits’ altar.
The groove extends into an elongated Earthbeat before they call it a wrap, typically, with Typical Girls.
The irony is inescapable as this is a bunch of musicians for which the phrase couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Slits: I Heard It Through The Bassline live at the Masque
The Slits: Typical Girls
Pictures courtesy of Sakura at http://www.rockpix.net/index.html
More pics at: http://www.rockpix.net/library/the-slits/index.html and photo gallery here: http://bit.ly/4vQ8fL
Video courtesy of Joe Mckechnie.