John Foxx brings his Maths and wave upon wave of synth sonics to Liverpool. Getintothis’ Michael Booth bears witness to an electronic pioneer as vital as he’s ever been.
While the university’s adjacent venue played host to Jessie J and a legion of female fans it would be fair to say that John Foxx attracts predominantly those of the opposite sex.
Although the age range was considerably broader, with a pleasing mix of early Ultravox devotees standing shoulder to shoulder with young fans of the resurgent electronic movement.
There was a genuine sense of occasion as Foxx has been far from prolific as a live performer during his career and has often spoke of his dislike of the touring lifestyle, even citing it as one of the reasons for his departure from Ultravox
In many ways the reserved Dennis Leigh created the Foxx persona to deal with the demands of being on stage.
If Foxx did have any pre-gig nerves they looked to be instantly dispelled as the opening track Shatterproof tore out of the blocks. Betraying his 64 years, Foxx delivered a visceral performance with a perfectly twisted vocal accented by sharp angular physical movements and thunderous backing. The tone had been set.
Behind him stood synth archivist and musician in his own right, Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards, surrounded by a bank of electronic drum pads and he provided the live component of the evening’s percussion in an understated but commanding way.
Stage left, stood Hannah Peel, and she came into her own on He’s A Liquid from Foxx’s iconic Metamatic album.
Peel played the main synth line on her electric violin and the effect was as stark and tortured as on the original record. Immediately Metamatic sounded as vital as it did back in 1980. Completing the outfit was Serafina Steer to stage right and she did a fine job on bass and keyboards throughout the night.
The set list continued to jump back and forth in time with each song, the Metamatic material providing a perfect foil to the Interplay tracks.
The warm electronic fuzz of Evergreen was swept away up by the relentlessly ardent A New Kind Of Man, only then to be doused by the blithe Watching A Building On Fire.
Metamatic‘s opening track, Plaza was also performed with the same level of eerie detachment that made it originally so compelling and it was on these types of tracks that the video wall behind the band came into its own, providing hauntingly stark imagery of cityscapes to complete the experience.
Much to the crowd’s pleasure the set list also included two Ultravox tracks, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Just For A Moment which really hung in the air, the latter visibly striking a chord with the audience.
For younger listeners it was a tantalising glimpse into how it might have felt to be there first time round and for those that were came cries for more, with Young Savage being requested on more than one occasion.
The band gave the Interplay album good coverage throughout with the inclusion of the title track plus Summerland and The Running Man. It was clear that the younger part of the audience were very au fait with this material and it was very well received.
Foxx and Co ramp proceedings up with Catwalk, a wonderfully trashy number also from Interplay which boasts an irrepressible electronic riff. More than any other this track underlined Foxx’s legitimacy and relevance as a contemporary music-maker.
Even Foxx‘s original material was given a fresh twist and the main set ended with arguably his most Ballardian track of all; Burning Car a song which wasn’t included on Metamatic but released as a single during that period and perhaps more than any other embodies the aesthetic Foxx was striving for. A killer track, it was delivered in spades providing an exhilarating finish.
The band performed two tracks during the encore – Good Shadow, a quiet and intimate track which closes Interplay. In many ways it was the perfect choice to illustrate the full circle Foxx has made since embarking on his solo career over three decades ago.
Inevitably Underpass is left til last – the single for which he is most widely known. Chart success had been a fleeting thing and there were smiles from the Foxx faithful in seeing this flagship track performed live with such vigour 30 years after the fact.
John Foxx is now heralded as one of the founding fathers of the modern synth movement and it is only right that his contribution is being recognised but at the same time the youthful ebullience witnessed at this gig in many ways renders that statement inappropriate.
Foxx continues to be someone at the forefront of modern electronic music and it was a real privilege to have been present.
The Maths, as with Foxx’s other long-time collaborator, Louis Gordon, were an essential part of that and this was very much a perfect ensemble.
Pictures by Matt Thomas.
Getintothis talks to John Foxx pre-Liverpool gig.
John Foxx exclusive remix for Getintothis.