S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men - London, Heaven. 11/09/2015
Band reformation gigs usually go one of two ways. It can either be clear that the group still hate each other, but have got back for the money. Or, as tonight, whilst fate may have brought them back together after an eternity, all the pieces fit seamlessly together so you remember just why you loved them so much the first time around.
In this particular case providence came in the form of Adam Foley and his labour of love film "Flawed is Beautiful". Describing it as a documentary about S*M*A*S*H, These Animal Men and the New Wave of New Wave scene, it provided the reason for both bands to reunite for one night only. In so doing it also gave a reason for people to travel from all corners of Britain to London to dress sharp, have a laugh and relive the mid 90's, when rock music still really mattered.
Due to a very early curfew S*M*A*S*H were scheduled to take to the stage at an ungodly hour and I wondered therefore what size audience they were likely to take the stage to. However, on entering the subterranean venue, there was a very healthy sized crowd already in attendance, which was increasing by the moment as people flocked in from the adjacent pubs. What struck me immediately was the atmosphere of the audience. Excitement mixed with expectancy and a certain amount of incredulity, as people realised they were about to see these bands after a twenty year hiatus. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones made in a shared bond over bands that had once been so close to so many hearts.
And then they were there. Rob, Salv and Ed, looking slightly older and greyer, but still unmistakably S*M*A*S*H, the political upstarts who became the first band to appear on Top of The Pops without officially releasing a single. Little introduction was offered or needed for the songs, as they ripped through a back catalogue of incendiary numbers like "Lady Love Your Cunt", "Shame" , "Real Surreal", "Bang, Bang, Bang", "Morphine for the Pain", "Altruism", "Seymour", "Barabus" and "Self Abused". With the stage drenched in the venues impressive lighting system, they looked what they always were, a spine tingling (punk) rock band of premier class.
I have to admit that back in the day my allegiances were with S*M*A*S*H, who I saw many times in and around South Wales. I only ever crossed paths with TAM once, at a rather underwhelming gig in Newport TJ's. However, all my preconceptions were about to change...
Swaggering onto the stage like four gunslingers looking for action, the Adidas clad lads from Brighton were primed to explode. There was little evidence of the ravages of time, with the only obvious sign being the glasses that Hooligan now sports. Other than that they could have stepped right out of 1994. As the opening chords of "Sharp Kid" rang out, the venue turned into a maelstrom of swirling bodies caught up in the wall of charisma that the band radiated. They sneered, threw poses and ran the full gamut of rock star stances and the crowd lapped it up. "Whose the Daddy Now?" and "Empire Building" kept up the tempo, as grown men marveled at seeing the band for the first time in nearly two decades.
A modicum of respite came with "Ambulance", before we were off to the races again with "You're Always Right". Once again the lighting rig played its part as the band were bathed in blue, then red and finally eye watering white light. There was time for the odd conversation between songs and a false start or two. But when the band are in full flow and "Light Emitting Electrical Wave" is trying to destroy the remainder of your eardrums, you truly felt like you were (rather aptly given the venues name) in Heaven.
And so it continued with barely a pause for breath. "Sound of Youth", "Life Support Machine, "You're not my Babylon", "Speed King" "April 7" and "Too Sussed" all came and went in blur. Great songs all, that demand to be played regularly and not just once every 20 years. An abortive attempt was made at "Flawed is Beautiful" for an encore which, if nothing else, gave them a chance to plug again Adam Foley's film of the same name. And to round off the night, and possibly call time forever on These Animal Men, they careered once more through "Speed King". A fitting climax to an emotive evening.
I don't know what the future holds, if anything, for
either band. But what tonight proved is that they still have the power
to captivate an audience and crank out rollicking good songs that
clearly still matter to so many people. So if it's to be goodbye then
they couldn't have done it in a better way, but let's hope that this
is the beginning, not the end, of both bands rebirth.
Thanks to Jeff Pitcher for all gig photos and Craig Davies for the weekend arrangements.
These 2 S*M*A*S*H pix by Rongem Boyo