Junction 2, Cambridge 29.10.13

I Strip for Couples feels like a reunion of sorts, perhaps the funeral wake of umpteen Cambridge bands. No one really knows what to expect from the project, only that there should be the right amount of hushed reverence and respectful salutations. As a native, I grew up watching/stalking half of those performing, what felt like every week almost two decades ago (I know, how could my parents allow me out when I was only three?). Tonight’s atmosphere of intrigued anticipation makes it now feel like a privilege to have witnessed the continuously evolving music scene in the city over that time. And, after a stint or two of living elsewhere, there is also a pleasure in nostalgia, as much as the comfort of returning to know that things change but things stay the same. Sometimes I hate such incestuousness, other times I love it. Tonight I love.

There are numerous people onstage by the time the support acts have ended (the delectable folk loveliness of Gill Sandell and the amazing Buzzard Lope); the lights have dimmed and the dry ice has gathered in huge volumes. The audience are seated, which feels a bit weird though also appropriate as the set-up of a thousand performers is like a piece of theatre somehow. There are, amongst others, members of Beverley Kills, Akuso, Broken Family Band, The Willows, Right Turn Clyde and then the maestro, Mr Jason Williams, as well known for his floppy hair being tossed about mid-90s as he is for his songwriting and guitar skills- cutting a sharper image now, he still knows how to pull off a good pose centre/ stage left. He appears slightly humble but mostly knowingly smug. He must be confident that something great is about to happen. It’s been two years in the making after all.

Anyway. There is an immense amount of talent here, the majority of a collective that has perhaps been a little taken for granted having been around for so long that, when it’s combined, it is simply mindblowing, for want of a better cliché. I Strip for Couples is far grander than anything any of them have done before. In the first track alone- (the dramatic ‘Opernr’)- there is a seven-piece string section conducted by Matthew Sharrock, two drummers, keys, bass, guitar and a bunch of technical stuff going on, in a symphonic fusion of hiphop and all-out rawk. The hiphop is courtesy of the only artist that is relatively unknown compared to the others, but with the most-famous sounding name: Lavern Ashley Rhodes. Despite apparently being pretty much his first performance, Rhodes demands attention, a shy yet powerful figure; his performance almost a tease as another layer is slowly discarded and we are left begging for more (groan, sorry). You’ll hear more of him. Matty Moon on the sound desk is probably having a nervous breakdown right about now but he does an impressive job too.

I know it kind of defeats the object but it would be foolish for me to try and put the evening into words when you should have just been there. This is it though. I Strip for Couples is a film score, it is a story, it is an ode, it is a love letter. Largely experimental rock, there are moments of beauty and moments of sentimentality, not least when Jay introduces samples of his son on a few occasions. There are, as expected, moments of hero worship and unashamed ego, to the point that I get an urge to recreate Jarvis Cocker’s famous stage invasion at the Brit Awards and I know that I will wake up with ‘Earth Song’ in my head (there is light shining from people’s hands, I know because I saw it). There are little cannons firing off kitsch paper hearts, exploding as the cast (because that is what they are) carry themselves in a crescendo of old and new genres. Chad (on bass) said that ‘this is what it is like to be in Jay’s head’. Swoon. As the last song is announced and it turns out to be an epic version of Hofman’s ‘J fears M’, all that is left to do is admire those assembled for having the commitment to pulling this off, left with a melancholy feeling that it is over and one day all this will be too. I’m in a couple. Would you all strip once more for me before then please?

Anna C