Tonight was supposed to be, as had been advertised, an Evelyn Evelyn show, the conjoined twin sister alter egos of Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. However, with Webley stranded in the States due to the spewing of an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano (in fact, it transpires he's en route to the UK this very evening), a last minute reorganisation of proceedings has led to the lineup of special guests promised in support of what's now been billed as an "Amanda Palmer solo show" under the banner of "Icelandic Mayhem!". And this is how such an opportunity arose for Brighton duo, Bitter Ruin, to open the night. Having already appeared as ad hoc support act at Amanda's shows in Glasgow and Dublin a few days previously, I understand they were originally only set to busk in the Koko's foyer as fans entered the venue, although with one half of Evelyn Evelyn still absent (ironic considering the mock "conjoined" twin backstory), they are afforded another opportunity to open a show good and proper. Introduced by Amanda herself, who is full of eulogistic praise for the act, Bitter Ruin appear shortly after 7pm to wide applause from those who've already made it into the venue. On the surface, we have simplicity here - a duo consisting of Ben Richards on acoustic guitar and vocals, with Georgia Train performing most lead singing. However, music-wise their material oozes emotional depth, largely through lyrical and sonic melancholy, reflective of, and suggested by, their pessimistically despondent band name, and Georgia's dark eye make-up also alludes towards the songs' abject motifs. Her elaborate hand gestures and spasmodic body movements add a more melodramatic theatrical feel to both the music and performance, maintaining visual interest and, rather surprising, is an admission before final song 'Beware' that she's been singing with a sore throat which makes the power in her consummate vocal gymnastics she exercises in the Koko this evening even more astonishing. Of other songs aired, 'Trust' is introduced as simply "about an argument" and 'Soldier' as being "stuck in a relationship you don't want to be in", with the duo commencing each of these numbers stood/sat back to back, a neat gesture in their performance that's implicit of the lyrics' themes. By the time their set closes, they receive loud cheers from a now full Koko and, given the correct exposure (touring with Amanda Palmer is a fuck of a good start), Bitter Ruin are a talented female/male combo that could go far.
Thursday 22nd April 2010
Koko in London, UK
ROBOTS IN DISGUISE
Considering tonight's show had been 'assembled' pretty last minute with support acts recruited at the eleventh hour, the smooth organisation and quick change over times are something of a surprise. Literally seconds after Bitter Ruin vacate the stage, Amanda appears once again and informs the audience - "For those who just came you're not going to see Evelyn Evelyn - instead, you're gonna see this stupid bitch Amanda Palmer!", then proceeds to say how excited she is to introduce the next band with "a very special acoustic set". It is, of course, Robots in Disguise, perhaps famed more for their appearances in 'The Mighty Boosh' than their own music. Having never seen the Julian Barratt/Noel Fielding TV show, or previously been aware of the girls' usual electropunk discharge, I witness their performance this evening through objective ears and eyes. Stripped down acousto-centric punk is on offer from these ladies tonight with the core lineup of guitarist/vocalist Dee Plume and bassist/vocalist Sue Denim joined by percussionist Ann Droid (aka Gemma Hill) who sits behind them beating the shit out of her cajón drum. As they spend a couple of minutes untangling and plugging in leads, they inform the crowd - "We're Robots in Disguise...in disguise as a folk trio!", prompting much laughter around the Koko. With Dee and Sue quasi-attired as air hostesses, the three musicians open with freshly available download-only single 'Wake Up', followed by what's introduced as their next single, 'Chains', both of which they state they're trying to get to number one. Having never heard the original versions of these tracks, I have no point of comparison with their live incarnations this evening, or indeed their viability to top the charts, although as far as acoustic-based punk goes it's an enjoyable turn in a night of disparate music. The audience think so too judging by the warm reception they offer Robots in Disguise with loud cheers and applause in-between songs, and also at the close of their set.
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MELISSA AUF DER MAUR; ROBOTS IN DISGUISE; BITTER RUIN
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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And so onto the real reason everyone is gathered in the Koko tonight; the venue's near capacity crowd eagerly anticipating the appearance of Amanda Fucking Palmer. Well, I'm sure a lot of fans were actually looking forward to witnessing the mock conjoined twin sister sensation that is Evelyn Evelyn in action but, with Jason Webley en route to these shores as Amanda takes to the stage, fans with tickets for one of the Bush Hall shows over the next three days would have to wait a little longer, and everyone else has maybe missed their chance. That said, judging by the deafening screams and cheers that greet Amanda as she appears and hurls flowers out into the sea of heads, not one person present seems even an inkling disappointed, promised as they are with a unique chance on this tour to see her perform a long, semi-impromptu solo set. A lesser artist would have undoubtedly cancelled or postponed a show under such circumstances. Not Amanda. Not in any small way. Quite the contrary, she finds quality support acts at shorter than short notice, a temporary crew, borrowed gear etc, most of which was made possible through the power of Twitter and the generosity of her fans. Right then, so Twitter does have a purpose beyond public conversations in the form of 140-character exchanges of dialogue in the binary world.
Opening with The Dresden Dolls track 'Sex Changes', just under a minute into the song she fluffs a lyric, stops playing her keyboard and declares - "I can't believe I've already fucked up and I've only been onstage for 30 seconds!" which engenders loud cheers from the audience. It's perhaps a bizarre observation to make but such a fuck up actually seems apposite for the occasion of such an extemporaneous show. Unfaltered, she recovers swiftly, finishes performing the song, then settles into a fine rendition of 'Astronaut'. An airing of three Evelyn Evelyn tracks follows, two of which - 'You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister' and the Barrett-esque mad genius of 'Elephant Elephant' - she performs with a pre-recorded video of Jason on a large projection screen behind her. Amanda tries to maintain the pretence, as does Jason on the footage, that he's on a live internet link from the plane, but I'm guessing few present in the Koko are fooled. The estranged Evelyn then departs in a flicker of light as Amanda tackles a solo version of 'Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?', a rather apt song choice with just one of the conjoined siblings present. She jokes that in her unconjoined state she'll be able to play the song using both hands, and does so admirably with only three minor fuckups! The remainder of the 2 hour long set sees her switch between The Dresden Dolls and more recent material from 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer' including the likes of 'Runs in the Family', 'Leeds United', 'Ampersand', 'Coin-Operated Boy', and 'Mrs. O', but also with a few surprises such as when Melissa Auf der Maur reappears onstage to play acoustic bass for a version of Jane's Addiction's 'I Would For You' (which Amanda covered in The Dresden Dolls, of course), and a ukelele version of Radiohead's 'Fake Plastic Trees', which she actually performs on a second ukelele passed from the audience after the first one she acquires is completely untunable. Her recently made available download only track inspired by a Niggaz With Attitude lyric, 'Do You Swear to Tell the Truth the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth so Help Your Black Ass' also makes an appearance in the set (complete with its own mishap when she forgets the entire second verse), as well as the recently composed country anthem 'Fuck the Ash Cloud' performed with backing from Bitter Ruin, its lyrics jointly written by Amanda and her fiancé Neil Gaiman via email when it looked as if the erupting Icelandic volcano was to keep the two of them separated during a small window of time they'd planned to spend together. The happy ending to that particular tale, as Amanda informs the audience, is that "the song worked and Neil's here tonight", although they still play the song and encourage an audience sing-along en masse of "Fuck the Ash Cloud" over the chorus. In fact, for Bitter Ruin and audience alike, the track could very well have been titled 'Praise the Ash Cloud'! Without meaning to trivialise the global disruption it's caused, with no volcanic explosion Bitter Ruin wouldn't have got such prestigious support slots and audience members wouldn't have been able to witness such a uniquely awesome show this evening. Every volcanic ash cloud does indeed have a silver lining! As her set nears the two hour mark, Amanda informs all present that she witnessed Malcolm Mclaren's funeral procession through Camden High Street earlier in the day and, as a fitting tribute, and show closure, invites the front row of the audience to join her up onstage for a karaoke-style rendition of 'Anarchy in the UK'. Twenty or so fans accept her invitation and eagerly climb over the barrier to jump around like maniacs to the Sex Pistols classic that plays loudly through the PA. An apt celebration that climaxes over the last few bars with Amanda stage diving into the audience and crowd surfing her way around the venue.
With the batty, but utterly brilliant, 'Evelyn Evelyn' album under her belt, recently emancipated from her binding deal with Roadrunner Records, and the promise of a forthcoming release featuring nothing but Radiohead covers to the accompaniment of ukelele, who knows what else the future holds in the musically unpredictable world of Amanda Palmer. But, for now, and particularly this evening, she proves herself one of the scene's most sincere, dynamic and talented performers. And as she finally departs from the stage, only to reappear a couple of minutes later to request if anyone accidentally took her phone during the Pistols mayhem then to hand it in at the merch stall. For us photographers though, it's time to make our exit from the photopit having been "held captive in there like photographic slaves" for the past four hours - words I recall uttering to a fellow tog as we climb up onto the stage. For some reason, the venue deemed it sensible to block off both ends of the photopit so the only entrance/exit was backstage, across the stage and jumping down into the pit. The benefit of this? A good front row view for the entire gig. The disadvantage? Deprived of a beer for the whole evening, and the use of a toilet, both of which I head off to fulfil...but not in that order.
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MELISSA AUF DER MAUR
Next up is Melissa Auf der Maur, onetime Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins bassist. Introduced by Amanda as another stranded victim of the unbiquitously disruptive ash cloud, she should have been back in the States by tonight although, with gear borrowed from Robots in Disguise by herself and her band, is another last minute addition to the Koko bill. Apparently, she also played a spontaneous gig in Camden's Jazz Café last night where Amanda joined her onstage, equipped with ukelele, for a couple of songs. With tonight's show being broadcast live on the internet, Melissa admits to the audience she is a "webcast virgin" so it's perhaps a little ironic that there transpired to be no live feed for the entirety of her set. Her performance is, therefore, a more exclusive experience for those present in the Koko this evening and she treats the crowd to a short set consisting of 'Taste You', 'Out of Our Minds (OOOM)', '22 Below', 'Followed the Waves' and closing number 'Overpower Thee'. I guess related to the webcast glitch and attempts to rectify it, a guy runs on mid-set to whisper something into Melissa's ear before scurrying back off stage, then she informs the audience that she let him have the password to her laptop at his request, "so now he has access to all my emails, photos, videos...!" Many present are discernibly excited by Melissa's presence onstage and, as with Robots in Disguise, it's perhaps somewhat of a rare chance to hear her tunes performed live in a stripped down acoustic guise. Her drummer, however, does look a little bored in just having a cajón to slap, but collectively they put on one hell of a great show with their short, off the cuff set.
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