229 The Venue, London, Saturday 23 October 2011
Bugger me, I made it. I knew they wouldn’t be on at 10 prompt. Granted, the Standells had started well early the previous year, but that was in the bigger of this venue’s two rooms. Tonight, Tom Newman, Pete Cook and the rest of West London’s greatest veteran psychedelic collective are in the considerably smaller ‘psych room’ so that Rob Bailey’s ensuing Crossfire allnighter will follow directly on from them, and in organisational terms, it works perfectly.
Yet somehow, whilst their first reunion show at the Lexington earlier this year had been an absolute blinder, there’s something about the overall atmosphere tonight that doesn’t quite come off. OK, sure, the vocal reverb/chorus pedal effect that is so essential to most of their 1968 album is either missing or just extremely inaudible, and that might have a lot to do with it. It also sure as hell doesn’t help that the audience tonight seem disinterested by comparison (maybe precisely because it isn’t the first reunion show anymore) and that the sound quality in the venue is passable at best.
It isn’t as if the band isn’t on form either. If anything, the intermittent five months of rehearsal, during which most performers learn to ‘wear’ their songs like a second skin, have gelled and tightened the band into a unit, with younger members Jim ‘son of Tom’ Newman and Charlie Salvidge (Toy) now fully worked in and functioning as part of a 60-fingered machine. There are less fluffs and misrememberings than at the previous show: the harmonies are perfectly in tune, and they all seem to be able to hear each other. On the other hand, though, there are longer gaps and more meanderings in between tunes, Newman’s introductions are barely audible to us (again, not his fault) and the whole affair seems somehow quite - how best to put it- laboured by comparison. And conversations with several fellow attendees of my acquaintance would seem to confirm it isn’t only me that thinks this.
What exactly, then, is the problem? I mean, all the requisite ingredients are there. Legendary band? Check. Most of original lineup? Check. New material a bit more gothy and metally than one would expect from a group of such lineage, but still enjoyable, promising and with its heart in the right place? Check. Swirling mist and swathes of long grey hair? Present and correct. Killer 1968 vintage tunes? Well, obviously. My Clown, A Bird Lived, Friendly Man, the eternal proto-prog jam epic Dandelion Seeds, You Missed It All….every single one a definitive stone psych classic, and they wouldn’t have reformed to such an audience in the first place if they weren’t aware of that. Yet somehow, July miss the mark. I’m going to play the wild card and state that if everyone wasn’t continuously talking over them, and I could actually see them (seriously, the sightlines in here have never been great, but tonight they seem even worse) without having to squeeze myself to the front-left-hand-side of the stage, I might have been able to immerse myself in the atmosphere. But so many of us didn’t, and tonight felt as if the band struggled admirably against the odds but still ended up sounding as if they were playing a gig somewhere else down the road while 200 or so of us stood here, some attempting to harken and the rest quite clearly preoccupied by fringe concerns.
No-one should be put off seeing July play by this review- - I certainly haven’t been. No-one should be put off coming to Crossfire either: it’s still undoubtedly one of the best of, if not the very best, of London’s manifold and numerous nights. But sometimes, things just don’t get started, and spend the rest of the night cruising in second gear, and tonight July were indeed stuck in this rut. As Tom Newman says when I tell him this later, every gig is different. Sometimes they just don’t happen, and other times, just as inexplicably, they do, and they’re unbelievable. They were outstanding back in the Spring, and they will no doubt be outstanding again soon. I am also very much looking forward to the new album. After all, if the New York Dolls, Leaf Hound and the likes can pull it off, so can they.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON