Neu! Reekie! curate the second of their two nights at Leith Theatre. The themes tonight seem to be the ‘DIY or die’ ethic and also playfulness. In opening, compere Kevin Williamson explains that the showing of an Adam West-era ‘Batman’ TV episode instead of their usual avant garde animations or films was a conscious ‘fuck it’ to the reviewers that always comment on these.
After Batman, the opening artist, Molly Nilsson, quietly walks on stage and sets her backing recording running which she will sing over. Her music is a lo-fi synth-pop which akin to the over-produced ‘80s without over-stepping into pomposity. The sounds have a self-consciously vintage feel so this does not feel like merely apeing a style. She achieves this although the echoing drum machine, the dramatic tempo changes and the simple synthesiser chords often have a power ballad feel. Her clear, dark and moody vocals blend with the music as she sings in an innocent way about social problems in ‘Money Never Dreams’ or ‘Let’s Talk About Privileges’.
The political theme continues next with the spoken word element of the evening, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson is the father of dub poetry, which is a lyrical chanting to a reggae rhythm. Unlike his records, tonight he performs without any music. He is a small, well-dressed man with suit and tie and trilby hat, whose burring baritone rolls out his patois words to the rhythm. He delivers his poems in a deliberate, serious manner that fits their political content.
We get a series of poems from the ‘70s and early ‘80s which aim to show that his was the rebel generation as they defied the idea that the minority are powerless. He contradicts the idea that the Caribbean community in the UK wanted to remain separate and celebrates that they have achieved integration. The most powerful of all his pieces, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ was part of a successful campaign to challenge the courts’ application of an outdated law (the so-called Sus Law). He talks through the social context of each piece as the black community seek to integrate into the UK. The fight for the investigation of racist murders at Newcross in an extract of ‘The Newcross Massacre’. The struggle against policing tactics such as Operation Swamp in ‘Di Great Insoreckshan’.
Without explicitly saying so, he provides a living example of the power of community to successfully challenge institutional behaviour through a self-created protest movement. He receives an attentive hush from the audience throughout the performance, which breaks into a the cheering ovation at the end.
Next on stage are The Vaselines, a Scottish five-piece band fronted by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. They are an indie-pop, Glasgow band known for a lo-fi sound and sexually suggestive lyrics. The band had a short initial life at the end of the ‘80s and broke up after one album that was then cited by Kurt Cobain as a strong influence. Their independent credentials were further burnished by the fact that they did not seek to capitalise on this fame upon re-forming in 2008.
They open with ‘High Tide Low Tide’ an upbeat, rock and roll tune which they sing with a lusty enthusiasm and then remind the audience where they do not come from with ‘I Hate the ‘80s’. The simple ringing guitars and unprocessed sound match this rejection of the decade of leg-warmers and yuppies.
Kelly and McKee had a reputation for sharp dialogue between songs as befits an exchange from former lovers. They do not disappoint in this as when McKee asks her monitor to be adjusted, ‘Could I have a bit less of Eugene?’ and he replies, ‘You’ve had all of me’ to which she quips straight back, ‘It wasn’t very much’ and they both laugh.
The highlight of the set was their version of a song that Nirvana famously covered, ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’. The melacholic vocals of Kelly contrast with McKee’s light but forceful voice to create a strangely nostalgic protest. Other songs exhibit more of the playful side of their banter such as the brief and bright ‘Molly's’ Lips’ and ‘Exit The Vaselines’, which is, of course, not the final song of the set.
Their songs cover love, sex and death with an innocent, melodic vocals but they are clearly a rock band as Kelly’s final act of playing his guitar over the back of his head seeks to emphasise. A delicious sweet and sour.
Last up are The Pastels, who appear as six-piece using wind instruments to good effect in creating their dreamy indie-pop. The relaxed nature of the band is immediately apparent as Stephen Pastel (lead vocals) is ready to begin but then realises that his guitar is not plugged in so we have a few embarrassed seconds of equipment fumbling. They open with a dreamy instrumental that sets a misty atmosphere. The songs are full of pretty melodies such as ‘Check My Heart’ and allusions using the weather, ‘Summer Rain’.
The Pastels weave a spell with their music. Theirs is an intimate sound of friends taking an evening walk under the sodium lights of the city’s suburbs. The set builds this mood finally meandering to a more exotic place with a psychedelic rendering of ‘Baby Honey’ in a lively tempo set against a pulsing drone. A dreamy pop experience.