Sheep on Drugs - a band name synonymous with a "Fuck you" attitude. Among their oft-delivered free advice were gems like "Shut your face, know your place, punter!" And this aimed not at their detractors but their fans. It is entirely fitting then that their return to the UK live stage, in what was a gap of something like seven years, should be surrounded in pre/during/post gig controversy. For example, on the message board of the UK-based industrial music website Cybase23 alone there were over 50 postings on the subject of tonight - and this on a board that would be doing well to see 50 postings in a week. Most of this rabid posting activity revolved around folk dismissing the event as a con, dismissing the promotion as a con, dismissing the band as a con and questions about just what to expect on the night.
Known for their sardonic pantomime punk live performances, the original two-piece with Lee (electronics) and Duncan X (dishing out the lyrics and general tips) have enjoyed a cult following since their debut in 1991. But tonight wasn't exactly what you'd call 'vintage' Sheep on Drugs. In fact, some fans have said it should not have gone out under the name Sheep on Drugs at all. The truth of the matter is that since returning to the live circuit (with dates in Europe prior to tonight already under their comeback belt), SoD have made no secret of the fact that the current incarnation is not the same as the earlier one.
Most controversially, singer and fan favourite Duncan X, who used to provide the focus of their already spartan live performances, no longer appears on stage, although his voice is present in the form of samples. As it happens, tonight he was present in person - in the audience. In contrast to some punters on the night (and those who felt vexed enough to post vehement messages to the Cybase23 board) I got precisely what I'd anticipated. Most of the music was on backing tracks, there was an unknown session guitarist looking somewhat out of place and Lee fiddling with a laptop and synth. The usual anarchic projections (with some live mixing of digital photos of the audience) provided a diverting visual backdrop throughout.
This was essentially a Sheep on Drugs remixing event. I quite liked the reworked versions, but never having been a devout follower might have helped me here. However, things in general were not helped by the numerous technical problems that plagued the entire set. Minor glitches aside, things were going okay until the gremlins got really out of hand. As a result Lee was more preoccupied with swearing at and pushing over the sound engineers who kept running onto the stage to try (unsuccessfully) to sort things out. Lee even invited a member of the audience on stage to help out with a MIDI lead but promptly shoved them back off before they could even try.
Unfortunately, as the set progressed, it gradually disintegrated into near farce. Duncan X did appear on stage, but did nothing more than stand idly by, smoking a cigarette and watch Lee have a nervous breakdown - frantically trying to keep the music going. By the time of the final song, Sheep on Drugs got halfway through 15 Minutes of Fame when all went dead. Complete silence. It was an ignominious end to an evening that became increasingly bizarre with each passing moment.
After some embarrassing fumbling around they began 15 Minutes of Fame again and got it to run to completion. The stage emptied and the audience were a mix of roars of adulation and confused and annoyed faces. Some fans called out for the obligatory encore but it never came. In response, another shouted "Don't bother - stay off!". He'd voiced the opinion of the minority on the night - but he did have a point. It wasn't SoD of old, but if the remaining member wants to use the same name and do something different and the other original member doesn't object (as he obviously does not here) then you can only thank or attack Sheep on Drugs for what they served up at the Garage. If you want to judge for yourself, SoD are scheduled to appear at this year's Black Celebration festival in London on 27 October. You have been (very clearly) warned.