Mechanical Cabaret / Snail / Ju Ju Babies / Spermwhale

Upstairs at The Garage, London - 2 March, 2003

"Incredibly, Ju Ju Babies sound as good as they look"

[Ju Ju Babies go crazie!] Another one of Flag's showcase evenings that gave glamsters Mechanical Cabaret the opportunity to headline this time around. However, the night was to belong not to the headliners but a momentous performance from a startling new band - Ju Ju Babies.

Openers Spermwhale combined thick, beefy backing and beats with cheesy 80s video game bleeps. The results often sounded like techno versions of Abba's Gimme, Gimme, Gimme but as inoffensive background noise it served its purpose whilst we were at the bar.

What little I knew about Ju Ju Babies had largely been gleaned from the flyer earlier that evening. A flattering quote from Russell Mael of Sparks fame certainly caught my eye as did the band themselves once they took to the stage. Looking like a travelling freak show who had accidentally wandered into the venue, the line up included a trashy blonde vocalist dressed in nothing but sticky tape, an Animal-like mad hairy drummer, a bassist that looked like the invisible man with a skeleton's jaw, and a gimp with a Tesco carrier bag on his head. Incredibly, Ju Ju Babies sound as good as they look. Like a collision featuring the Ramones, The Cramps, The B52s and The Rezillos, they rapidly whipped up the audience with their creeping basslines and rocking guitars, and we were transported back circa 1979.

[Hail Snail] Punk meets electroclash is the essence of the Ju Ju Babies sound but that so woefully understates it that its use is almost superfluous. Even their potentially heretical cover of Donna Summer's seminal I Feel Love (whilst the vocals were certainly not those of a diva) audaciously pulled off its odd blend of taste, class and sleaze. By the end of the set when the gimp was drinking the sweat that had accumulated during the frenzied performance from his plastic bag (hmm, nice...) we'd realised we had witnessed something very special. Watch the name closely - these could be huge.

Continuing with the retro/contemporary punk ethic, but demonstrated here with suited sartorial styling, Snail were perhaps the band we were most curious to hear. Including former members of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robyn Hitchcock and Specimen, Snail skillfully used a classic three piece line up of guitar, bass and drums. Perfectly demonstrating their more subtle approach, the smart jacket warn by the bassist was, when he turned around, revealed to be an unexpected 'football shirt' with the name of Japanese footballer "Inamoto" (who plays in England for Fulham) and the number "7" emblazoned on the back.

[Mechnical Cabaret - Roi] The set included an excellent cover of The Beastie Boys' Right to Party, a song called Apocalypse Now - which sounded just as you'd imagine, and a song sung in Chinese. It may have been a reaction as a result of having just watched Ju Ju Babies, but after a while Snail seemed to loose their distinctive edge, preferring it seemed to indulge their undoubted talents in extended and entirely uninteresting guitar solos. Nevertheless, another outfit worth keep an eye or ear out for.

Finally, Mechanical Cabaret were on. Awkwardly for them, with two support bands being a) mightily impressive (Ju Ju Babies) and b) accomplished professional musicians (Snail), they had a tough challenge on their hands. Sadly, this was beyond their means despite some improved but still retro hardware (OB12 and EMU Emax II sampler) and some new songs. Give It To Me was part of the new material and good it was too. The band's version of Fad Gadget's I Discover Love (originally recorded by MC for a Gadget tribute album that Mute was working on shortly before Gadget's untimely demise) is a well chosen and well executed cover. But compared both to previous gigs and tonight's competition, I think it's fair to say this wasn't one of MC's finest performances.

Rob Dyer