John Merrick's Remains/Kenjiro

Madame Jo Jo's, London - 9 August 2007

"A perplexing combination of Elephant Man imagery and Neil Diamond covers"

[John Merrick's Remains]Glitz is a club night at Madame Jo Jo's in the heart of London's Soho. Run by Flag Promotions' Frankie D, the playlist is diverse (Electro-Rockin Beatz and 80s treats according to the flyers), attracting an occasionally unlikely mixture of those into new wave, electro, goth and punk and tonight was no exception. Frequently providing up-and-coming acts with early evening slots before spinning the tunes until the wee small hours, Glitz delivers a steady stream of new music often from young outfits based across the UK.

Tonight's three band line up was a good example. Headliners (who don't make this review) were Krakatoa, whose logo of a London tube sign with their name overlaid on the cross bar of the tube symbol recalls the Jam at their Mod-influenced height, was a good indicator of what to expect from them. The name of first act Kenjiro made me expect some noisy J-rock trash. Instead we got some extremely by-the-numbers Red Hot Chilli Peppers-lite alt.rock. Credit for their technical ability - their half-hour set was very tight and the drummer had a flair for varied fills along the way, but they didn't produce anything you haven't already heard a million times before. Tune into any mainstream radio show and you'll hear dozens of acts that sound the same. They may stand a better chance of getting somewhere in the States where popular audience ears are already well-attuned to this sound. But I won't be switching them on again.

[John Merrick's Remains]No, the only reason for attending was to get my first live experience of John Merrick's Remains. The band sent me their first album Digging Up The Remains in 2004 and the band name and title of their debut provided enough incentive to put aside all the serious stuff that I get sent and give that release priority. Its slightly perplexing combination of Elephant Man imagery and Neil Diamond and Louis Armstrong covers was original if nothing else. Here though they focused mainly on new material featuring on their second album, the self-titled John Merrick's Remains (due imminently). What struck me though was, presentation aside, actually how relatively 'conventional' some of the songs sounded. Particularly the newer material. Despite often exploring the darker side of life (songs include Leatherface - a tale about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its hideous leading man) I reckon John Merrick's Remains could have much wider appeal if they dropped the facade.

However, true to their promotional photographs, the two members were disguised under masks and cloth sacks evoking images from David Lynch's terrific film (The Elephant Man) if not actual images of the real man Joseph Merrick. A 'reserved' reception from a growing crowd who had largely come to hear Mod rock (!) didn't noticeably dampen their spirits. Just as well as this was the Sheffield duo's first London gig and the London crowd can be notoriously difficult to excite. They wavered only briefly when equipment troubles meant one of their keyboards was temporarily silent but it either didn't last for long or didn't significantly impair their sound. Of the new material, several songs stood out for a variety of reasons. The chorus on Cuts and Bruises recalled Nitzer Ebb's lean EBM sound, Hollow Man has some great synth lines, and Unforgiven proves that the lead vocalist really does sound remarkably like Neil Diamond. Having had the chance to hear them live and to hear some of the newer material, I'm not sure how the band can develop. Their songwriting is good enough that they don't need gimmicks to stand out but at the same time, it's hard to see them carve out a distinct niche for themselves without the oddities of their marketing. A tricky path lies ahead for John Merrick's Remains it will be interesting to see how they traverse it. 6/10

Rob Dyer