John Foxx

The Roundhouse, London - 5 June 2010

"John Foxx is like a fine wine - he improves with age"

Aside from when I first saw him at London's (now demolished) Astoria in the mid 90s, tonight was the largest John Foxx gig I'd ever attended. To be fair though, a good number were possibly in attendance to hear Gary Numan DJ. The Roundhouse is an evocative performance space sited in a huge round shed originally used for turning locomotive engines. Its extensive refurbishment a few years ago has created an unusual but superb venue. This was my first visit to the Roundhouse and aside from loving the conversion, the only thing that has me holding back of fully gushing forth, is a question mark about the acoustics; more of which a little later. The official billing included Gary Numan DJ-ing just before the main show. However, an announcement a couple of minutes before he was due up said he was running late and would swop slots with the Back To The Phuture DJ and would now follow Foxx's set instead. That was a shame but nothing more. I was curious to hear what he would play but Numan was potentially just the icing on the cake. Still, opening with Telex's Haven't We Met Somewhere Before, Back To The Puture kept it solidly early 80s electronic and set the tone nicely for the main attraction.

Since the brilliant 1995 album Shifting City, Foxx has frequently worked, and shared credits and billing with, Louis Gordon, but he has also continued to write and perform solely under his own name. Thus it was this evening. Tonight was purely a John Foxx gig rather than John Foxx and Louis Gordon one. Aside from the huge analogue patch synths (looking like old wooden wardrobes spewing forth spaghetti), he'd assembled a full band and extensive analogue synth set up, resulting in his biggest stage presence and number of personnel I've ever seen. Robin Simon who played guitar on Ultravox!'s Systems of Romance album appeared. Foxx has always performed some of the early Ultravox! songs he had a hand in writing, and tonight's set saw him cluster periods together. So the first third of the set drew heavily from Metamatic (including On The Plaza, He's A Liquid, Underpass), the middle section was Ultravox! (Dislocation, Quiet Men) a couple of tracks co-written with Louis Gordon (This City, An Ocean We Can Breathe); more recent stuff that was new to my ears (including a couple of moving, pace-changing slower numbers); followed by a couple of encores. What was scheduled to have been an hour-and-a-half set ended up closer to two.

John Foxx is like a fine wine - he improves with age. His voice has a unique quality and distinctive character and is a major part of the thrill of his live performances. Unfortunately, tonight the impact of our master's voice was seriously undermined by an over abundance of delay. It was either due to this alone or that working in combination with the venue acoustics which meant that on many songs, especially opener On The Plaza, the lyrics were overlapping and indecipherable. The music sounded fine, it was just the vocals - which made it all the more frustrating. It took several songs for it to improve - albeit only slightly. It wasn't clear if this was something the sound engineers tweaked, or had simply, in a small way, improved of its own accord, but it remained an issue throughout. The performance was being filmed (possibly for a later DVD release) and I couldn't help wonder if that was a factor in the sound we heard. Perhaps it sounded fine through the mixing desk from which the audio track for the recording was to be taken, but didn't sound so great live. Pure speculation, but I do wonder: did those in attendance experience lesser sound quality for the sake of a good recording?

The visuals that accompanied the performance were fantastic. Foxx has included films and slides in his live shows in the past, but it became apparent in recent years that he has been working away feverishly behind the scenes for years on filmmaking. There was the installation (then DVD release) of his glorious ambient/morphing visuals masterwork Cathedral Oceans in 2003, followed by the tour of Tiny Colour Movies a few years later. Now, for the first time, he has assembled 'promotional videos', live video montages to accompany every song in the set. These were uber stylish, occasionally light-hearted, and just what you'd expect: Film noir public information films as if written by J.G. Ballard, whose elegantly moving typography alone, announcing the songs titles and projecting the lyrics, were captivating works of art in their own right. If this evening does get a DVD release, let's hope we get an 'angle' option (remember those?!) to watch just these mini films whilst listening to the live performance.

By general gig standards this was great. But as harsh as it feels to say this (given all the effort that clearly went into the evening), as a John Foxx gig, despite the presentational wonders and memorable surroundings, it was, quite surprisingly, just 'good'. But that's only because Foxx has himself set an incredibly high benchmark in the past. Nevertheless, a John Foxx gig remains one of the best possible ways to spend two hours of your life. 8/10

Rob Dyer