Mechanical Cabaret/Vile Electrodes

Purple Turtle, London - 10 September 2010

"Close to what I imagine Heaven sounds like"

Although very well-versed in all things Mechanical Cabaret down the years, I’d only been to a couple of gigs since Steve Bellamy (of Greenhaus acclaim) joined the band and introduced some major changes to their live sound. Changes for the better that I wanted to sample more of.

The support tonight, going by the name of Vile Electrodes, was also a draw. A hop onto Myspace the day before quickly confirmed that this was one group of bottom-of the-billers not to be missed. Two parts female (lead vocals/guitar and backing vocals/keyboards), one part male (synth geek), they were the perfect support act to Roi Robertson’s Cabaret. Indeed, it isn’t too daft or lazy to say in part they sometimes sound like a female fronted Mechanical Cabaret. They occupy a broadly similar musical space, with their songs displaying plenty of retro analogue synths, late 70s new wave and early 80s electro inspiration in the writing. Shades of the observational urban electronica that I Start Counting used to produce for Mute in their heyday peeked through once in a while too.

Unusually frank lyrics, one set of which (not featured tonight) liberally utilises the “C” word, are an attention grabber, and though they come across with confidence they appeared to be free of any attitude. From the polished sound through to the glam/fetish presentation they are already the full package for a band that most nobody’s heard of. That ought to change before too long.

The headline act was Interia, but I didn’t get to stay for them as some serious back pain had got the better of me forcing me to bail out early (ageing sucks). The billing for the event was Mechanical Cabaret v Inertia on account that they have both just released a joint single wherein they cover John Leyton's (and Joe Meek-produced) haunting Johnny Remember Me. (Inertia’s latest album Kloned is a collection of such diverse cover versions.) MC’s Roi joined Inertia on stage later to perform that so it was a shame I wasn’t around to hear it.

Having followed Mechanical Cabaret since they started in 1999, the incorporation of Bellamy is still a relatively new development and, up until tonight, I still wasn’t used to the current, more expansive sound. Nowhere was this major shift in substance heard than on Ne Plus Ultra which now sounds MASSIVE - transforming an already strong track into a thrilling live experience. There was a fat and raspy rendition of Tabloid Species and the rave synths added to Cheap and Nasty twisted it into an unhinged dance anthem.

Front man Roi was on top form. He may have travelled more widely in recent years, exporting his particular brand of Britishness to ever growing and appreciative audiences overseas, but it’s probably fair to say that Camden Town is the spiritual home of Mechanical Cabaret, and this atmospheric-laden pub venue in Mornington Crescent the ideal location for an intimate evening with his fans. Now the consummate performer, and one who understands how to engage an audience, it wasn’t long before he began his (now familiar) prowl into the crowd, crooning before them, coaxing a reaction where necessary, still edgy at times but never intrusive, always charming.

Disbehave got the crowd jumping up and down, yelling along to the chorus, whilst some tracks like Blank Canvas (which tonight ended with Bellamy conducting some judicious knob twiddling on an old Moog) now sound like they’ve been remixed by John Foxx. This is getting very close to what I imagine Heaven sounds like. 8/10

Rob Dyer