Heaven, London - 13 October 2011

"If you've never seen them live, nothing can prepare you for it"

[IAMX - Chris Corner]

[IAMX - Chris Corner]

I’m surprised that Chris Corner’s IAMX project are still playing such intimate venues here in their birthplace of England. On the one hand, it is perfect news for fans as we get to see him up close, in places of character and atmosphere rather than soulless corporate arenas. On the other hand, I wonder if Corner isn’t a little disappointed he’s not playing to larger audiences (in the UK at least). If it is, it doesn’t show. He’s comfortable enough not to have any support act this evening.

It’s a clear sign that there’s still a dearth of decent musical taste in the mainstream, as IAMX to me still display plenty of crossover potential yet, in the UK at least, there’s no tangible signs that their next release will garner any more mass press attention that its predecessors. (I’m just so out of touch with the ‘mainstream’ though so even suggesting that might read as nonsense to others.) The audience at an IAMX gig are sharper dressed than your average crowd. Tonight a small contingent of screaming adolescent females who have followed (or dogged depending on your point of view) Corner’s every stylish move, are vocal in their appreciation. Though, thankfully, not as many as there used to be. Perhaps they’re just growing up.

IAMX live are astonishingly good, with Corner is the lynchpin. Whether he happens to be stomping up and down the front with a guitar, bashing away frantically on drums, or quietly playing keyboards at the back, he owns the stage and the audience. His heart-achingly beautiful voice is actually better live than in the studio recordings. That’s because Corner feeds heavily from the energy a frenetic crowd gives back in response to his performances. A mutually beneficial feedback loop effect starts happening. As he memorably said when I first saw them in 2007You are the spirit of this fucking music!”.

I’d count myself has a big fan even though I only own two studio albums. For me, IAMX, really is a live proposition. Sure, you need the studio recordings in order to make the former worthwhile and profitable. Corner couldn’t function purely in the vacuum of a studio and its clear that he is most alive when performing on stage to adoring fans. And, boy, are they adoring. Corner engenders a rare sense of loyalty if not obsession in his followers. His moves are more limited than usual due to the foot injury but (having seen the film again recently) he reminds me of Cesare the somnambulist from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The set that follows is another evening of near nirvana in the hands of Corner and his live band, which he has changed over time. (I do wonder if he is something of a control freak and perfectionist and that anyone not quite coming up to scratch doesn’t get to stay around for long.) Each and every musician is a proper muso but also a distinctive character – which helps with a band as theatrical as IAMX. The guitarist Alberto Álvarez is perhaps the most unassuming. The female drummer Caroline Weber is all flailing arms and big hairdo, and up-front female Janine Gezang synth player is the complete glamrock works: outfit, performance, and exaggerated playing. All this happens in almost complete darkness with the light show restricted largely to strobes and the occasional focused beam for the full hour and fifty minute set. Whilst this makes spotting Corner through the stygian gloom difficult it also heightens the sense of drama and tangible thrill. 

The set is a pretty broad spread across the four albums. From the back catalogue, Nightlife's thudding bassline the perfect live stomper, Think Of England emotionally draining both lyrically and musically (hairs literally stand up on the back of my neck at this point) and Tear Garden a beautifully cascading waterfall of a song. From the new album Volatile Times it is the title track that makes the strongest impression, but that may simply be because it is the song I’m most familiar with not yet having bought the fourth long-player.

It is the sheer visceral nature of IAMX live shows that really grabs you by the throat. Corner’s voice does tend to polarise opinion, but for those who love it hearing it in all its full glory live is the only way to truly experience its full power, range and impact. It, indeed the whole IAMX live experience, is astonishing. In my view they really are one of the best live acts I have ever seen. They consistently deliver and their live versions of recorded material have a more pronounced, dangerous edge that is produced down in the studio. If you're remotely interested in IAMX or even a fan who has never seen them live then you simply have to so do. Nothing can prepare you for it and listening to their music will never be the same again. 9/10

Rob Dyer

Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel