John Foxx and The Maths/Xeno & Oaklander/The Neat

Xoyo, London - 27th October 2011

"Another sublime evening"

[John Foxx]

[John Foxx & The Maths gig poster]

Hull five-piece The Neat are an energetic post-punk band that recall The Fall in their youth. Though perhaps not the obvious choice as a support act, their musicianship, seriousness of intent and commitment quickly win over many indifferent individuals in this underground venue a minute from Old Street tube station. Difficult to say how successful The Neat could be in this fickle world, but on the evidence here they’ve lined up an impressive arsenal to be sure they at least have a decent crack at it.

Brooklyn based minimalist electronic dance exponents Xeno & Oaklander were the reason I came on this the second of two nights at the same venue this week. Different support acts on the two nights prompted me to research both sets of groups online beforehand and I was immediately taken by a stream of Xeno & Oaklander’s latest album Sets & Lights

Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride share musical and vocal duties, creating a cold wave meets dance music blend of terrifically repetitive arpeggiating synths, and tonight’s 40-minute set focuses on the latest album with its deliberately paced, gradual build structures that I’ve always been a sucker for. In this live setting what vocals there are function more as textural layering than a vehicle for lyrics to follow. Wendeldo's work in particular is more ethereal (in the same way Lisa Gerrard’s voice was utilised in Dead Can Dance), whilst McBride's is more readily legible.

John Foxx (and The Maths) get to the stage half an hour late due to equipment technical problems the roadies struggle to resolve, but the by now packed floor of the underground Xoyo aren’t phased. You get the sense that they’d calmly stand around into the small hours dutifully awaiting his arrival. If Foxx is bothered it doesn’t show either. Unless he’s channelled it into what ends up being perhaps his most vigorous performance I’ve ever witnessed. He kicks off Shatterproof from the new album with The Maths (aka Benge, aka Ben Edwards) by announcing “This one is for the bankers!”. It’s great to see Foxxy so fired up. He’s been accused of being too reserved at times. I even read a blog post about the first date of this tour that specifically mentioned John’s low-key demeanour at the start of the set. Well, by the time of this London date that had most certainly changed.

Given that he’s sharing the stage with others (Benge on drums, Hannah Peel on synths and violin and Serafina Steer on synths and bass guitar) the set is remarkably varied and chronologically extensive. Foxx usually delves into his Ultravox! past at his gigs, but given that this tour was very much billed as John Foxx and The Maths tour their album Interplay I expected not to be familiar with half the set (having not picked up the album). The reality was more like spotting the songs actually off “Interplay”. I was a bit non-plussed by the album as a whole. Like a lot of Foxx’s stuff in recent years it’s perfectly good by any objective measure but not what I’d call essential (or !dso Recommended! as we like to refer to them here). But opener Shatterproof works brilliantly live and is a real attention grabber - perfectly suited to opening a live set. 

But the most impacting song from the new album was the title track – which I have to say had completely passed me by when I listened to it (the one time I had on Spotify). I must have been out of the room or something as Interplay turned out to be the highlight of the entire evening. This is Foxx writing at his ultimate finest, and the live version is already burned indelibly in my memory as three minutes I’ll treasure for years to come. (Thankfully, I managed to grab video footage of it for posterity - see link below) It’s a slow, short, minimalist ballad built around a single chorus and Foxx’s slow vocals were perfect. Incredibly moving, a beautiful, beautiful song, and exactly why I will always go and see Foxx live, irrespective of what’s currently on release. Another sublime evening in the company of John Foxx. Another excellent gig from one of my favourite artists this year in what is shaping up to possibly be my best ever year of gig going – and that really is saying something. 8/10

Rob Dyer

Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel