Mechanical Cabaret/Modovar/Schadenfreude

Fiddler's Elbow, Camden Town, London - 13 July 2012

"Irreverent, energised and moving"

Now, this is the sort of gig I love. In a proper pub venue, (the Fiddler's Elbow, on the corner of a couple of regular neighbourhood London streets) that supports niche music scenes, and who has invested a great sounding system, serves Guinness as well as a decent house red, sporting a modestly raised but perfectly formed stage meaning whether you are standing nose to nose with the performers or propping up the bar you've got a decent view. Though they have played many a larger stage, there's something kind of just right about seeing Mechanical Cabaret headlining in a pub. It reminds me of their grubbier origins and many nights out from their early days.

[Live photo]Tonight's three act line-up was eclectic but sort of made sense, in the way random three-piece pub line ups make sense. Modovar and Mechanical Cabaret had previously shared billing. Opening metal two-piece Schadenfreude [Photo: right] were a great way to grab the attention of the early arrivals (and any locals left over from an afternoon stint) who thought they were out for a quiet beer and some background music. Chris (guitar and drum machine controller) and Rachel (bass) look a bit like either trailer trash siblings or just outsider friends whose taste for drone metal exponents the Melvins brought them together from the fringes of society.

Unlike most metal bands, they take a digital technology approach to song composition – leading to some unusual outcomes. Spartan song structures meant each element was clearly discernible - again, not something the genre is known for, making the entire proposition far more imaginative and original. Powerful and creative drum programming was another distinguishing factor. Not for these guys the bloated pomposity of mainstream metal, this was short, sharp and hard. Schadenfreude probably ought to sign to the hard 'n' heavy Armalyte Industries – where they would richochet well off the rest of AI's current roster. 

Schadenfreude setlist: feedbacking k-hole, autoprick, pigs in blankets, skanal, bolt risk, rapier, dopefriend, penance, gout

My choice of alcoholic beverages was a good indication of the contrast between the first and second acts. I drank Guinness during Schadenfreude, switching to red wine for Modovar. A glance at their setlist revealed a joke at their own expense: 'The album's almost finished tour 2012'! Too many artists seem to get hung up on not hitting their (own imposed) deadlines for releases. They needn't worry as a) 90% of the audience will be oblivious to it; and b) it's almost criminal to put a deadline on creativity if you're not slave to a major label. Anyhow, that in-joke wasn't intended for the audience.
[Live photo]

If Schadenfreude was the flush of youth, then Modovar [Photo: right] are satisfyingly middle-aged! Just looking at the two bands before either played a note would have told you they had next to nothing in common. That's part of what I love about these pub gigs – the random juxtapositions that can occur.

There's a smooth, polished delivery about Modovar's particular brand of synthpop, meaning when they choose a bold cover of Roxy Music's Same Old Scene they pull it off convincingly and satisfyingly. Whilst they've yet to pen a song of their own that could stand shoulder to shoulder against that (no harm in having a goal though!), the songs performed tonight do hold up on their own terms. More familiarity with their material over the first time I saw them meant it was easier to form a clearer view second time out; which was more appreciative of them. That first album Sea of Unspoken Words is still being worked through and is expected out later this year. In the meantime, look out for their second EP entitled Clearly.

Modovar setlist: Darkest Shadows, Sea of Unspoken Words, Same Old Scene, The Lies We Tell Ourselves For Love, If I Called, King of Pain, Situation, Clearly

Ah, Mechanical Cabaret. An old musical friend. We go back a long way Mechanical Cabaret and I. It possibly won't be too long before Roi Robertson's vehicle is the band I have seen more times than any other. Music aside for a moment, part of the longevity of their appeal is Robertson's on-stage persona. It's not accurate to call it an alter-ego, it's more a heightened, hyper version of the real Roi. Its edginess varies from gig to gig, injecting an element of unpredictability every time they step out on stage. It isn't often you can say that about a band and it remains a large part of their attractiveness live.

[Live photo]The band have supported some illustrious names down the years (Suicide, DAF, Front Line Assembly, Karl Bartos, Fad Gadget) in front of some massive audiences. This was one of their less-frequent headline nights and no shame that it was in the comparatively modest surroundings of a Camden Town public house. Indeed, it is a credit to them that they are happy to play at such modest gatherings rather than be prima-donnas about the capacity being beneath their experience.

On the unofficial Mechanical Cabaret Unhinged Performance Scale or MCUPS (which I have just made up for the purposes of this review), ranging from 1 being 'Normal Person' to 10 being 'Certifiable', this evening's shenanigans warranted around 7 MCUPS. The small stage wasn't a limiting factor, partly because Robertson [Photo: right] is happy to spend time at most gigs wandering among the audience, which he did here, but also it afforded him the chance to scale the PA stack and leap off (echoes of one of his heroes in Fad Gadget there) without any corporate venue police steeping in to spoil the fun.

But all that 'show' counts for nothing if the tunes aren't up to muster. New material just gets better and better and the old stuff only matures with age. Thanks to the magical combination of Robertson as lead composer and Steve Bellamy as studio and production guru, a Mechanical Cabaret set today is as irreverent, energised and more moving than it has ever been. As a team these two are in a really special creative place at the moment. Heaven only knows what it is like behind the closed doors of the studio, but live it remains a compelling night out.

The band have just announced they've signed their first American record deal, with the Wax Trax II label. This not only means they will finally receive distribution in both the north and south Americas, but substantially increase the likelihood of getting tours in new territories like Mexico and Australia. So I'll not be short of opportunities to confirm Mechanical Cabaret's position at the top of that personal gig attendance record. 8/10

Mechanical Cabaret setlist: Intro, GBH, Blank Canvas, Tabloid Species, Devoid, Nothing Special, Cheap and Nasty, My Sex Life, Careful Careless, Don't Murder Me, Happy, Detox, Violated, Disbehave, I Don't Know Where, Pretty Fucked Up, See Her Smile, Is Normal Abnormal?

Rob Dyer

Live footage on the YouTube channel