Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rasputina (Windmill, Brixton)

I've been waiting a long time for this one. Not as long as the girl who ended up rammed next to me (in the nicest possible way) comparing notes on our favourite Rasputina albums, who'd been waiting ten years to see them live. I've only been waiting about five. But it's quite long enough.

First, though, we have rayOn (eccentric typography preserved here, I've got a soft spot for that sort of thing). They start off lively, but before the first song is over the guitarist's broken a string. They do what has to be done: make a bad pun about their "rocky" start and play a slow number to give him a chance to replace it (although it'd have been more fun to make do with five strings. After all, George Formby managed with four). I like this band. Back in Birmingham we have a grand tradition of fabric-monikered bands (Felt, Denim*) which immediately warms me to them, and they play a fun set. They're not going to set the world alight, but they look a bit long in the tooth to be seriously entertaining thoughts of rock 'n' roll stardom, and you know what? Sometimes being a decent band in the back of a pub is enough.

As soon as they finish, a crowd of goths floats forward. It's a marvellous sight, and takes me back to the early 80s, but it does mean I can't see a damn thing. Rasputina's mainstay Melora Creager is a thoughtful soul, however, and persuades those at the front to sit on the floor so the rest of us can see them. I manage to sidle round the side so that I have a pretty good ringside view, and am only slightly in Sarah Bowman's way as she takes her cello onstage.

Rasputina really could be playing somewhere other than the back of a pub (the girl I'm next to and I are both surprised that we're seeing them here rather than the Brixton Academy, and in fact they'll be at the grander surroundings of the QueenElizabeth Hall tomorrow night, supporting Robyn Hitchcock), but I'm very glad they're here, because there's a cosiness in a small venue you'll never get anywhere bigger, and Melora's dry wit goes down well in an intimate setting like this. American bands always seem to do things like banter much better than most British groups, maybe they just have a better tradition of playing to the audience to draw on than we do. Rasputina have an arrestingly individual aesthetic, and all the bucketloads of charisma necessary to bring that to life on stage, Melora and Sarah's voices and playing perfectly attuned, Melora's between song chat is very funny, and the whole thing is ably underpinned by Jonathon's driving drumming. (Incidentally, and utterly irrelevantly, Jonathon is really, really tall. I kind of expected him to look as he does, like Alan Moore might have done if all those years ago he'd decided to research Swamp Thing by going to live on Gumbo in a Louisiana swamp, but I really wasn't prepared for his remarkable distance from the floor.) At one point They launch into a heartfelt tribute to Sir Mixalot, which touches all our hearts.

They play for a full hour, and it's a terrible wrench to have to run out as they're playing their last song in order not to miss the train home. I'll be seeing them again tomorrow in the very different environment of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and it'll be very interesting to see how they come across there.

You wait ages for a rocking cello band to come over from America, and then they do do two gigs at once. And even before the second, I'm already hoping it won't be too long before they're back here again. And if it does all come to nothing with the band (heaven forbid) Melora's got a bright alternative future in stand-up.

*Felt and Denim are arguably two manifestations of the same band, which would make this a grand tradition of one.

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