Into the Pit: 154: Carter USM/Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Live at Brixton – 10-November 2012

Somehow, despite having been a fan of both Carter and Ned’s for many, many years, I never got ’round to seeing either of them back in their 90s heydays, and indeed I’d also managed to miss the various reunion shows in recent years too. So unlike just about all of my friends who also attended this show, this was my first time. However first off we had to get through Cud.

I recall at school (!) that these guys were the cool band to be into amongst the indie-kids for a while, but having endured most of this show I honestly couldn’t tell why. Plodding indie rock with “funk” basslines and caterwauling vocals that obliterated any chance of a tune. If there was a legacy, it could well have been left for dust after a performance like this.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, on the other hand, had no such issues, and judging on the reaction when they came onstage there was considerable goodwill towards them, too. In some respects – in success, at least – they always seemed to be the bridesmaids compared to their midlands peers The Wonderstuff and Pop Will Eat Itself, and the way that they blitzed through this set (to a near full Academy, some feat for a support band starting before 2000) suggested an attempt to correct that somewhat – and to celebrate twenty-five years (!) since the band was formed.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin setlist

Kill Your Television
Until You Find Out
Not Sleeping Around
Walking Through Syrup
Cut Up
Nothing Like
Grey Cell Green

As a way of ensuring the crowd are onside, too, ripping straight into your best known song is a pretty good way to start – and they did exactly that here, Kill Your Television proving every bit as anthemic as ever, with the crowd bellowing back the chorus. The thing is, it would be selling Ned’s short to just dwell on that song, and the following forty-five minutes were a lightning quick trip down memory lane, rolling out pretty much every one of their better songs, and I surprised myself by knowing all the words to pretty much all of them. Even Stuck, the one nod to their last, and relatively poorly received album Brainbloodvolume, went down quite well.

In fact, that was kinda the band in microcosm. With the benefit of hindsight, Ned’s really were doing something rather different. Not just their use of two bass players, but their whole, occasionally abrasive, sound was a curious amalgam of a number of styles, but somehow they pulled it off, and went their own way for the whole time they were recording, despite various amounts of derision from the music press of the time. Going on the ecstatic reaction from the crowd for the whole show, and calls for more even as they left the stage following the closing Selfish, it would appear Ned’s had the last laugh after all.

Carter USM setlist

Surfin’ USM
My Second to Last Will and Testament
Midnight On The Murder Mile
Do Re Me, So Far So Good
Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over
Good Grief Charlie Brown
Say It With Flowers
Anytime Anyplace Anywhere
Falling On A Bruise
While You Were Out
Shoppers’ Paradise
The Only Living Boy In New Cross
A Prince In A Pauper’s Grave
Glam Rock Cops
After The Watershed
Bloodsport For All
The Impossible Dream
A Perfect Day To Drop the bomb

Alternative Alf Garnett
Let’s Get Tattoos
This Is How It Feels (feat. Tom Hingley)
Sheriff Fatman
G.I. Blues

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine were another band that never really felt like they got their due critically, at least. They certainly had success – twenty years ago, now – as 1992 – The Love Album made it to number one in the charts, and a string of hit singles, and it is fair to say that this show, and the various end-of-year shows in recent years, were hardly going to be aimed at new fans. No, this was a celebration for the many older Carter fans who had stuck around and continued to listen to the band even when they were not recording new material.

This did have it’s drawbacks as a gig, though. The vaguely “party” atmosphere meant the crowd was full of drunken idiots, throwing beer everywhere and generally annoying those sober around them, and anyone not aware of the various backstories would have been utterly bemused by the onstage banter and crowd chants. But aside from those points, there were some truly great moments: and seeing the band on their home turf – i.e. inner south London, seemed entirely appropriate.

Many of those great moments came from remembering just how many glorious pop songs they released (pretty much all of them played across the lengthy set), and realising that in outlook, they were always far more than just an indie-rock band that used samplers. With such an ear for pop hooks, it is kinda mystifying that they never had even more success, but perhaps more than anything it was just a case of tastes and fashions changing. So such later period, minor-hits like the getting-old regrets and fears of Glam Rock Cops were forgotten by me, until they roared back into my head thanks to the gig – and it comfortably stood aside cast-iron pop glories like The Only Living Boy In New Cross, which is still an astonishingly affecting, tender pop song, once you get past the sledgehammer hooks…

For me things took a few dips when they went into balladeering territory, but we can’t all like everything, and in such a breathless, lengthy set it was probably good that there were a few break points. Especially as by the time we got to the encore, twenty songs in, there was still time for some bizarre stagecraft – that included topless male dancers doing a routine to Let’s Get Tattoos (I was left wondering if there was a reference I missed there), and then a run through the really old Inspirals song This Is How It Feels, with a bonus Tom Hingley assisting on vocals.

The climax was, of course, a terrace-chant-like roar through the evergreen Sheriff Fatman, and indeed it was hard to escape the feeling that this point it was more like a football crowd than a gig crowd. Still, it was an enjoyable evening, one that may not be repeated if the comments from the stage were to be believed – although they’ve said that before, right?

So, expect another gig like this next year, eh?

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