Sometimes the most interesting gigs, the ones that give you a new perspective, are not in large venues, or at public gigs, but at small events that you weren't even sure you were attending until late on. As happened here, with a Thee Faction show that happened to be a member of the band's birthday, and we got invited along being friends of members of both bands that played.
Buffalo Bar, N1
Interestingly enough, we saw both bands on the same bill last August, a gig that I didn't end up reviewing (mainly as it was the night before Infest 2012), and was notable for being the first gig I'd ever attended with my dad. Better still, he loved both bands, for very different reasons!
This time around, the running order was the other way 'round, and Thee Faction were onstage first, playing a reasonable length set that covered material from all of their releases, including a few songs from their forthcoming album Good Politics: Your Role As An Active Citizen in Civil Society (out 08-July). I've mentioned before that I don't agree with everything they espouse, but what I certainly do agree with is their music, and also the perhaps more positive, action-based activism rather than armchair politics.
Thee Faction setlist
Better Than Wages
(Don't Call on Rock'n'Roll) Call on G.D.H. Cole
It Don't Work (Cos They Don't Work)
Marx, My Main Man
The Sausage Machine
Con Dem Nation
Union Man/Proletarian Man
But more than anything, Thee Faction are one of those bands who are an absolutely blistering, life-affirmingly brilliant live act. Right from the off, the nine (it might have been eight, actually – Brass Kapital were one down on the night) people onstage ripped into every song like it might be their last, and even opening with two new songs was no hindrance to getting the crowd onside. Opener Better Than Wages – the recent single that was featured in 173: Tracks (Apr 2013) last month kicks like a mule, the lyrical humour and jubilant feel of the music making for a perfect opening song, but not disguising the serious message behind the track.
Of the other new songs aired, It Don't Work (Cos They Don't Work) was the most striking, that's for sure – taking the R'n'B stylings further than any other song yet, into sweaty, pulsing funk territory, punctuated with "hoo-hah!" gang vocals, and it sounded fucking ace. With this and Con Dem Nation, of course, it becomes clear, if we didn't already know, that the current Government in the UK and their continual erosion of just about everything that the general public hold dear (a sign of how unpopular this Government are becoming, by the way – even the Express have realised the Cabinet don't give a shit, and an interesting theory as to why), are inspiring the fury of the new material more than ever before.
That isn't to say that they put the old songs in the shade. (Don't Call on Rock'n'Roll) Call on G.D.H. Cole remains a glorious clarion call to the idea of doing more than just rebelling through rock, while The Sausage Machine makes it fairly explicit that we won't be seeing a sell-out anytime soon (and that they hate Mumford & Sons, which is another movement I'm happy, ready and willing to offer my backing to). Interestingly, though, as they introduce it as a "love song", Marx, My Main Man seems to be the one song that unites the whole room each and every time I see the band live. It is the one song where they bring down the pace from the R'n'B whirlwind that dominates the set, and also it is the one song that we (my girlfriend and I) have been very successful in turning people onto the band with. Call it a useful entry point, call it simply a brilliantly catchy song, but I guess it encapsulates the theory behind the band more than any other song.
The band have been at pains to note in the past that they are kinda unhappy to see the politics and the music separated, and I'm probably guilty of that a little. But I would think, more than anything, that their power, particularly live, is driven by their burning sense of injustice in the current poitical climate, which would make their political bent to their music, so, so important. This is so much more than a political posturing, mind – this is the real thing, a call to arms to make a better future. As I've noted already, I don't agree with everything they believe in, but the relentless intensity of their message, and the belief that they deliver it with, is more than enough for me to listen that bit closer and think about it that little more.
Ironically, what followed couldn't be much more different in just about every way. Joanne Joanne describe themselves as "the world's foremost all-female Duran Duran concept band" – and Duran Duran, of course, kinda epitomised the Tory-led 80s in their hyper-stylised, moneyed pop music. But here Joanne Joanne ignore the later material – and Rio – and delve into the earlier, more interesting material and make some of it sound like a different band. Rather than the shallowness of the original material, somehow they've managed to put an emotional depth to the songs that makes for an enthralling listen.
And aside from the opening and closing tracks (exuberant sprints through Planet Earth and Girls on Film, this was all about shining lights on darker, perhaps lesser known parts of Duran Duran's early material, shown most brilliantly by their extraordinary, pitch-dark take on The Chauffeur that is such a luxurious song that I only wished it lasted even longer than it did.
Never having been a particular fan of Duran Duran, I was amazed to be feeling that I wanted to hear more as solitary encore Notorious closed off the live music for the night. Just as long as we won't ever hear Ordinary World, or those godawful covers they did, eh?
Thee Faction's new video Better Than Wages.
Joanne Joanne play Cargo on Wednesday night (05-June).