7PM Monday 16th April 2012.
Graham Coxon hasn’t had a drink in ten years; I’m itchy and twitching after ten minutes stood in the queue outside the Liquid Room; waiting for the purple doors to open; wishing I new someone, anyone in this town that could sell me drugs.
He’s in town to promote his new album, A+E; here’s me from the future – as far as this tale is concerned – with a few words about it:
So anyway, I’d gone for a fortifying pint at The Last Drop – so called because, back in the day, the condemned would get their final drink there before being led to the gallows opposite. As I entered, a child in a buggy dropped his toy car on the street in front of me; I bent to pick it up and offered it back with what I took to be a kind, understanding smile but from the reaction of the mother – perhaps missing the reason I had the toy in my hand – it was a chilling impression of Pennywise the Dancing Clown from IT.
Off to a good start, I thought; an act of kindness taken to be the predatory sexual advances of an immigrant beast. And that’s why I wouldn’t be offering to buy any women drinks at the gig.
I wasn’t really sure if this was the kind of happening I should be writing about but I needed something, and quick; I’d handed in my resignation to Teesside University but after a telephone conversation with Bethany Usher – my Senior Lecturer – I’d been convinced to stop being a stubborn cry-baby and complete the last few assignments so I could at least get a piece of paper saying I hadn’t just lost another year to bad choices and a debilitating fear of humans.
She felt I should leave myself with the opportunity to return in October, in case I had a change of heart. You see, the first year of a degree is ungraded – it simply needs to be passed; and with a pass rate of 40% I read between the lines and took Bethany to be saying – ‘You’re so achingly fantastic that even if you wipe your behind on a sheet of A4, as long as there’s no slander, libel or potty-mouth then you’ll be all right.”
But please, let’s keep that little insight between us, okay?
This article requires multimedia elements so I had my poorly endowed dictaphone and trusty camera with me along with a collection of pens and a small notepad. I was prepared to cover The Story, yet much like the lonely poet in a bookstore coffee shop, I really just wanted a female to come and tell me how to behave for the night.
The Liquid Room is an intimate little venue, which I always prefer but is hard to get with big name performers. I immediately went to the bar and bought a Staropramen for £4. T-shirts and the usual were on sale in the corner and a man in the bathroom handed people tissues after they washed their hands, and offered a selection of toiletries and sweets. I told him I didn’t like lollypops but gave him a pound anyway. Nice guy. I camped out at stage right. It was too dark for me to make out people’s faces.
The support act came on – Scotland’s own ‘Cancel the Astronauts‘; handpicked by Coxon from the recommendations of fans – a different local act for each gig on the tour was being chosen in this way.
The noise waves immediately rocked through the crowd; a tight, big sound that was easy to thrill to. We all warmed up, nodding our heads, coming to terms with our enjoyment. At one point the singer tells the crowd: “You all look very good looking; you all look very clean.”
They played for a half hour or so but it was time enough to have the enduring impression that ‘they’re good at this’ and that if I was half as happy as their drummer looked, there wouldn’t ever be a blue day again.
The stage was stripped of Astronaut gear and replaced with Coxon’s. I went back to the bar.
The crowd had grown pretty tightly packed, but not so you had to barge through like a fool. There didn’t seem to be the gaggles of younglings you’d find at, say, a Muse gig; but older people who grew up with Brit-pop and grunge as their mode of social conciousness; a time that, for me at least, had a line drawn under it when Tony Blair presented David Bowie with an Outstanding Contribution Award at the ’96 Brit Awards; and the mixed emotion still plays out on their faces.
Activity on stage: Coxon and his band – two girls and four boys in all – walk on to cheering and applause. With a croak he tells us he broke his voice that morning but soldiers straight on into ‘Advice’ – the first song from the new album. The next four are all from ‘Love Travels at Illegal Speeds’ and then they play five more from the new album; roaring and screeching, tearing the night a new one in the most gentle, overdriven way. Perhaps his voice is killing him but it’s not killing us, in fact I’m sure the matter has been completely forgotten.
Again I go to the bar and change my viewing angle. The oldest song of the evening is played: ‘You Never Will Be’ from the eleven year old ‘Crow Sit on Blood Tree’; then we get the first of the songs from ‘Happiness in Magazines’ and then another of the new ones. I’ve lost track of time. Coxon thanks us and the band walk off stage to shrieking ovation and people start screaming: ‘ENCORE’ as if it’s even a question. Such energy in the room, and the stink of sweat comes not only from me.
They come back on in minutes and play five more songs: two from ‘A+E’; two from ‘Happiness…’ and then my recollection gets hazy and my writing difficult to interpret but I believe the last song was from ‘The Spinning Top’.
I loathe critics, and critique more, so that’s not what this is. I don’t read gig reviews so my apologies if this is a poor one; but imagine this akin to asking a hungry drunk to review a hamburger. I’ve not had one in a while but I’ve had plenty in the past, some good, some terrible. I’ve pissed metres from a singing Bowie so I know good hamburger; rest assured, Coxon was no burger last night – he was a steak.
And at the risk of coming across as a gushing sycophant, he was fucking delicious.
The set list in full (probably):
- Don’t Let Your Man
- Standing On My Own
- I Can’t Look At your Skin
- I don’t wanna go out
- The Truth
- City Hall
- Meet and drink and pollinate
- Bah singer
- Running for your life
- You Never will be
- All over me
- Ooh, yeh yeh
- Seven Naked Valleys
- What’ll it take
- No Good Time
- Freakin out
- Tripping Over