Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #10

Julian Cope
Bristol Carling Academy, 20/02/2006
The only thing you can predict with a Julian Cope live show is that it will be unpredictable. In the half dozen or so gigs experienced in the past two decades, I've witnessed his near asphyxiation by plastic shopping bag, epic two and a half hour shows divided into acoustic, full band and 'greatest hits' sets, impromptu poetry recitals forced by a bout of layringitis, parading on stage in a monkey suit before stripping down to a banana yellow thong, and catwalking the bar mid-song, to the bemusement of staff and audience alike. This gig, located in a former cinema-turned-greedhead-dive, was no exception. Arriving on stage, stripped to the waist, looking like a roadie for Laibach with his peaked military cap, studded, fingerless leather gloves and cheap black shades, Cope is revisiting his rock 'n' roll persona "Saint Julian", albeit in a more grizzled and gaunt incarnation. An unusually small band - Mr E on drums and Spiritualized's Doggen on guitar, with Cope playing bass - set the scene for a 90-minute Stooges-esque noisefest with recent song "White Bitch Comes Good". Surprisingly, 2005's brace of albums - "Dark Orgasm" and "Citizen Cain'd" - are only represented by a further song apiece, the main focus being Cope's vast back catalogue. Therefore, we get grungy versions of "Sunspots", "Double Vegetation" and "Shot Down", as well as his pre-Teardrop Explodes collaboration with Ian McCulloch (and perennial live favourite) "Books". Cope's typically physically active performance is somewhat restricted by his duties on bass, though he takes several opportunities to descend into the crowd. As expected, the between-song anecdotes are highly entertaining, as is Cope's casual handling of hecklers. When someone complains that the vocals are inaudible, the Arch Drude drily responds, "Even if you can't hear the vocals, I'm almost certainly saying something important!" There are more Spinal Tap moments: moving to the Mellotron for a solo rendition of "O King Of Chaos", from 1984's "Fried", Cope calls a roadie on stage to remove his gloves with a pair of pliers; refusing to take off his shades, he consequently 'improvises' through a string of bum notes and off-key moments. There are further limitations: the venue's draconian 11.00pm curfew means that the end of the set arrives all too quickly; as Cope argues for an extension, the audience become restless, yelling at him to get on with it. Resigning himself to playing "the hits", Cope closes with blistering versions of "World Shut Your Mouth" and "Spacehopper". The band have barely left the stage before the house lights come on and bouncers are herding people towards the exit. Julian Cope is perhaps at his best in a more welcoming location, but there's no doubting his ability to rock like a mutha and work the crowd like a true showman.
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