Keeping Up with the Smithses

Gene's Martin Rossiter Gene
with Star 69
Vancouver, B.C.
Sunday, June 1, 1997

Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

There's something distinctly odd about seeing a show when daylight is still streaming through the skylights at Graceland. But it's Sunday, and with last call set for 11:45, there's not a hell of a lot anyone can do about it. Maybe Star 69 feel that it's a little odd, too, because there's a distinctly bad vibe hanging in the air during their set.

Star 69 guitarist Star 69 take the stage and begin their set with a country & westernized version of Ash's "Girl from Mars," and it speaks volumes that a cover will be the best song Star 69 play during their brief set (more of this in a minute). They're not a bad band, but there's nothing about them that would inspire you to say that they're good, either. Star 69 suffer from the same problem that beset the Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket (remember them... anyone?) in that they're just so... mundane. They get up on stage, do what they do, we applaud politely, and then they go home -- and nobody cares.

Something isn't going right on stage tonight, though. Singer Julie Daniels paces between her microphone and her roadie and maybe there's the chance that she'll throw a hissy fit about the state of the monitor mix. No such luck. Star 69 walk off stage without as much as a "bye" after barely half an hour.

Star 69's Julie Daniels There are enough people in the audience who truly love Gene, though, so Star 69's lacklustre performance doesn't throw a damper onto this evening's show. Gene, in case you've been living in a cave for the last two years, are the band from England who are apparently more than a little familiar with what the Smiths sounded like. Some people love them because of this, and some people hate them because of this, and it seems that, given the half-full venue tonight, even more people just don't care.

So Gene may sound like the Smiths -- certainly the "Panic"-like bounce of "Haunted by You" stands as an illustrative point, and singer Martin Rossiter's voice is a dead ringer for Morrissey's -- but the closer you listen to their music, you begin to appreciate the problems that this all causes for Gene: if you are expecting to hear the Smiths in Gene's music, then that's who you're going to hear.

The fact of the matter is that Gene's songs, on their own merits, are good (except for tonight's closing number "For the Dead," which is positively sublime). It's just that voice. Gene could play Led Zeppelin covers all night and we'd still swear that Morrissey had gone a bit heavy, and therein lies the problem. Gene will never rise above their Smiths comparisons because the similarities have gained (and lost) them too many fans. And I personally cannot sit through the show without a nagging feeling that the Smiths would have done these songs a lot better.

Gene's Martin Rossiter Still, a Gene show really allows no cause for complaint. Martin Rossiter makes a great frontman, working the audience and supplying us with a focal point, freeing guitarist Steve Mason and bassist Kevin Miles to just do what they do best, i.e. play. Rossiter twists, leaps and mounts the monitors, arms outstretched in acceptance of the crowd's adulation. Arrogance? Probably, but who's interested anymore in meek shoegazing? Acting like rock stars is what we pay these people to do. Gene have also added a keyboard player to their live ensemble, although it would be nice if the soundman would let us hear what he's playing. This is the only real sound problem with Gene's set, aside from an occasional blast of feedback when Rossiter absentmindedly points his microphone at the monitors.

So Gene may sound not entirely unlike another band which we know and love. This may be blasphemy to some, but at least Gene show passion for what they do, and it's something Julie Daniels appears to realize as she storms petulantly around Graceland. Gene may be accused of opportunism in cashing in on the Smiths' legacy, but it's Star 69 who are the true offenders in this area, seemingly making music as a means to an end rather than as a raison d'être.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on June 20, 1997

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