Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Watch what you say about Celestial Magenta, though, because their drummer Linda alone could probably split your head open like a coconut. It's no surprise that the band has co-opted the Charlie's Angels logo -- it's the old tactic of using femininity (including swanky blank dresses, tonight) to get the guys in the audience to drop their guard long enough for vocalist Monika to gouge out their eyeballs and skull-fuck them with the headstock of her Rickenbacker. And if it ain't broke, why fix it?
Featuring new guitarist Angela, who looks like a hopeful new member of the Bangles (oop, better bite my tongue...), Monika & Co. have been around long enough to deliver their music with an impressive amount of confidence. They don't care whether you like their stuff or not -- they're the ones on stage, goddammit, and you're gonna listen. Celestial Magenta also have enough talent to come up with enough decent grrrlrock tunes to back up their no-bullshit approach to performing, and for small mercies I guess we should be thankful.
"We've been around awhile, so we do occasionally come up with new stuff. Christ knows why we do it... we're self-indulgent, I guess." These are the words of wisdom Jean Smith of Mecca Normal imparts to us halfway through their set. Yes, in fact they're here to showcase a whole album of new material from their new album, Who Shot Elvis? The Mecca Normal sound is that of pre-punk; i.e., Jean "Patti" Smith venting over a soundtrack of Barry Maguire and Peter Sarstaedt, ably reproduced by David Lester on a Guild electric guitar. Ian & Sylvia on PCP, in other words.
And in the grand tradition of the bands who flailed away angrily before they decided to call it 'punk,' Mecca Normal is as much art school is they are invective. Smith picks up a well-weathered Fender Bullet and joins Lester on a couple of songs, using a blue glass candle-holder as a slide. The fact that she's one hundred percent out of tune has never seemed more irrelevant, nor has the frustrated crackling of Lester's faulty patch cord. He's pretty pissed off about it, but no one else seems to care.
The finale of "When You Know" is a true finale, with Lester possessed (musically) by the spirit of Jimmy Page's mock-Indian guitar tuning circa "White Summer" and (visually) by the spirit of Pete Townshend trying to windmill his way through a sitar solo, while Smith prowls the audience like the sixth Spice Girl who no one ever mentions -- Psycho Spice. Of course they're finished their set -- what else do they have to give us?
Providing a measuring stick by which we'll be measuring the talents of Mecca Normal in an unfortunate way, we have the opening act, Calgary's the New 1-2. Basically, this is more of what we've been hearing heavy music-wise since 1993. The New 1-2 can be admired for their commitment in taking their show onto the road, but, in the end, this petulant yelling and discordant guitar schtick is really starting to wear thin. Of course, they have their moments, and a slight prog-rock / Black Sabbath flavour, but that just doesn't cut it anymore. They do have a female drummer, though, whose proficiency puts most guys to shame. Considering this, then, alongside the key role they'll be playing in tonight's proceedings, I'll have to concede that women probably are cooler than men. Vive la difference!
Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.