Barry Adamson, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews
Barry Adamson, Queen Elizabeth Hall
Barry Adamson, Queen Elizabeth Hall
Veteran post-punk bass genius shows off his eclectic side
Immediately before Barry Adamson started his performance, the audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was treated to a few fragrant verses about arts cinemas and the homeless from Yorkshire poet Geoffrey Allerton. The keen-eyed soon twigged that Allerton was actually a fictional construct, part-Simon Armitage, part-Freddie Trueman, created by comedian Simon Day. A beautifully idiosyncratic prelude to a pretty idiosyncratic headline set.
When Barry Adamson stalked on stage, posing at the top of a short staircase on a white Austin Powers shagpile, it would have been easy to mistake him for another comic invention. Sporting a feathery hat, gold necklace, beard and shades, the black-clad bassist looked like a hep cat archetype inspired by countless Sixties hipster films. I suspect he was in on the joke though. For a bona fide pop Zelig who made his name playing with gloomy existentialists Magazine and later with Nick Cave at his bleakest, he also turned out to have some rather funny lines up his sleeve.
Someone shouted for the guitar to be turned up. Actually everything needed to be turned upProceedings started off slightly nervily and restrained, with Adamson singing sans bass. "Destination" nodded to his Mancunian roots with an added Joy Division reference, the "Transmission" mantra "dance, dance, dance to the radio". After a couple of numbers, someone shouted for the guitar to be turned up. Actually everything needed to be turned up. Slowly the polite show found its teeth. The bulk of the 90-minute set came from the new album, I Will Set You Free, but there were numerous welcome back-catalogue forays too. The decade-old "Whispering Streets" had a John Barry vibe, while "Psycho-Sexual" was all brooding beatnik jive talk.
The gig certainly jumped around stylistically, in keeping with the 53-year-old wingman-turned-frontman's solo career, which mixes the filmic – Adamson has done soundtrack work for David Lynch and recently for Carol Morley's Dreams of a Life – with the funky and the poppy. The current single, "Turnaround" – "it's free, like everything these days" reflected its composer – had such a classic glacial feel it could have almost been an offcut from an early Magazine long-player.
As the gig progressed a string section and then a horn section joined in, beefing up the beat. The stand-out track was "If You Love Her", a gloriously orchestral croon with more than a hint of Scott Walker about it, completed by some playful lyrical hat-tips to "I Can't Stand the Rain" and Robbie Williams's "Angels". While the other three band members were relative rookies, keyboard player Nick Plytas, whose pedigree spools right back to pub rockers Roogalator, certainly made his presence felt with darting runs, swirling lines and some effortlessly soulful pounding.
But this was really Adamson's gig. While not the most natural lead vocalist in the world, he certainly looked as if he was having fun and was frequently full of surprises. At one point he pulled a pair of skull-shaped maracas called "Howard and David" out of a budget-busting green plastic shopping bag – presumably named after his two erstwhile Magazine colleagues Howard Devoto and Dave Formula. Elsewhere he explained that the Steely Dan-do-jazz "Straight 'Til Sunrise" was inspired by a New York woman called Abbey. "From Downtown. She said some day they'll write a TV series about me..."
Perhaps it was the stiffness of the venue, perhaps it was the stiffness of the joints of the distinctly middle-aged audience on a bone-freezing night, but the response to the concert was more respectful than riotous. It was only at the very end, for, appropriately, "Stand In" and the voodoo blues of "Jazz Devil", that the crowd got to their feet. Adamson thanked his fans and with a degree of understatement described the gig as "pleasant". What a modest fellow. It was not as finger-clickingly cool as I had anticipated, but it was certainly much more than pleasant.
Watch Barry Adamson with Magazine performing "Shot by Both Sides" in 1978
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