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A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Southbank Centre presents

Ray Davies’ Meltdown

 

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

 


& The Legendary Pink Dots

 

Queen Elizabeth Hall

 

11 June 2011

 

Ray Davies, lead singer and rhythm guitarist with ‘60’s sensation, The Kinks, wrote some of the most enduring pop songs of the 20th century. Energetic and elegiac, Davies’s lyrical style is inimitably English, so it seems appropriate that he curates this year’s Meltdown festival, which coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the Festival of Britain, a factor that swung it for Davies. He’d visited the festival with his father in the ‘50’s, a seven year old boy overawed by the ’futuristic’ nature of it all.

This Meltdown is a two week celebration of artists, old and new, who have inspired Davies over the years. Davies has invited the legendary ‘60’s psychedelic singer, Arthur Brown to open the festivities simultaneously with him tonight, while he plays the Royal Festival Hall. Most famous for setting his head on fire, leaping around stage and singing the classic hit “Fire”, Arthur Brown is not only a visionary performer, he also paved the way for all manner of extreme and  outlandish acts to be accepted into mainstream music.

The Legendary Pink Dots provide support with their spacious sound-scapes. The trio bathed in green lit smoke, play a fusion of piano loops mixed with spacey synths, a heavy dose of delay expanding their sound as it envelops the room with reverential gloom. The lead singer, Edward Ka-Spel sways back and forth, barefoot in his bath robe, swiping his microphone through the air and intoning his lyrics with a spoken word style delivery. The delay builds an industrial ambience, as he chants his prescient lyric “I watch paint dry” which at times, was a bit what it felt like.

When a strange figure draped in a black outfit, like a burka, his face totally obscured, is being led down the stairs by a man in a mask with a beak clanging a picture frame, either you know you are at an Arthur Brown gig or someone’s spiked your drink with acid. Enter the Crazy world of Arthur Brown. From behind the veil, his gravelly voice courses over the audience, still as commanding as it was in the ‘60’s; you can hear his influence over other artists such as Nick Cave and Tom Waits, its soulful darkness haunting the auditorium. Just as striking as Brown’s voice is his band’s theatrical aesthetic - the red daubed chest of the drummer and Sam Walker and the beaked masks of the other band members make it look less like a concert and more like a Satanic convention. The music however, is unmistakably rooted in the ’60’s, as the psychedelic shimmer of the Hammond and seismic bass line assault our senses in a swirl of kaleidoscopic sounds. Brown pulls off his veil to reveal his face, painted red and green, as he dons a black hat and shuffles his feet along the floor, before bopping across the stage. Two Tribal wood carvings flank the set and a live video feed distorts events behind him. It is amazing to see a 69 year old man with so much vim and vigour as he pulls out all his trade mark shapes and a few ones that would give Morris Dancers a run for their money or make them run riot and burn their sticks.

Brown’s enthusiasm is infectious, and you can see how his band are totally devoted to him and his meddlesome ways -  Lucie Rejchrtova on keys, has to put up with him moving the keyboard while she is playing it! Yet this is all in keeping with Brown’s free spirited ethos - he does what he wants, when he wants, such as cheekily lifting up the skirts of one of the dancers, relishing playing the role of the dirty old man, a Steptoe-like grimace creasing his face. He embodies the peace and love of the hippie movement, while retaining his surreal wit and enough cynicism to make him endearing.

When he’s not lying down in the aisle, psychedelic lyrics swimming out of his mouth, Brown switches up between late night lounge funk and blues infused rock, his sound always electric. His cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ‘I Put a Spell on You’ is stupendous, his falsetto hitting the high notes as his voice cries free, his panda eyed bassist, Jim Mortimore releasing colossal waves of rumbling notes as a trumpet blasts out across the stage.

Guitar virtuoso Clem Clempson provides raw blues solos later on in the gig, cutting an unassuming figure in a t-shirt and specs, but what this middle aged man lacks in attire he more than makes up for in sound, shredding out squealing solos of distortion. Brown introduces the astounding vocalist Z Star who duets with him on a number of tracks, her voice absolutely astonishing, as he encourages her to let rip with utter abandon.

Brown would have been a shaman if he had born anywhere outside of the West and his music is infused with a spiritual quality which transcends most of the modern music released today. He cuts a gangly figure, often seeming to surprise himself as he leaps about, while his imposing voice still retains its great authority and spine tingling voltage as he takes us further through the melting walls of his psychedelic world.

Whether he’s battling off invisible demons in tails and a red shirt, or collapsing to the floor on his knees, Brown is a totally unique and captivating front man, the ring leader of an insane circus, who set the bench mark for all other extreme lead singers to judge themselves by. As the brackets on his metal helmet burst into flames, he sets the room ablaze in a performance as incendiary now as it was then. But Brown has matured. He is an older man now, so when he mutters earlier on in the show, “Could you get rid of some of this smoke, I’m losing my throat” the irony is not wasted. He may still be the God of Hell Fire but he’s also now eligible for his Freedom Pass, although he’d probably just burn it.

 

 

Arthur Brown circa 1968

 

Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Meltdown Festival
Until Sun. 19th of June 2011
Ticket Office: +44 (0)844 875 0073
http://meltdown.southbankcentre.co.uk/
 
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