Astoria London 12 November 2004
Cardiacs are without a doubt this country’s best kept musical secret. That they remain a cult band is an all too tragic fact. They have had slight brushes with mainstream exposure; their storming single Is This The Life was an ‘indie’ hit, and then in 1995 Blur added them to their Mile End extravaganza in a nod to the Cardiacs’ influence.
Often too weird or scary for all but the most open-minded music fan, it would be fair to say they produce the kind of music that you either love or loathe. If they had scaled the heights of popularity they would have divided more people that the Berlin Wall. But after 25 years they are still relatively unknown, except amongst a select few – and how lucky those few are.
The show itself is an absolute joy. After five or more minutes of a continuously throbbing intro tape the band take to the stage with a reception more usually meted out to returning wartime heroes. They launch into opener Tarred and Feathered and the place goes wild. New guitarist Kavus Torabi fits in to the setup beautifully, coping with the intricate arrangement of the Cardiacs’ angular songs with considerable aplomb. Meanwhile the man he replaced, Jon Poole (now residing in The Wildhearts), is down at the front losing his mind along with the rest of the assembled throng.
Throughout the set additional backing singers and percussionists take to the stage to flesh out already complex songs: visually the effect is stunning, and aurally it’s even better. When Dirty Boy makes an appearance at the end of the first set, it’s understandable why Cardiacs affect people so deeply. It’s nothing short of epic, it’s Biblical, a musical epiphany, and a fantastic piece of songwriting. The backing singers, (Mel Woods and Claire Lemmon) surely have lungs the size of bin bags – they appear to hold a note at the end of the song for what must be at least three minutes. It is the highlight of tonight’s set and ruffles the hairs on the back of your neck with ease.
For the encore, they almost manage to top Dirty Boy with an old classic that must be virtually impossible to play live, such is its intricacy. The Everso Closely Guarded Line is another epic, and a further mark of just how incredible the songwriting of front man Tim Smith really is. They finish tonight not with a flurry but with a soft kiss on the cheek with the soothing Foundling: a strange choice, but a gratefully received one nonetheless.
Then they are gone, off to whatever world it is that these champions of the unusual inhabit. Hopefully they will return sooner than next year (an annual autumnal gig is something akin to Christmas for the Cardiacs fan) and should they do, you would be foolish to miss out on something as spectacular as this.
– Sam Shepherd
The Cardiacs London Astoria
There are many words which you could use to describe The Cardiacs, of which none of them would be ‘orthodox’. In fact, they stray so far from orthodoxy that the word probably doesn’t exist in whatever dictionary they get their words from. The Cardiacs have been around for ages, but you’ve probably not heard much about them because they’re the kind of band that absolutely refuses to do anything by the book. A band who’ve never had a record deal, yet have released around 30 records, paid for out of their own pockets. A band who’ve not cared what anyone else has said about them. A band who’ve prided themselves in being the absolute definition of the word ‘different’.
So it’s with a mixed feeling of awe and trepidation that we approach this gig, because to be completely honest, we’re not sure what to expect in the slightest. The stage darkens, and the tension builds up in the full Astoria. The band appear; the crowd go wild. And the music… it’s hard to find words which will even begin to describe what this band have managed to concoct. The theatrical backdrop to the event is led by mainly organ-driven chunks of pure headfuck, with frontman, and genius behind The Cardiacs, Tim Smith flanked by a second guitarist, a bassist, 2 female backing vocalists, 2 female percussionists and a drummer. Each song is dynamic and unpredictable to the very fullest extent – the phrase ‘pushing the envelope’ doesn’t even begin to cover the kinds of things these awesomely talented musicians are displaying tonight.
It’s not just an aural feast either – the lighting is supreme and is the perfect accompaniment to this mind-altering show. Indeed, if there were any band capable of brainwashing, it would be The Cardiacs. The audience in the pit are bopping around like complete lunatics, totally lost in the music, singing every word back at Smith and his companions. Considering most of Smith’s vocals take on a strange chirped embodiment, occasionally breaking into some odd barked phrases, with lyrics that belong in some ‘shroom addict’s ‘stoned scribbles’ notepad, this is no mean feat at all.
The set in its entirety lasts just under 2 hours, with not one, not two, but three encores (not even Oasis manage that!), and even this is not enough to sate the crowd’s appetite. But for those like ourselves curious to see what they are all about, tonight’s set is a perfect introduction to what they’re capable of.
Del Noble Fake DIY mag
The Astoria Theatre, London. 12 Nov 2004.
Like it or not, when a band of legendary status chooses to play its first major gig in a blue moon, it invariably chooses London. As vibrant as our local scene is, there is frankly no competing with the capital when it comes down the sheer choice of venues to suit any band’s ambience.
As one of the few surviving spit-level theatre-style venues you couldn’t pick a more appropriate venue for tonight’s showcase of all that is gloriously over-the-top than the Astoria. Much like this evening’s headlining tenants it’s a bit old, slightly shabby and somewhat past it’s best aesthetically speaking; but it still sparkles with majesty, magic and with a penchant for extravagant grandeur and charming, if slightly out-of-vogue pomposity. Some how this wouldn’t seem quite the same in, say, Leeds University Refectory.
The thought dawns that whoever measured the capacity of The Astoria, had done so using multiples of Brett Andersons rather than portly middle-aged punks. This becomes even more apparent when moments later the lights dim and the quite-clearly-capacity crowd start to loose the plot. After what seems to be an eternity of ambient noise and strobe effects a portly middle-aged man wanders on to the stage. The crowd go ballistic. He is followed by an even more portly middle aged man, a suspiciously young looking man with Sideshow Bob hair and a number of ladies in long flowing dresses. Two of whom take up stools near the back and two of whom pick up mallets and proceed to wallop the living daylights out of a variety of big percussion instruments placed neatly at each side of the stage.
The first man (Cardiacs leader Tim Smith) stands centre stage in a long black overcoat and deliberately smug expression while the audience surge forwards before ripping into a ferocious rendition of the early 80’s live staple Tarred and Feathered. This tips the borderline-psychotic crowd over the edge and leads to the strangely surreal spectacle of a crowd engaged in a full-on mosh pit of frightening proportions to what can only be described as avant-garde music-box experimentalism.
Visually it looks like a Thrash metal gig, musically it sounds closer to a Shoenberg recital. However, the crowd aren’t in the mood to let the absence of anything resembling a traditional time-signature spoil their fun as they gleefully push each other around in (occasional) time with the music.
Before anyone notices, Sandman slips upstairs to get a better view and it becomes apparent that despite the lack of accessibility this is a band still at the top of their game and the influence they have had on the current generation of noise-frenzied art-punks is clearly evident.
It’s there in the choppy-aggression of Will Bleed Amen, its there in the choral cyclic-progression finale of Dirty Boy and its very definitely there in the Garage art-rock of Fast Robert.
However, it’s not until the anthemic Is This The Life that the crowd euphoria reaches its peak. Finally with a straight-forward 4/4 rhythm to get their heads around the crowd pogos in unison. There are few big-sounding rock songs that can bring a lump to the throat, but this is one of them. A soaring, majestic hymn that manages to be both dark and yet profoundly uplifting at the same time.
After over an hour and a quarter the band depart only to return twice, firstly for the borderline operatic-prog-rock of The Everso Closely Guarded Line and then finally for the delicate Foundling, presumably to sooth the rather excitable audience mood, before finally letting them out again into the wide-world to disappear for another year or so until the next time.
-Rob Paul Chapman.
ISSUE 12 GIG REVIEWS
Cardiacs, London Astoria. 12 Nov 2004.
So, once again, it’s on the National Express for the yearly pilgrimage to London for the Cardiacs autumn/winter extravaganza that attracts many hundreds of fishies from across the wordly pond. I am usually of the opinion that the bigger the venue, the less good the show, but for Cardiacs it doesn’t seem to work like that. While the yearly convention, which it seems to have become since their last full tour in 1999, is usually held at the Astoria, last year saw 3 nights at the Highbury Garage performing really old material only, and while these were fascinating, the atmos (despite the Garage being one of my favourite UK venues) was nothing compared to the family love that is felt when we all join together as one at the Astoria. You do wonder whether the spirit of these smart-annuals would be lost if the band did get back out on the road, as the effort to travel from miles around (10 hr round trip for me) may not be seen as so vital. I’d love to see them more regularly, but when you’ve waited a year for your treat, you enjoy it all the more and, by christ, this was just the most incredible fun! Again. A further treat this year, for me at any rate, is that one of my favourite ‘locals’ from my days in Leeds, The Scaramanga Six, are here in support and they do a handsome job of warming the eager cockles of the early comers with their sophisticated but hectic prog-pop. So, what makes these nights so joyous? It’s difficult explain but there’s just something that feels so great about being here, in the middle of the mosh (and it’s rare for a band to inspire pit action from these aching legs). There they are, looking amazing in their uniforms, with Tim Smith leading from the front with his broad smile, gentle soul and stage persona which goes from surreal, sweet storyteller to barking sergeant-major (‘SHUT UP!’) in the space of the same sentence. Then there’s Jim (“Jim, Jim, Jim…”), the cult hero, silent and permanently bewildered. Tiny Bob Leith, pretty as a picture. Kavus Torabi, ex-Monsoon Bassooner, the fresh face of the group, having replace Wildhearts-bound Jon Poole a year or so before. The backing singers, including Claire Lemmon and Mel Woods (once of Sidi Bou Said), who add gigantic, sweeping hysteria to the leviathan ‘Dirty Boy’. All these people I want in my family, but as I say we are all family here, reuniting again. I often wonder why I love this band so much, but these gigs never fail to remind me.