Sunday, 29 May 2011

All the Right Kinds of Wrong: Oxbow Live in Parc de la Villette, Paris

By the end of the first song, Eugene is already removing his waistcoat, loosening his tie, and unbuttoning the top of his shirt. And so it begins again, I thought to myself, recalling the very first time I saw Oxbow live, nearly a decade ago: Eugene screaming and growling with animal horror, roughly thrusting his barely concealed cock in the face of the tiny - and frankly terrified - audience at the Amersham Arms. Support act, Richard Sanderson, a morris dancer and London Musicians' Collective director who had opened with a flock of tender folk songs for accordion and laptop, blubbering to me that "the band behind are actually incredibly good musicians." Later, the whole group repaired to my old house by New Cross Gate. Over a morning mug of cornflakes it became clear that Eugene Robinson, author of the book, Fight (whose topic is fairly self-explanatory) was in fact, contrary to expectations, probably the most genteel and articulate house guest I had ever had.

They've just finished the fourth song of their set for the free Villette Sonique festival in Paris, and by now Eugene is down to his jockey shorts. "Suddenly, it's a whole different kind of Sunday afternoon in the park," he growls at the crowd, experimentally teasing his already half-tumescent member. "If you all weren't here, we'd get arrested right now." And then a battery of snare cracks launch us into the next ferocious assault of brutal avant-swamp rock, Dan Adams tearing fuzzy, slurring low-end chords from his fretless Fender bass. But amidst the chaos and the torment there lurk surprising moments of sweetness, recalling the mystical jazz of Duke Ellington's 'Moon Mist', or early 70s Herbie Hancock. In these moments, Eugene rips out a rich, throaty soul singer's voice that make every Brit vocalist from the last decade or so who has ever been called 'soulful' - be it David McAlmont or Adele or whoever - sound like the Mike Flowers Pops.

With a nod to the man the French call DSK, Eugene sidles up to the woman at the side of the stage filming the show, and puts his arm round her waist. "Good thing she's not a hotel maid," he winks to the audience. This gets a big laugh, but it's quickly cut short by a squall of wildly fluctuating feedback from Niko Wenner's guitar amp and the start of another four minutes of paranoia and revulsion. Listing reference points - Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Dr John, Tom Waits, The Birthday Party, The Jesus Lizard, Big Black, etc. - will never come close to the sometimes horrifically visceral experience of watching Oxbow live. Like watching one of the nastier exploitation films from the late 70s era, or a drunken wrestle with a piss-stained homeless psychotic in a back alley at four in the morning: thrilling, if liable to leave you feeling somewhat unclean.

[image courtesy of GoodNoisyCore]