Tufnell Park Dome, London, 10/12/16
Full disclosure: I’ve held a torch for Crippled Black Phoenix from my long-since-gone trading days, when one of the unwashed denizens of this very site cut a track from ‘A Love of Shared Disasters’ onto a mixtape thrown in with a bundle of other burnt .rars.
There’s something in the inconsistency of their self-proclaimed end-time ballads – that affecting mixture of prog rock, folk, and agitprop – that really, really works for me, even if few of their albums truly cut the mustard as coherent pieces.
Their latest effort, the recently-released Bronze, is arguably the strongest CBP record to date: of which, more anon.
Before the main repast, however, amuse-bouches of tasty pints and even tastier pizzas were needed, necessitating the abandonment of opening support The Devil’s Trade for the old school jukebox and new school pizza-pubbery of Aces and Eights over the road.
No matter the destination, circumnavigating inner London seems to take an hour’s trip regardless of starting point. With justice unable to be done to support act #1, the good news was thus given to some Guns’n’Roses, goat’s cheese/pepperoni combos and a sloppy jar or three.
Publicist UK’s 2015 effort ‘Forgive Yourself’ was moderately received, commingling portions of Joy Division and Bauhaus with more modern post-punk and commercial darkwave sensibilities.
They’re a visually intriguing bunch, with besuited vocalist Zachary Lipez allying the mannerisms of David Byrne to a similarly rich baritone, and lyrics somewhat reminiscent of Enablers’ excellent Pete Simonelli. Flanked by the crustier Brett Bamberger, late of Revocation, and prolific drumsmith Dave Witte (Discordance Axis, Municipal Waste, too many more to mention), it’s clear that Lipez et al have pedigree.
The chops on show ensure Publicist UK have something to offer – even if it’s not quite found the fullness of its execution yet. Going for an all-out Devo tailoring and making the tunes just that half-beat catchier could see them really explode into critical darling territory; as it stands, ‘Levitate the Pentagon’ is the undoubted highlight of their brief set, with too many other songs blending into mid-paced noir similarity for this reviewer.
Whilst I wish them luck, nothing they have on offer comes close to the darkness of, say, A-Ha’s ‘Manhattan Skyline’, which, in retrospect, could be a perfect cover for them.
Crippled Black Phoenix
And so, the main event.
Visibly chuffed to be in front of a slowing-filling if never-quite-full Tufnell Park Dome, the CBP sestet crash through the ‘Dead Imperial Bastard’ backing tape straight into their Hawkwind-esque ‘Rise Up and Fight’, and onward from there to the rallying-cry of ‘Long Live Independence’.
There’s a great opportunity for the band to be playful with 2016’s events in any number of songs from their back catalogue: populist surges, dispossessed uprisings, civil rights, and untrustworthy memories of better times all feature heavily, unpredictable and horrendous.
Thankfully, no soapboxes are erected mid gig by performers or audience: there’s just too much fun to be had. The aforementioned ‘Bronze’ features prominently in the excited opening salvos, with ‘Deviant Burials’, ‘No Fun’, ‘Rotten Memories’ and ‘Champions of Disturbance’ played as a quartet.
Hugely satisfying, there’s a real whiff of Katatonia’s ‘The Great Cold Distance’ in the air. It’s a really well-judged setlist, combining the best of the new – Belinda Kordic joining the stage for an ethereal rendition of ‘Scared and Alone’ – with the essentials of ‘No!’, ‘444’ and a frankly massive ‘Song for the Loved’ representing some of the highlights of the back catalogue.
The Devil’s Trade one-man whirligig David Mako (a dead ringer for Tom Hardy as Charles Bronson) adds an infectious enthusiasm lifting a cover of Joe Walsh’s ‘Turn to Stone’ to psychedelic heights: all in all, it’s just a blast. With associated brass instruments, keyboards, triple guitars and soaring vocals, the mournful reveries turn to revelry amongst those gathered.
And really, there’s the rub. I’m unaware precisely as to what CBP have been through in the recent past, but the shape-shifting line ups, label changes and other travails have never quite allowed a great album to come from Justin Greaves’ efforts (with all due respect to the largely excellent I, Vigilante).
Bronze may just be that: it’s clear that there’s now an immense rapport between the members, and a genuine love for the songs they’re playing.
The mixture of post-rock, prog and some really well-crafted blues licks best bear the CBP signature in the live arena, and the keening, audience-participatory ballad of ‘Burnt Reynolds’ closes on some fairly emotional tributes from the Iron Monkey / Electric Wizard alumnus.
It’s clear that the main man is pretty damn pleased with how things are going so far. With a massive show completed and a really strong album just released, he’s got every right to be.
– KGT ::: 12/12/16