(This review appears in today’s Nottingham Evening Post.)
Cardiacs have been described as “prog-punk”. It’s an imperfect description, but perhaps as close as you’ll get. Their music is complex and intense, combining the disciplined intricacy of progressive rock with the all-out attack of 1977-era punk – but perhaps their true spiritual forefathers are mavericks such as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Remarkably, they have been together for thirty years, operating right outside the mainstream, and inhabiting their own singular musical universe.
Brothers Tim and Jim Smith lead the band, resembling Michael Douglas in Falling Down and Uncle Fester from The Addams Family respectively. They were accompanied by guitarist Kavus Torabi (Simon Amstell fed through a distorted lens) and two impassive female singers in matching pinnies. Keyboards were audible throughout, even though none were on stage. This merely added to the mystique. (*)
Faced with such impossible rhythms, the mosh pit responded with precise stop-start timing. Like the band, they too had mastered the art of controlled chaos.
As I said on Twitter last night: “Best. Band. Ever.” But as I added on Twitter, two wearying hours later: “Toughest. Review. Ever.” It’s always the ones that come out of nowhere and knock you sideways that are the trickiest to nail, as you vainly try to marshall your swirling emotions. (I had the same trouble with Secret Machines last year.) Whereas with the gigs you hate (Manu Chao, The X Factor), the write-up just flies off the page. Evidently, anger must be a great motivator.
As for the mighty Cardiacs: I am more than a little stunned that it has taken a full thirty years to stumble across their extraordinary music. After the show, I asked the nice lady on the merchandising stall to suggest a good place to start. After prolonged rummaging, she selected On Land And In The Sea (1989) for me; an album which contains one of last night’s highlights, the epic “The Everso Closely Guarded Line”, as well as promisingly titled tracks such as “The Stench Of Honey” and “The Duck And Roger The Horse”. I think this could be the start of something.
Cardiacs play the London Astoria tonight, followed by dates next week in Sheffield, Stoke, Manchester and Portsmouth. Really, you should go.
(*) Apparently the keyboards were pre-recorded. Quite how you play music that thrashy and energetic, while still keeping perfect time with a backing tape, completely defeats me.
Postscript: In order to attend last night’s gig, I turned down not one but two invitations to prestigious and glittering social functions: the opening party for Nottingham’s newest casino (in the old Co-op building on Parliament Street), and the opening party for Nottingham’s newest cosmetic surgery (champagne, canapes, complimentary Botox). It’s a glamorous old life, being a stringer for regional print media!