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Rew And Crew Pull Through And Ring True At The Venue

Katrina And The Waves
The Venue, London, 2/10/93

Reviewed by Aidan Merrit

I'm sure that fifteen years before this gig Kimberley Rew never thought he'd be playing Gary Glitter covers in a Peckham disco. I'm equally sure that fifteen minutes before this gig I'd never have thought I'd have enjoyed it.

If ever a gig seemed unpromising beforehand, this did. The Venue (a surprisingly nice place) is almost totally empty; perhaps a couple of dozen people milling about, seemingly an even mix of sexy foreign teenagers come to get drunk and have fun and scruffy local students come to pick up the drunken sexy foreign teenagers and have fun, with one or two Soft Boys diehards moodily moping about. A truly appalling support act takes the stage to make a sub-Nirvana racket for an hour. The bar downstairs is showing live coverage of chess and people watch it rather than listen to this.

After an hour of this crap, Kimberley & co. take the stage to a patter of applause and an apathetic shuffle towards the front, and launch immediately into two pretty lame tracks, 'Foot-Stomping Music' and 'Keep Cooking'. But after this something seems to catch and the rest of the gig is an almost unbroken stretch of could-have-been- bigger-than-the-Beatles greatness.

Katrina & the Waves have always tended to be dismissed as proto-Kylie bubblegum pop on the basis of 'Walking On Sunshine' and 'Sun Street', which is a trifle unfair -- is "Na Na Na Na" really any worse a lyric than "Yip Yip Yip"? Apart from the aforementioned two hits, tonight the band steers clear of disco-pop, instead playing a screaming psych-punk set with the occasional quieter track nestling in there. The overall impression is that of a bastard fusion of Adam Ant, Ike & Tina Turner and the Teardrop Explodes. In fact, rather like the early Soft Boys without the art-school twaddle.

It may be a five-member band but tonight it's the Katrina-and-Kimberley show. Kimberley belts 'em out. (In the sleeve notes to 1976-81 Robyn describes Kimberley's solo style as "the Kinks meet Hendrix" and after seeing him here, freed from the constraint of Robyn's song structures, I'd go along with that.) He may claim that the Soft Boys style doesn't affect his later work, but it definitely shows. Katrina -- looking remarkably pretty having ditched her 80s all-tits-'n'-lipstick image -- shows remarkable talent, in singing and especially in winning the audience over. At the start most of the sparse audience are sitting in the bar or on the upstairs balcony; by the end of the first set, everyone's out dancing like a nutter and cheering wildly. The audience sing along enthusiastically with anything they know, cheer everything wildly, and even applaud Katrina's gob-at-the-front-row routine during the inevitable 'Walking On Sunshine'. I'd honestly say the only other performers I've ever seen this good at winning over an audience are Julian Cope and Ray Davies on their best form.

The gig's set to end at 11, as it's followed by a disco. The early arrivals to the disco get drawn in, swelling the ranks of the cheering crowd until by 11 the hall's full of cheering Sarf Lund'ners. The band returns for two extended encores, which come out even better than the main set. After the smashing punk/psych/glam hybrid 'I Can't Stand Myself Whenever You're Near Me' the band launch into a 15 minute version of Gary Glitter's 'Rock &l Roll'. Now if ever there was a song I'd have called a hopeless case, it's 'Rock & Roll', one of the smelliest turds from the sewer of 70s pop. But this is special. The bassline going right through you. Kimberley & Katrina's mesmerising vocals. Some brilliant playing from Kimberley right the way through, with a hypnotic solo in the middle. If I was the band I'd put this out as a single right away -- it'd certainly deserve to be a smash.

After this there's a second encore, a bit of a comedown after the first set and encore. It's gone half-eleven and the disco's delayed; so, although the crowd would probably have been happy with another hour, the gig ends and the disco starts.

I must confess, I'd always considered everything Kimberley's done since the end of the Soft Boys nothing more than a footnote in Robyn's history. I came more out of curiosity than anything else, and prepared to hate it. But I'd honestly say this was easily one of the best gigs I've ever been to. I suspect these were exceptional circumstances; the disco crowd swelling the audience, the band being on form, the drunken students cheering along. But this would have been a great gig under any circumstances. It may not be every one of Robyn's fans' cup of tea there's little of the quiet, introspective side to it. And it would have been nice to see Kimberley singing on more, perhaps doing some of the Bible Of Bop tracks, or even Soft Boys stuff. But that aside, if you thought A Can Of Bees was better than Underwater Moonlight and think that music's as or more important than the lyrics I'd urge you to rediscover them.

This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Positive Vibrations, the Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock/Kimberley Rew magazine. It may be distributed freely but may not be sold except with permission of the author or publisher.

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