The Presidents of the United States of America.
The epitome of fun-filled rock I do believe. I was wetting myself with excitement
at the prospect of seeing them, as not only do I think they're incredible,
but I was also aware about the moderate rarity of their shows over here
We got to the Astoria for when the tickets said doors would be opening,
and, well, nobody was there. A distinct lack of queue. We scoured our
tickets to ensure we were in the right place at the right time. Absolutely.
Well okay then.
Above the door was one of those old fashioned things you'd find at old
cinemas, where they display their upcoming shows, but with no digital
fanciness. Oh no. (Even though just across the road were sleek fountains,
and a MASSIVE statue and screens advertising the musical “We Will
Rock You.”) Just good old “someone has to climb up there and
attach the relevant letters.” The Presidents had their name in big
writing, and beneath it, were some other bands, including Catatonia. Now,
did this mean Catatonia were supporting the Presidents? This amused me
somewhat. My companions however, were less humoured.
So we went into the empty building, via the empty queue line, up the
empty stairs to the cloakroom. The interior was generously decorated with
black paint. For some unknown reason. But it made the place feel less
like a big London venue, and more like a tacky local gig you might find
yourself at one evening
Anyway, dump stuff in the cloakroom, and head into the main room. Surprise
surprise; it's empty as well. We abused this emptiness, and found ourselves
a nice spot at the very front, on the railing. Brilliant. Upon the stage
was a vast array of unusual instruments, and the odd roadie scuttling
by at the rear of the stage. I turned and leaned on the bar and looked
around the room. There were seats in an upstairs area above where we had
walked in, making the room a lot bigger. The room was an odd shape really,
where we were standing, was far wider than it was deep, and the room somehow
felt elliptical. But that's not really important. It had the vitals, a
stage, an area for a crowd, and a few bars.
The first band came on, without us really knowing. I couldn't catch their
name, it was Devoshka or something. Needless to say, it wasn't Catatonia.
But I wish I HAD remembered the name, because to be fair, they were awesome.
It seemed that, it was them who were responsible for the odd instruments.
Accordions, huge brass contraptions, and, my particular favourite, a theremin.
(It's a box with an antenna, and a sound is achieved by moving your hand
closer and nearer the antenna. It's genius really, and I'd never seen
one used live.) They were a four or five piece, I can't remember, consisting
of drummer, singer/guitar/banjo/theremin, accordion/trumpet player, and
a well built woman who took control of the huge brass instrument that
has no name, and the double bass.
They were kind of, latin in feel I'd say. With fast-paced songs with
stamping galore, and slow whiny songs you'd imagine someone old man singing
in an Italian alleyway, after an afternoon on the wine. But their talent
was unbelievable, and they really played a good set. To say I was enjoying
myself was an understatement. And the front man's accuracy with his playing
of the theremin; fantastic. And just when I thought it couldn't get any
better, in the final song, he was there strumming away on his electric
banjo type thing, and using the neck of it to play the theremin! Oh dear
LORD, you my friend, are a genius.
The second band, well, hmmm. Another totally irrelevant genre to throw
into the Presidents gig, but well, we'll go along with it. They were country,
similar to a band like Lonestar or something, but not as good. (You could
argue that PUSA are country rock, but no, this was different, trust me.)
They were called Elf Power. The kind of band I'd naively class as “yee-hah
music.” All the band-members dressed up in checkered shirts stolen
from the local Sheriff's office. You know how it is.
I didn't really get into their set. They played their instruments reasonably
well, but the songs just didn't seem to get anywhere. They went on and
on and all sounded very alike. And his irritating “yee-hah voice”
annoyed me in between songs; “Gee, thanks folks.”
And when they DID attempt a bit of oomph, (just the once I'll add,) it
went miserably wrong. I don't know what went on. But everything was out
of time and everyone's parts didn't go together. I'm not sure really,
but I know I turned round to my friends with one of those “What
the fuck mate” expressions.
I wasn't sad to see them leave, partly because I wasn't enjoying their
set, and partly because I knew who were on next. There was a hardcore
Presidents fan to the right of me, who had seen them up in Birmingham
the night before. Fair play.
And so once all the sound-crew had pissed off, on came the drummer, Jason.
A wave to the crowd, followed by guitarist Andrew and vocal/bassist, Chris.
Andrew and Chris jumped into the air in unison, upon landing, played
a single note, matched with a crash from Jason. And then silence. They
stood on the spot and looked around confused. Then they did it again.
And again. And then, on the fourth time, the single note transformed into
the intro for Video Killed The Radio Star. Hooray!
They played all their best songs. And excuse me for not remembering the
order, but I was enjoying myself too much.
Expert executions of Zero Friction, Highway Forever, Some Postman, Love
Everybody, Drool At You, and Jennifer's Jacket; and off of their earlier
albums, Lump, Peaches, Back Porch, Kitty, Dune Buggy, Boll Weevil, Tiki
God, Volcano and Froggy.
For one song, they invited on stage some “cockney geezer.”
One of their Uncles I think? And they played a song called I Want To Destroy
“In a nice way,” added the older gentleman.
For those of you that don't know, Chris plays a two-string bass, and
looked like he was enjoying himself. White shirt and tie, and a polished
head. The guitarist, Andrew, was just constantly grinning. Good to see
them still enjoying themselves. I couldn't really see Jason, hidden up
behind his drum kit, but he was there, beaming.
During one of their songs, Andrew and Chris wrapped themselves round
one another and played each others instruments, while they were still
wearing their own one, if that makes sense?
At the end of the set, they all strolled off, and Jason smacked Chris's
arse. I see.
But nowadays, come on, who goes off and doesn't play an encore? Nobody.
Exactly. So of course they came back on. “Presidents! Presidents!
They broke into We're Not Gonna Make It, however, had a little break
down where Chris explained the history of the band. You know, them getting
together and splitting up and all that. The twist? He said it all at an
unbelievable pace, and fitted it all into about ten seconds, and ending
the song with “Looks Like We Made It!”
Yes guys. You have.
For their next song Body, (with the main line being “I can't get
your body out of my mind,”) they dragged two long pieces of red
fabric onto the stage, hanging from the ceiling, and brought a girl on
stage. She was one of those dancers, you know, who climb up the fabric
and hang themselves into weird positions. You know? They have some on
BBC in between programs, when they're explaining what's on next. You MUST
know? Ah well, that's the best I can do. So while they were playing away,
she was twenty-five foot above them tying herself up. Interesting.
For a final song, Kick Out The Jams. However, half way through, they
broke into Lulu's “Shout!” and then it was audience-participation
time. We all had to take a step back, and then squat down. Everyone did
it, it was quite funny to watch and be part of. Then Chris would say some
words and we had to shout them back. However it soon turned to novelty
noises, and just weird sounds. Ha. But then, back on our feet, a final
chorus of Kick Out The Jams, and that was it. They left. This time with
no arse-smack, and no reappearance.
What a fantasmic gig. And thanks to it, I have
the chorus of Volcano stuck in my head for weeks
to come, which annoyed just about everyone. Mwa-ha-ha.
Review by Thom