This was originally written to go in local music press, but they ignored my emails. And me, an internationally famous author! Bollocks to them.
Anyway, better late than never…
There’s a famous quote, wrongly attributed to Elvis Costello (it was actually 1970’s actor and singer Martin Mull), that goes: ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ It’s a naff cliché now, but it does touch upon the impossibility of conveying in words a listener’s experience of music, live or recorded. And, as I overheard one audience member say after this gig, ‘I don’t know what the hell that was – but I really enjoyed it!’ Flux Capacitors are difficult to place, but easy to love. The key seems to be in their name; obviously a tribute to Back To The Future, but ‘flux’ can also mean ‘flow’, and a wealth of influences flow through this band: punk, lo-fi indie, surf rock, metal , blues, folk, even poetry.
Flux Capacitors are two singer/songwriters/guitarists, Michael McNeil and Hazel Winter. Music lovers will know Hazel from her 90’s stint in The Blue Aeroplanes and her distinguished solo career, which includes four albums. Her distinctive guitar style, confessional songwriting and often ferocious vocals make P.J.Harvey seem like Celine Deon, and she brings all that to the band, plus a mordant wit redolent of the songs of Victoria Wood (but with swearing). McNeil, aka The Commander is, or was, unknown to me (at least before this gig) and brings a surf-rock sensibility to the music, and is a direct contrast to Winter, being of the opposite gender and from a different generation.
Their album, Courtesan, launched at this gig, is a fantastic cornucopia of songs and poetic interludes, laden with wit and laugh-out-loud profanity, rip-roaring punk-pop rubbing shoulders with slower, confessional songs. To be honest at time of writing I haven’t quite got to grips with it, only having access to an incomplete download a mere few hours before the gig, but was familiar enough with it to recognise the material when presented live.
Support was ably provided by the excellent Drunken Butterfly, a short solo set from Hazel, and a storming, thunderous performance by Rita Lynch who should need no introduction here. Then, introduced by a backing tape that I’m sure I’ve heard used at several Blue Aeroplanes gigs (I think it’s from Thunderbirds), Flux Capacitors took the stage and tore into Melt, the first track on Courtesan. Connections to Bossa Nova era Pixies are appropriate here, especially as McNeil somewhat resembles, and sounds like, a young Black Francis; except the Pixies frontman never wore a flowing red/gold cape and a crown. It’s a blistering start, and they follow it up with one of the album’s highlights, My Hair Is Thinning At The Front, where Hazel finds a hilariously profane rhyme for the song title. I won’t repeat it here, because a) it’s too rude for publication, and b) it’s best discovered first-hand by yourself. Hazel imbues the subject of female hair loss with the righteous outrage it deserves, and the ordinariness of her concern reminds me of the writing of Half Man Half Biscuit’s Nigel Blackwell whose songs similarly chronicle the vagaries of everyday life.
McNeil and Winter are ably supported by Gerard Starkie on guitar and Mike Youe on bass, with Max Harrison on drums and Anja Quinn providing backing vocals. The three guitarists make a swirling wall of noise, often threatening to go out of control, but somehow staying just this side of chaos. During Paul, a song about McNeil’s former employer, Winter plays slide guitar using a switched-on vibrator (in a tribute to a certain punk band of yore, perhaps?) and the sound it makes is like an enormous, fuzzy chainsaw. Swimming, with its funky bass and catchy chorus and very rude line about what you might accidentally swallow at a swimming pool, is another example of the band’s penchant for Viz-style crudity. As well as songs from Courtesan, there are a couple of songs from Hazel’s solo albums too.
A few gremlins plague the gig. Hazel performs in near-darkness for fifteen minutes until McNeil asks the lighting man to rectify this, and even then it’s not completely sorted. The slower songs don’t translate as well as the faster, poppier material, and during Telephone Triage Assessment, Hazel’s blackly funny song about someone suicidal phoning 111 and being given the run-around, the spoken-word verses are almost inaudible in the mix.
But such is the confidence of this band that such problems don’t matter, in fact, it all seems part of the marvellous chaos. They finish with their most notorious song, Satan (Love Song For Bill Hicks), where Hazel sings about being too old to perform a certain sexual act due to dodgy knees (again too rude to repeat here!). It rocks, supremely, and the Exchange crowd responds in kind. After a brief interlude they return with three cover versions: Half Man Half Biscuit’s Vatican Broadside (to which I and many others sing along), You’re A Friend Of Mine (Clarence Clemons) and Jesse James (JD Meatyard). Though, given their feminist leanings, surely the call should have been for Jesse Jane? My coat was on the floor by the speakers at the front. And that was it – a concise hour and ten minutes of frenetic, barmy brilliance. And we’re back to dancing about architecture again. I’m off now to listen to Courtesan properly (on CD) this time and am looking forward greatly to it. And I’m looking forward to seeing the F.C.’s play live again even more.