It's hard to believe it's been six long years since The Blue Aeroplanes last played London, but finally they are back to promote their excellent new album "Culture Gun" in front of a packed out crowd at Camden's Electric Ballroom. However, there have been some trials and tribulations to overcome leading up to to this long-awaited show. The gig was actually rescheduled from earlier in the year due to frontman Gerard Langley's health problems and the new album carries a touching dedication to the staff at Southmead Hospital and Bristol Royal Infirmary for their great work and thankfully tonight, Gerard is looking fit and well and is on top form. I first saw The Blue Aeroplanes in 1991 and over the years have subsequently seen them play with many and varied line-ups, right up to last summer's superb show at the Harbour Festival in the band's Bristol hometown. Tonight the band feature original members Gerard, brother John on drums and dancer/talisman Wojtek Dmochowski. Then there's spikey-haired Chris Sharp on bass and 'only' the three guitarists, including the talented Mike Youe on lead, charismatic singer-songwriter Rita Lynch and the live-wire Bec Jevons from IDestroy, each one supremely talented in their own right.
The lights go down, the familiar aeroplane sound intro swoops through the PA, the band take the stage and launch into "Hips Like Cigarettes", the opening track on "Culture Gun". The band have not mellowed, for this song is a scathing attack on today's politics, the decline of culture under years of Tory rule and the general state of modern Britain, "it's fucking Dickensian, man" Gerard spits. Indeed the album is oozing with vitriol which you can tell straight away from the cover art which features slogans like 'Art under attack', 'levelling up', 'deep fake', 'beset by poverty' and 'store closed'. Next up have "Dead Tree! Dead Tree!" from the previous album, the brilliant "Welcome Stranger" and then old favourite "Warhol's Fifteen" calms things down a bit. Gerard has never been afraid to allow his bandmates their time in the spotlight and Mike Youe's powerful, almost Grunge Rock "(Someone) In The Arms of No One" and Bec Jevons sassy and Punky "(An Unlikely Hit of) Adoration" (yes, the new album is heavy on the brackets) are both highlights of the new album and indeed, tonight's show.
"Waking Up In The Ghost Removal Van" is built around a nice bass riff that suddenly bursts into an immense chorus "Are you happy? You bet your life I am" and "Half A Crown" has a nice stuttering rhythm. The beautifully textured "What It Is" from "Swagger" allows us a welcome breather for a moment and then it's back to the new album with my personal highlight, "Building An Ark For The Anthropocene". There are not many bands that make me reach for a dictionary and apparently, anthropocene is the era of the human race's significant impact on the Earth's climate, geology and ecosystem, well I might not have been aware of the meaning but I do know you're gonna need a bigger ark. This is a great song, subject matter included, in fact it wouldn't have been out of place on "Beatsongs", it has all the classic Blue Aeroplanes trademarks and could develop into a future crowd favourite. There's a false ending that suddenly spirals into some superb guitar work from Mike, who jumps down into the photographer's pit to play. "You've got to get back up on stage again now" quips Gerard, puncturing the cool move somewhat.
"I appreciate your patience with the new songs, but you'll get your reward", Gerard teases us "yes, Mike's strapping on the twelve string guitar" and we know what that means. Yes, it's the classic intro riff to "Jacket Hangs" and of course there's the obligatory audience participation during the verse "let those arms rotate like helicopter blades", the previously polite crowd finally cracks and I'm caught in a frantic middle-aged mosh-pit that leaves me battered and bruised just like the old days. It's Rita's turn next with her own single "Losing", the only non-Blue Aeroplanes track in the main set but it gets a great reaction and there's some great drumming from John and crunching guitar chords. Next up that immense spiralling guitar intro heralds the 90's Indie disco floor-filler "...And Stones" which raises the roof and the pushing and shoving continue once again. "Yr Own World" closes the main set and needless to say the demands for an encore are met with the blistering riff to one of my favourites, "Broken and Mended". Gerard dedicates this and the upbeat "Fun" (with bassist Chris Sharp on vocals) to Rodney Allen, which is a nice touch. It's great that the band invite former members to join them every now and then, I saw Nick Jacobs make an appearance in London once then last year at Bristol, my favourite guitarist, Angelo Bruschini played which was a real treat.
Tonight there was a surprise appearance by Wojtek's brother, Jedrzej for a rare outing of the brilliant "Tolerance" from the 1986 album of the same name. Then that familiar striking chord to "Bury Your Love Like Treasure" rings out and things get ramped up to another level, I love the dynamics of this song. Actually, The Blue Aeroplanes totally understand the dynamics of great Rock 'n' Roll, not just in their songwriting but in the way they construct their set lists. The perfect balance of new material, old classics and those rare hidden gems to keep the diehards happy. Having said that, of course, there's no surprise in the traditional final encore of Tom Verlaine's "Breakin' In My Heart", which tonight sees only the four guitarists, as Jedrzej returns to the stage along with saxophonist Alexander (another of the Dmochowski clan), and as usual, it all breaks down into marvellous, beautiful chaos. I'll reach for my dictionary again and under 'multi-faceted' the definition says The Blue Aeroplanes - they effortlessly encompass Art Rock and poetry, from pastoral English Folk music to Americana, all-out Rock 'n' Roll, humour, intelligence, soaring harmonies, killer riffs, angular Post-Punk, intricate Byrds and Love style guitar work (I'm trying my best here to avoid the 'jangly guitars' cliche...) and I'm sure I'm missing more of their many 'facets', but if you want it, The Blue Aeroplanes have got it...!
"Culture Gun" is out now on Art Star Records, for details on how to order the album and further information please check out the band's official web-site here. All photos and videos copyright Retro Man Blog. For more videos from the show please check out our Retromanblog65 YouTube channel here.