PWEI Live: On patrol 2012 – can’t fuck with the old skool

It’s just been announced that Pop Will Eat Itself will be joining Jesus Jones as the support acts for the next Wonderstuff tour, set for five dates in December. Quite simply, this is bloody marvellous news.

So in honour of these old buggers hobbling out on the road together, I give you this post about the last Pop Will Eat Itself tour (in March) that I thought I’d already posted, but it was sitting in my drafts. What a twat…

The last time I properly followed Pop Will Eat Itself around the country it was probably around 1992. No public transport, no tickets, no hotels – just hitching, kitbags, guest lists, people’s floors/garages (or shopping centres or train stations on a bad night) and lots of beer (and maybe the odd pasty). Good times.

So here we are in March 2012, 20 scary years on, and we’ve just done it all over again. However, this time was a little different – no hitching, no guest lists, no floors, not even any pasties. It was all lifts, trains, expensive rucksacks and Travelodges (and a shandy or two).

I managed five shows this time, with the intrepid and fabulous Lauren, Alex and Gary along for the ride (and many others along the way). Lauren and Alex managed Portsmouth too (I have my standards), while Gary did York (too out of the way and with no shows either side), but at 41 I thought five was pretty good – there’s only so many Nurofen and indigestion tablets I’m willing to swallow in a week.

While we may have changed a bit over the years, Pop Will Eat Itself has been completely transformed, with a new line-up and the first new material for more than 15 years. With only one original member, some question the validity of using the old name at all, but there’s a whole other post on that topic. Having seen them in October and given the new stuff and line-up a thumbs-up, for me the more pressing question was, will this be as much fun as it used to be? The answer: Hell yeah.

Play it loud, play it proud

Hate to start on a negative, but the set kicks off in a weird, slightly disappointing manner. After a nice slice of old school Public Enemy the classic Cure for Sanity intro (‘The incredible PWEI vs The Moral Majority’) has the crowd on full alert. Out they come, the cheers go up, and we get… the incredibly plodding intro to the new album, Back 2 Business. I guess as it’s the new intro they felt obliged, but in my opinion while it’s great as a statement it’s really awful as a song.

This was followed with new track ‘Chaos & Mayhem’ (a good tune, for sure) but then we get ‘Dance of the Mad’ – the track that follows that awesome intro on Cure for Sanity. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Either leave them in the order they work in best (Dance of the Mad is a great track to get the crowd going), or save it for later in the set. It’s a minor niggle, maybe, but it grated every time.

In terms of new album New Noise Designed by a Sadist, pretty much the whole of it got an airing. From what I can make out it has been well received by those coming out to see them and while the ‘classics’ are still the ones where things really kick off, there was no shortage of dancing for the new stuff. As mentioned, ‘Chaos & Mayhem’ is top notch live, as are ‘Oldskool Cool’, ‘Wasted’ and ‘Seek & Destroy’ – I can see these easily making the grade in future shows.

Musically, the new album has taken the more industrial sound of 1994’s final old line-up album, Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, to its natural, noisy conclusion. I think because of that, it’s no surprise to find that ‘Ich Bin Ein Auslander’, ‘RSVP’ and ‘Everything’s Cool’ work perfectly here – awesomely loud, infectiously dancy and playing to the strengths of the new line-up. That said, if I never hear ‘Kick to Kill’ live again I won’t be overly upset…

At the other end of the history line, the only pre-1989 track in the set is still ‘There is No Love Between Us Anymore’. While it’s an absolute classic, I find it a little stale live now. Box Frenzy is a cracking album full of fun tunes, so hopefully they’ll dig out something else for the next tour; maybe Beaver Patrol (that Mary Byker teased us with a few times, the fucker), or She’s Surreal. Why not something even older, such as Sweet Sweet Pie as well?

As for This is the Day… you can’t really go wrong with a mid-set volley of ‘Def Con One’ followed by ‘Can U Dig it?’ – I only failed to get up front for those two at Bristol, where I was really suffering. ‘Wise up! Sucker’ worked as a great encore closer, while ‘Preaching to the Perverted’ is still a winner for me too. The most underrepresented was The Looks or the Lifestyle, with just ‘Get the Girl, Kill the Baddies’ making the cut. I would’ve liked to hear Karmadrome for sure, while Bulletproof is always a giggle too.

And a special mention for the Prodigy/Poppies track ‘Their Law’ – a great way to open the encore and one of the best live tracks by anyone, anywhere, period.

City to city, state to state

I love seeing new venues around the country, checking out new towns and cities and catching up with folk I haven’t seen for years, so getting out on tour is a great opportunity to do just that.

Sub 89, Reading

There’s something horrible about Reading. Actually, no – there’s an awful lot of horrible things about Reading. We had a quick drink in a really nice pub (sorry, don’t remember the name) before ending up in your typical Wetherspoon (The Hope Tap – typical, I can find the crappy one) a few doors down from the venue. Once inside we found out they were recording the show for a live CD as they had for the Reformation gigs in 2005, which was great – always nice to be at the actual gig where it got made.

A part from the beautiful people (with good taste) at the gig, pretty much everyone else we saw on the street looked like they’d crawled out of a trailer park. Frightening. It probably didn’t help that the Travelodge was in a really ugly spot (near the aptly named ‘Cheapside’) by a dual carriageway, but still.

The turnout was pretty good and I liked the venue a lot, although the bar staff must be used to dealing with some right Charlies; they had some ridiculous rules in place about how many drinks you could buy. It made buying rounds a right palaver, but we managed to stay in booze. Lauren managed particularly well, it has to be said, and she probably wished she hadn’t the next morning. Things were pretty quiet up the front but got going for a few tracks, making it a nice, gentle introduction to the week.

The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton

Another day, another Travelodge – but at least this was one of the posh ones (hah!) with a bar and restaurant. In fairness the food was way better than I’d expected, the beer cold and fizzy, the bed comfy, so no complaints. Also, the fact we got a family room for £15 helped!

I’d looked forward to this gig the most, as it was as close to a home town show as it got for PWEI and they’re often the best ones. That said, with only one original member, I guess that’s not really the case now. The pre-gig was a lot of fun, meeting a lot of old friends (and some new ones) in a cracking pub, The Great Western, for some drinks beforehand.

The venue was again great, much busier than Reading but surprisingly it didn’t seem any bigger. Up front though, things were a lot more mental – but not always in a good way. It was sweaty and manic, which was great, but there were a few tossers up there who seemed more interested in making sure someone got hurt than bouncing around. Luckily everyone seemed to get out unscathed though, so all’s well that ends well. However, the gig never felt ‘special’ despite being a good bit better than the night before.

The Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

This was the first time I’d been back to Nottingham since leaving uni there in 1998. While I enjoyed my degree the city never really did it for me; it’s nastily townie in places, crime and drugs are big problems, and I got burgled there three times in three years. That said, I met some great characters – two of whom (Liz and Rob) came along to the gig and were good enough to put me up for the night.

They live in the pretty little village of Kinoulton about 10 miles outside the city, but we had to wander to The Plough in the next village (Hickling) for some afternoon catch-up beers (a nice, friendly boozer). Later we had a swift one in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem before heading to the gig.

The Rescue Rooms won ‘best venue on tour’ for me hands down; good high stage for the shorties, nice booze, plus good sound. The crowd was good fun too, being a bit more up for it than Reading but still pretty passive, making it easy to get up the front for the occasional bounce. And it was really nice to catch up with old friends (even if their cat kept a piece of me!). I also need to thank them for introducing me to Brew Dog’s Punk IPA, more of which later.

The Fleece, Bristol

Unfortunately, the Bristol gig was my turn to feel rough as. It was another ‘new’ Travelodge, and the pizza was a god send, but it didn’t shift my hangover. I think I had my first drink about five songs from the end of the set – most of which I watched from the back like the old man I am.

The venue was nice though, being just the right side of shitty and with plenty of bar staff to hand to feed me free tap water. For added up-the-front comedy value there were a bunch of massive pillars for people to hit, but it didn’t seem to dull the atmosphere and it was a really good crowd. It was probably helped by the fact singers Graham and Mary were really bigging up the place: either they really, really like Bristol or they’d had a bet to see who could say they loved Bristol the most.

It was also notable for being new drummer Jason’s birthday, which seems a good time to mention how the new guys got on. Jason was in Pitchshifter and it shows; he’s a great drummer used to playing it loud and always looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. While I loved Fuzz, I think Jason’s style better suits the more industrial sound of the newer Poppies stuff.

Mary Byker is a natural frontman and while I’d love to see Gaye Bykers on Acid return in their own right, he seems perfect for this job. He’s the right age to be up front messing about with Crabby – I think another younger guy up there would be a bit creepy. Like Mary, bass player Davey Bennett just fits in. He seems to have boundless enthusiasm and a permanent smile on his face.

Which just leaves Tim Muddiman; a former Gary Numan guitarist, which gives him good pedigree, but who still might be the weak link in the new line-up. I might well be wrong, but a few nights he just didn’t really seem to be feeling it – especially compared to the constant enthusiasm of the others – while there seemed to be a lot of bum notes. There may well be good reasons for all of that though, so I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Electric Ballroom, London

And so to London. Zoe came along to this one (and loved it), while a stupidly early venue curfew of 9.45pm meant we could make the 10.15 train from Kings Cross and be back in Cambridge by 11pm, saving a lot of hassle. It must be the first time I’ve been glad a band has been on really early (yeah yeah, I’m getting old).

I got in early afternoon and found the new-ish Brew Dog pub, as flagged up by Liz in Nottingham. Luckily it was pretty empty early and close to the station, so easy for everyone to get to and get a seat. I thoroughly recommend the place – great beer and fantastic pizza made from fresh (we had the pastrami one). Great to some old friends in here too, including old drinking buddy Symon who I was boozing with in my teens.

I’m a fan of Electric Ballroom, but early on it looked like it was going to be a disaster – when the intro songs started up it seemed 80 per cent empty. But by the time they actually came on 10 minutes later, if was filling up nicely and the atmosphere was cracking.

It was going off up the front from the start and easily had the best crowd of the shows I went to this time around. It was really lively but there weren’t any idiots – I guess the early start meant there were less utterly hammered people inside. People (including me) can get snotty about London gig crowds sometimes, but this was top notch and a fitting end to a great week of Poppies shenanigans.

Cheers

In particular to Gary, for putting up with my snoring in Travelodges and driving us around the country, and also to Lauren and Alex for being marvellous tour company (even when they were being sick, or arguing about menus for an hour). And of course to everyone else I caught up with during the week – especially Liz and Rob in Nottingham and Symon in London, all of whom I hadn’t seen for too long.

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