THEWEDDINGPRESENT John Peel Sessions 1987-1990 (Strange Fruit)
Released at the tail-end of a quiet year for the Weddoes (or at leat one in which they didn't release a single every half-an-hour), "JPS 1987-1990" is exactly what it says it is: twelve tracks recorded for various John Peel sessions, and like the not-entirely-dissimilar "Tommy" album of a few years back, and the "Hit Parade" albums, has rather a half-baked feel about it: do we really need accurate but lukewarm renditions of "Give My Love To Kevin", "A Million Miles", "Unfaithful" etc. etc.? Worryingly, I don't think I do, even as a fan. On the plus side the album contains "Take Me" (curiously retitled "Take Me I'm Yours"), "Heather", the unruinable "Dalliance" and a version of Altered Images' "Happy Birthday" that begins with Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" and has a David Gedge led round of applause halfway through for "Status Quo, 25 years in the business". The unfortunate irony is that Theweddingpresent, as they now rather ungrammatically call themselves, are in danger of ending up in a similar pantomime position. What we really need, and soon, instead of these increasingly lame holding actions, is a killer album like "Bizarro" and "Seamonsters", to prove what they're really capable of.
THE WEDDING PRESENT Watusi (Island)
I seem to remember moaning a few issues ago about how The Wedding Present had started to become the Status Quo of music, relying too much on half-baked ideas and lame holding actions to keep their flagging fanbase afloat. However, I'm now pleased to report that they're back(!) replete with a new label, new logo, new bassist, new producer, new album and probably the most dramatic upheaval the Weddoes sound has seen in their near decade-long history.
Reassuringly the trademark WP style is still present (i.e. jangle jangle "mild relationship breakdown" chang chang changity chang "yeah" repeat to fade), but they've also scuppered the annoying quiet bit-bloody loud bit-quiet bit-bloody loud bit to fade tendencies that during the "Hit Parade" period they mistakenly believed constituted song structure. And now there's lots more exotic stuff chucked into the pot as well: keyboards, brass sections, a-capella bits - all manner of things that are neither guitars or drums.
David Gedge's (and increasingly, the whole band's, it would appear) songs have moved away from the mini-psychodramas of "Seamonsters" - not that there was anything wrong with them, of course, to less heavyweight fare, more like their "George Best"-era material, although thankfully bereft of "Everyone Thinks Your Last Servant Kevin Can't Moan"-type song titles. In fact, they appear to have gone quite glam-rock and seventies, as titles like "It's A Gas" and "Hot Pants" suggest. "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" could almost be mistaken for The Lemonheads, and the hilarious opener "So Long, Baby" shows the band extracting the michael from themselves, and maybe their entire previous recorded output as well, with spot-on precision ("...Aside from all that I still think you're dreamy/You say you'll try hard and we both know you won't"). Best track award goes to the dreamy "Spangle": a typical DG love-lost lyric, but a totally alien backing of cheap keyboards, acoustic guitar, percussion, bells and static, it finally lays to rest the ghost of the band that sold t-shirts emblazoned with the logo "All The Songs Sound The Same". Steve Fisk's crisp production, complete with undoubtedly the most well-recorded drum sound in the history of music, helps things no end, especially after the headcrushing but murky work of Steve AlBundy on "Seamonsters".
What hardcore fans (yes, you with all twelve Hit Parade singles and the presentation box!) will make of it, I don't know. A great, and, surprisingly, fun album it is, but as a fourth album from a band whose first three albums were "George Best", "Bizarro" and "Seamonsters", it doesn't quite stack up and compete. But then again, it's probably not meant to.
THEWEDDINGPRESENT Mini (Cooking Vinyl)
Indies perennial underachievers (in the nicest possible sense, of course), return with a six-track limited edition mini-album (hence the title), rather loosely a concept work about cars (hence the title, and the magnificent views of an Austin Mini Countryman Mk II on the sleeve). Unfortunately, as is the way with Weddoes concepts ("Ukrainski Vistuip V Johna Peela", "The Hit Parade"), its not very good.
Their last album, "Watusi", was a fabulously bright, upbeat and poppy offering, quite a departure for the band that used to sell t-shirts emblazoned with the logo "All the songs sound the same". On "Mini", however, theyve regressed about a decade to the jangly-guitar-at-all-costs approach that was probably revelatory in those (just) pre-"C86" days, but cant help look a bit old hat now. Occasionally a glimpse of David Gedges delicate observational ability shines through, such as on the quite good "Mercury", but in the main "Mini" sounds like the longest twenty-minute album in my collection.
THE WEDDING PRESENT/CABLE/DETRIMENTAL
Manchester Roadhouse, 20/2/96
The last time I went to see TheWeddingPresent they were playing at the Academy and my ears rang for weeks afterwards: this time theyre playing The Roadhouse, a venue about the size of the Academys cloakroom, and Ive brought my earplugs!
Detrimental are an Asian rap group, all earnest stuff about unity and harmony: you cant fault the message, of course, and the medium seemed more palatable than most, shorn of mysoginistic and violent excess, but unfortunately about as appropriate a support act for TWP as Pulp would be for Michael Jackson - were here for jangling guitars and lovelorn lyrics, not basslines that go boom and sermonising. Predictably, the lead rappers continual "I want to see you all at the front" rallying calls are not met with enthusiasm. Rather more traditionally, Cable seem to be Nirvana clones infested by the spirit of goth (i.e. every song has a bass solo).
TheWeddingPresent, though...bolstered by an extra drummer (Chris from the Pale Saints) and David Gedges pointed patter (in response to the innumerable hollers for "Brassneck": "Dont heckle me at work, I dont heckle you at work, I dont say Big Mac") they thundered through an hours worth of new (some so new they hadnt yet been recorded) and, surprisingly, old material, including - sigh! - "My Favourite Dress" and "Bewitched", which diminished to pin-drop level before, with a perfectly synchronised shout of "Ere we go" from someone in the crowd, exploding into a mosh-pit-friendly frenzy. Other highlights included "Dare", with its aeroplane-like guitar soloing sounding slightly muted, and "Corduroy", during which all that could be seen over the crowd was the neck of Gedges guitar in full flight. If theres a feeling of slight disappointment at the way their performance seems to be carried by the excellence of the songs rather than by some driving commitment to continued promotion of the values of jangly 80s indie guitar rock, its tempered by the fact that theyre a much more enjoyable proposition in an intimate venue rather than the aircraft hanger (well, bus station at least) that is the Academy, and by David Gedges meet and greet session with the fans at the merchandise stall after the gig. Like the song says, you cant moan, can you?
THEWEDDINGPRESENT Saturnalia (Cooking Vinyl)
It would be nice to report that Theweddingpresents decline into averageness demonstrated by the "Mini" mini-album released earlier this year has been abruptly arrested by a bold musical change of direction, an infusion of talented new musicians, or even just the return of David Gedges long lost ability to write a fantastic tune. Sadly, I can only reveal that "Saturnalia" is full of the dull, generic plodding that the bands detractors accused them of peddling back in their glory days (approximately 1987 to 1991, in case you missed them). The only item of note is the old Grundig tape recorder advert buried beneath the lengthy feedback outro of "2, 3, Go". The remainder is (as far as I can remember, "Saturnalia" not being an album that encourages repeated listenings) substantially the usual "Gedge gets girl/girl dumps Gedge" scenario thats getting a little thin a decade on from its inception. The fact that "Saturnalia" is by the same band (in name at least) that fashioned fantastic albums like "Bizarro" and "Seamonsters" makes their current languishing in underachievement look all the more sorry.
THE WEDDING PRESENT / DONNA MARIE Blackpool Tower Lounge 27 July 2008
A guitar-toting singer-songwriting lady with an accompanying bassist, Donna Marie sounds like yer archetypal Blue Nile support artist – what’s she doing at a Wedding Present gig? Admittedly she veers closer to Americana than the folksier whimsy you get ahead of Blue Nile sets, sort of like a Lancashire Lucinda Williams, although I detected a Drive-By Truckers influence in there too.The 500 capacity Tower Lounge is something of a well-kept secret amongst Blackpool concert venues. At one point David Gedge quipped “Didn’t Peter Kay play here, or was that the Top Of The Tower? This must be the Bottom Of The Tower then!” Inferiority complex notwithstanding, the Weddoes put on perhaps the best performance I’ve seen from them yet, although with a revolving door lineup policy that resembles that of The Fall, singer/songwriter/guitarist Gedge being the sole constant, it could be argued that this was the first time I’d seen this actual band. As is traditional, though, they’re loud, with every snare thwack seemingly cutting into the skull. Packing lots and lots of tunes into a 70-minute set (no encore, obviously, The Wedding Present don’t do ‘em), a succession of songs that I haven’t heard or perhaps even thought about in a fairly large fraction of my lifetime swept me back nostalgically to my late teenage years. From the “Hit Parade”, a devilish masterplan to achieve monthly chart domination through the medium of limited edition 7” vinyl, they played “Loveslave” and “Blue Eyes”. The “Bizarro”-era obscurities “Gone” (during which Gedge forgets the words in concern over the frenzied crush building at his feet) and “Don’t Talk, Just Kiss”’ slow/fast frenzy were delightful surprises. The night’s highlights, however, were a storming version of “Brassneck” and three songs from the “Seamonsters” album, perhaps their artistic high watermark, “Suck”, a pulverising “Dalliance” and “Dare”. Inevitably there were several selections from their quite-good-really new album “El Rey”, which starkly highlighted the difference between old and new Wedding Presents: back in the 80s and 90s Gedge’s songs were all tales of mild relationship breakdowns, whereas nowadays their chief protagonist is a would-be philanderer who just can’t get started.
Mid-life lyrical crises aside, Gedge flailed around the tiny stage with the abandon of someone half his age, dropping the occasional example of his bluff Yorkshire wit such as the admission that his parents, who live locally, refused to come to the gig as Blackpool on a Sunday night was too rough for them. If, perhaps inevitably with a band who aren’t defined by one big hit (more like a coupla dozen tiny ones), they omitted some of your favourites and mine, it would be a hard-hearted Weddoes fan who went home disappointed.
THE WEDDING PRESENT El Rey (Vibrant)
“El Rey” is the first Weddoes album since 1991’s monumental “Seamonsters” to carry a “recorded by Steve Albini” credit. Damning it with the faint praise it deserves, it might also be their best record since “Watusi” (1994).
There are some familiar Wedding Present tropes here: in particular, the fast-paced guitar jangle they trademarked twenty years ago is all over “Santa Ana Winds” and “Spider-Man On Hollywood” like Elastoplast. David Gedge sounds energised and enlivened by his adopted home town of Los Angeles – in fact references to the geography of Southern California in general sprout from many of these tracks – but his rambling tales of thwarted infidelity just don’t have the crispness of old, either musically or lyrically. Perhaps the involvement of half-a-dozen named producers has contributed to the album’s puddingy, directionless feel. It’s almost as if the songs were created by committee, which might be the only plausible explanation for the musically unrelated intros and outros that have been grafted onto several of them.
Unappetising as “El Rey” might sound, with its oddball combination of sun-kissed locations and gruff northern England stoicism, it’s still the best record to wear the Wedding Present name in a long time. If they ever overcome the identity crisis inherent in their current work, perhaps one day they’ll be great again. Less equivocally, the vinyl issue of “El Rey” sounds very fine indeed: intelligently recorded and carefully pressed, in sonic terms it’s about as good as modern indie records with no audiophile pretensions get.
THE WEDDING PRESENT / THE PAINS OF BEING PURE OF HEART Manchester Academy 2 6 December 2008
I haven’t visited the Main Debating Hall, as it used to be known way back when, in nearly 15 years, but whilst New York quartet The Pains Of Being Pure Of Heart are on stage I’m transported straight back to my post-Madchester/pre-Britpop student days. With their long hair, plaid shirts, cardigans, My Bloody Valentine drones and Wedding Present jangle they could’ve stepped out of a time capsule buried sometime around the release of “Nevermind”. Theirs might just be an nth generation photocopy of music I hold very dear, but tonight they’re clearly in the right place, if not quite at the right time.
Also perennially in the right place just in time to see their window of opportunity slammed shut, The Wedding Present take to the stage to the sound of the taped introduction to “The Thing I Like Most About Him Is His Girlfriend”, which rational minds would then expect the band to launch into. But nope, David Gedge wrongfoots his audience by barrelling into the opening clarion call of “Kennedy”, and blimey, if it isn’t 1989 again and a roomful of podgy fortysomethings aren’t yelling deliriously about consuming too much apple pie. It’s also a gentle concession from a band that, the first time I saw them (16 years previously, almost to the day, in the rather larger Academy venue next door) refused to play any material more than 18 months old.
The setlist balances the best material from their early years – marvellous, powerful renditions of “Gone”, “Lovenest”, “Dalliance”, “Dare”, “My Favourite Dress”, “Come Play With Me” –with the serviceable work of their post-reformation albums “Take Fountain” and “El Rey”, all enlivened by Gedge’s very physical guitar playing, wrestling the emotions from his instrument as the songs climax. Calls for “Shatner” and “Brassneck” are unheeded, but such is the breadth and depth of the setlist that it’s unlikely that anyone leaves without taking at least one treasured memory with them.
THE WEDDING PRESENT / THE JET AGE 53 Degrees, Preston 3 December 2010
Due to bad planning, I spend the first 20 minutes of the evening at a Frank Turner concert without realising it. Despite being vaguely aware that there are two separate venues at 53 Degrees, I joined the only queue I could see, which gained me admission to the main room I’d previously seen the likes of Super Furry Animals, Happy Mondays and Graham Coxon in, surely sized to accommodate a veteran Leeds-based indie troupe touring a 21st anniversary celebration of their classic “Bizarro” album. The support band, already on stage, call themselves Dive Dive, rather than the expected The Jet Age, but their guitar alt.rock is exactly the kind of thing that I would envisage warming up a Weddoes crowd. It’s only when their singer asks if we’re all ready to see Frank Turner that I finally twig. Turns out that The Wedding Present are playing a much smaller venue upstairs, accessible via an entrance round the side entirely unpolluted by a queue. The greater irony is that, when I saw Frank Turner supporting Seth Lakeman a few years ago, under the influence of too many glasses of chardonnay I yelled “Play Preston!” at him, and when he does I almost see him again by mistake.
Still, it seems I haven’t missed much, as the tiny upstairs venue is still pretty barren when Washington DC’s The Jet Age take to its snug stage. They’re a, I think it’s safe to say, mature-looking indie trio – the shiny-bonced bassist has more than a touch of the Bob Moulds to his appearance. They play pleasant enough chewy guitar jangle, and their drummer in particular is a bit of a powerhouse, but they’re no more remarkable than that.
Arriving, as is becoming traditional, to the sound of the taped drum intro to “The Thing I Like Most About Him Is His Girlfriend”, The Wedding Present launch into a wondrous version of “Heather”, all clenched-fist stoicism, perhaps slightly undercut by David Gedge’s mildly lackadaisical performance, almost as if he isn’t giving the song the eye-popping, vein-throbbing all it has on record. Still, on stage they lack the advantage of having Steve Albini around to bludgeon things into shape, I suppose.
There follows a reel around the back catalogue, stopping off at “Once More” and demonstrating a perhaps unwarranted affection for the “Saturnalia” album. A cover of the theme from “Cheers” provokes a measure of good-natured mirth, and there are a couple of new songs (“You Jane”, “Can You Keep A Secret?”) although, wouldn’t you know it, they sound exactly like old songs.
Finally, with a niftily scissor-fingered compendium of introductions by the late John Peel, we arrive at the hotly-anticipated main business of the evening, a complete performance of “Bizarro”. And it’s great, mostly. Given that the first time I saw The Wedding Present, in 1992, their staunchly anti-nostalgia stance meant that they didn’t play anything at all from the album, hearing the whole lot is like plunging headlong into an embarrassment of auditory riches. Gedge hasn’t written songs better than …ooh…”Brassneck”, “Kennedy”, “Granadaland” or “Take Me!”, even if he’s written many that are just as fine. If anything disappoints, it’s that the layered, buzzsaw guitar climaxes that are such a feature of the album seem kinda weedy and underpowered tonight; sapped might be the word.
Gedge’s banter includes a plea for the audience to follow him on Twitter and a Q & A session in which he reveals that he doesn’t drink before going on stage and hasn’t watched “Coronation Street” for some time. That just about sums up the revelation level for this good-but-not-great show.
THE WEDDING PRESENT / THE JET AGE Manchester Academy 2 10 December 2010
Tonight the influence of Weddoes-filtered Velvets upon support act The Jet Age is more apparent, but, as if acting as an advance party against those who might write them off as one-trick ponies, so is their somewhat more incongruous funk interest. When vocalist/guitarist Eric Tischler opens up the floor for a David Gedge-style Q & A session and gets asked “Do you know Ian MacKaye?” he generously offers to discuss with the questioner afterwards.
The Weddoes’ setlist is identical to last week’s – not a great surprise when half of it is baldly announced on the ticket – as is David Gedge’s patter, although he adds a comment about how much he prefers playing the Academy 2 compared with its larger Academy next door neighbour, which, given the band’s increasingly selective appeal, is an all-round win. What the Academy 2 has over 53 Degrees, at least, is better lighting – not that tonight is some kinda “2001: A Space Odyssey” extravaganza, exactly – and sightlines, enabling me to confirm there are two drummers powering “Go, Man, Go” and Gedge swaps guitars in the middle of “Take Me!”. It also occurs to me that the latter’s large expanse of guitar pummelling is the indie disco equivalent of techno.
All told, a little bit better than last week’s good-but-not-great show, without nudging itself as far as greatness. Perhaps it’s due to the inevitable contrast between the concentrated energy and excellence of the “Bizarro” set compared with the somewhat spotty selection that precedes it.