James Walsh’s Culture Matters: The celebratory mood of the man from Buenos Aires and Kentish Town.
A man stands directly in front of the stage, facing ex-Auteurs singer Luke Haines, who is in London for a root around his burgeoning back catalogue.
The man is wearing a Suede t-shirt and, during large portions of the set, checks his phone for the football scores. I begin to wonder if he is some kind of performance art, making reference to Haines’s ’90s beef with the Britpopping androgynysts and Haines’s own descent into a kind of amused irrelevance.
I wouldn’t put it past him — last time I saw Luke on this stage, I was offered liver sausages by a man dressed as Kendo Nagasaki.
But no, the man is just a twonk. No art pranks tonight, just gorgeous sounds emanating from the stage, as Haines treats us to rare nuggets from his Auteurs and Baader Meinhof days.
The man from Buenos Aires/Kentish Town is in good humour. He looks suspiciously healthy in his crumpled expatriate suit, and is warmed up from an earlier matinee performance. It’s not quite a nostalgia show — it’s difficult to capture that fuzzy mood of past glories and shared experience when the singer is playing a B-side off “the worst selling single The Auteurs ever released” — but it is a celebratory one.
Haines seems to have made peace with his early material, playing several songs off Now I’m a Cowboy and After Murder Park for the first time in years. During Chinese Bakery, he stops the song to draw attention to a particularly (in Haines’ view) atrocious line: “Your present is just somebody’s past.” He also chides himself for rhyming that the place is open for 20 hours rather than 24 — “but I was 25 for fuck’s sake.”
It’s an unusual gig, in that the singer is amusingly deconstructing his own career as he goes along, a bit like the songwriter equivalent of Stewart Lee.
It’s almost like he’s doing live footnotes from his rock memoir Bad Vibes — and this sense is confirmed when he reads a vignette from the book, glass of red in hand, about three members of Metallica unexpectedly turning up at his flat to hear his new album at the height of Britpop.
While the kids were bopping to Blur and Oasis, Haines accidentally invented something a confused US record rep dubs Baroque Jesus Lizard.
After Murder Park, the lizardy album in question, has aged as well as its author. Performed acoustically, Dead Sea Navigators and, in particular, Child Brides drip with extraordinary tension. Haines’s voice is deeper and richer now, and suit the dark, epic subject matter better than ever.
Now a father himself, Haines eschews Unsolved Child Murder and is visibly relieved to get to the end of the album’s harrowing title track, with its shallow graves and declarations of eternal love.
Halfway through, Haines switches from acoustic to electric — “Judas!” shout some wags in the crowd — for a frightening, thrashy Light Aircraft on Fire and a few choice cuts from Baader Meinhof, Haines’s funk album about German terrorism. “This is the Hate Socialist Collective,” he sings on Back on the Farm. Which would be a brilliant name for a band, come to think of it.
Before sending us off into the night with a bit of Lou Reed, Luke treats us to the valedictory Future Generations, the very knowing final Auteurs track from way back in 1999. It’s very appropriate, like he was planning this all along. “And of course I love the old songs,” he sings, to knowing cheers: “from New Wave to Murder Park,” he then adds a few of his more recent albums.