The Only Ones, support
Steve Ellis 06/02/2009
If ever there was a band that suited the phrase 'critical acclaim' then it was The Only Ones. Having been championed by almost every talking head and readers' poll since their 1980 split, the band's stock has seen them rise to the same iconic status as The Velvet Underground and Big
Star. Whilst this was largely justified, there was a hint of retro-hype about all the sycophantic cooing.
The four-piece re-formed just over a year ago and great success followed with the band completing a sold out tour of the UK of which they could never have imagined during their original run, so seeing them take to the stage of a half-full Shepherd's Bush Empire came as quite a shock. Bass player Alan Mair blamed the low attendance on bad weather and, while a snow-affected transport system may have been a factor, it is more likely that the momentum of The Only Ones' reunion has slowed down.
Opening strongly with 'The Immortal Story' from the 1978 eponymous debut album, the band ploughed through a set of album numbers and rarities, a real treat for the die-hards but a decision that proved quite testing for the casual fan.
Unfortunately, singer Peter Perrett's voice has aged as badly as his cheek bones. He always did possess a nasal whine but lately this has morphed into a croaky squeal. His stage presence left a little to be desired too, as he ambled back and forth from the drum riser like a drunk in the gutter - but then what do you expect of a man who has spent his life enslaved to one substance or another?
Work on a new album is in progress and two brand new songs were given a preview, 'Black Operations' and 'You Gave Birth'. Although both numbers were passable, they were not of the calibre that you'd expect from Perrett. It seems he has fallen into the trap of many a revived 1970s artist: tainting his legacy by recording substandard material.
Despite the declarations that only lesser known songs would be played, 'The Truth' raised the tempo midway through the set. 'Programme' and 'The Big Sleep' were also crowd-pleasers and it looked like the band would revivify what was becoming a fairly tepid gig. Of course, the mammoth 'Another Girl, Another Planet' was saved until the encore. It is almost criminal that this song was never a hit and has become known to the general public via a 2006 Vodafone advert.
There then came a moment of true wonder and a reminder of why the group may have been the recipients of such a critical re-evaluation. The opening riff of the 'The Beast' still sends a shiver down the back of a spine and the alarmist lyrics about drug pushing can still shock, even thirty years after release.
Perrett's songs and lyrics may be the attraction on vinyl, but live, the other three band members were the true stars of the night. It was brave in the late 1970s to have seasoned sixties professionals interpreting three chord power-pop but, in these less musically rigid times, it's a shrewd move. A conscious attempt to repudiate their New-wave/Punk associations, a five minute jam led into 'Me and My Shadow' and frequent guitar solos followed.
A surprise second encore ended the night. 'From Here to Eternity' is another song filled with heavy drug references. This time it's about the guilt of co-dependence. When Perrett pleads 'I've got us into this, I've got to get us out now, it's you and me all the way' he manages to sound like a self-deprecating junkie teen and a responsible family man at the same time.
The result of the evening was a hit and miss gig with contrasting awe-inspiring musical highs mixed with cringe-inducing cartoonish lows. Perrett cuts a sad figure, lurching over a guitar like a homeless busker. Pete Doherty would do well to take note of what's in store for him, should his career survive. The Only Ones may have been a cool name to drop but it looks like they may have to once again split up in order to recover their mystique.