The Slits, KASMS, Wet Dog
Mike Scott 16/09/2009
Halfway through tonight's set, Ari Up pauses to dispel a few Slits myths. The reformed band are not, she insists, a cheap nostalgia fix for ageing punks - they're the continuation of an ever-mutating project. Which is, of course, what they all say. But, in expressing disdain for those who dismiss the Slits as a punk band, she nails an irony firmly on the head: 'If we're punk,' asks Ari, 'why are we always written out of punk history?'
The main Slits myth, however, doesn't need announcing. Famous for not being able to play their instruments, the Slits have spent their entire career proving that they can, in fact, play them rather well. Certainly better than most of their male contemporaries, at any rate. Ari Up remains a great Lost Pop Star - a performer not only brimming with mischievous showmanship, but also utterly in control of everything which leaves her lips. In a just world, she really would be as big as Bjork. Her grungy perfectionism is particularly abundant during the singalong finale: she conducts the musicians with a beady eye reminiscent of Frank Zappa (two intros are quickly aborted as she winces at their wobbly timing) and only lets a male punter join them onstage if he leaves his beer can behind.
Guitarist Michelle Hill and drummer Anna Schulte know the songs inside out, almost as well as original Slit Tessa Pollitt, who - like a bemused older sibling - effortlessly underpins the numbers with faultless bass work. Hollie Cook, daughter of Sex Pistol Paul, is on the keyboards - her and Ari make a pretty neat double act, admonishing the crowd when their screams during Shoplifting (the best pop song ever written about the joys of stealing cheese) fail to curdle the blood: 'You're supposed to be running from the cops - you sound like you're on a fucking roller coaster!' Sadly, replicating the lolloping piano riffs on Typical Girls remains beyond Cook's knackered-looking Roland.
The Slits have an odd history, and all of it's on display tonight. Early three-chord shouters like Vindictive ('Vindictive, aggressive - that's all you can be!/Vindictive, aggressive - don't try it on me!') rub shoulders with sumptuously irreverent covers of Marvin Gaye and John Holt classics, although their best songs are those where the genre-hopping isn't immediately obvious. Favourites like Newtown and Love Und Romance remain infectiously odd, songs which give pop history a warm hug and then gleefully poke it in the eye. The material from their underrated second LP, Return of the Giant Slits, is stranger still - Animal Space and Earthbeat remain as chilling, sexually-charged and deeply unfashionable as they did in 1981. The new material has its moments, although it somehow lacks the playful ambiguity of the oldies.
Ari's stage act, however, remains hugely entertaining, and it's ultimately her show. Support acts Wetdog and KASMS both boasted fine musicians (particularly drummer Sarah Datblygu), but had no real spark - like a lot of bands in the knowing noughties, their work resembles a wry tribute to pop-punk rather than music genuinely intent on ripping our ears wide open. Ari, however, has stage presence in spades and enjoys misdirecting and toying with the audience - a performer who, literally and figuratively, enjoys stripping to her knickers only to reveal further knickers underneath.