X-Ray Spex - Live @ the Roundhouse

Tiffany Daniels 05/03/2010

Rating: 4/5

X-Ray Spex were conceived in 1976, after the now legendary frontwoman Poly Styrene witnessed Sex Pistols perform live in Hastings. From there on in they enjoyed celebrity status, playing The Roxy countless times to an increasingly heated reception. Although it's their debut single Oh Bondage! Up Yours that has stood the test of time, a bootleg of their first Roxy gig catapulted the quintet into the uprising punk scene faster than you can say “braces and bubblegum”. Yet within three years Poly had left the band to pursue a solo release; they had only five singles and a debut album, Germ Free Adolescents, to their name.

These days, their fanbase consists of career-long followers and an underground trash, punk and Riot Grrrl entourage. When compared to the unfounded success of their peers, you have to question why X-Ray Spex have failed to generate as large an audience as the Pistols, Buzzcocks and The Clash boast.

There is nothing on their Live @ the Roundhouse reunion bootleg to suggest they are any less deserving. For a band that takes pride in their punk ethos, X-Ray Spex clearly have musical talent; this is far from the trashed shambles you might expect. It captures the element of dazzling, witty and fun rebellion the band cram into every available lyric; Poly sarcastically exclaims that “this is a slow one” before embarking on a hysterical mission to absorb those before her with sometime classic Identity.

Despite their age, the recording documents the antics of a fresh, frantic performance - if I knew little about the band, I'd assume this was the sound of a group of 20-somethings replicating the nonsensical backlash of Thatcherite Britain to the tune of New Labour hate. The songs are that timeless; it's only a reference to the bankrupt establishment Woolworths that gives their game away.

The release comes armed with a live DVD of the gig, and I have to say that this is where it falls down. Rather than the epileptic fit and snarls the music suggests, Poly et al display a timid reaction to the stage, with the frontwoman wobbling around on heels and dancing rather whimsically to her own voice. It's a shame, because it proves that even punk stars get old - sometimes ignorance is bliss. Cherish the fact that their fingers and chords remain as jubilant as ever.