John Foxx / Swarf / Greenhaus

The Scala, London - 17 September, 2003


"Genius"

This evening at London's glitzy Scala was the final date of a short UK tour for John Foxx and Louis Gordon - out and about to promote their fourth collaboration on the album Crash and Burn. But there was strong support from openers Greenhaus who have just released their third album - Another Life.

[The ever-impressive Greenhaus] Known for their impressive (and always different) live shows, this was the first time I'd seen Greenhaus use projections which provided an additional dimension to the live experience. With its images of the Hiroshima bomb and Japanese victims speaking of their suffering, the sublime and moving Trigger (from the new album) opened the set. On Rock Star we got flickering archive footage of titular heroes like The Beatles, Bowie, Elvis, Rotten, Hendrix et al. That Time Again the first track from the new release features Sandrine from Seize. This live rendition, especially the vocals, every bit as good as the album version. The sublimely brilliant Stoned was played to the text of Stoned Immaculate by Jim Morrison - and suddenly this song all made sense.

Disappointingly, for whatever reason, the band seemed to be having a few staffing problems. New guest female vocalist Lahannya wasn't performing tonight so we missed out on some of the new album's strongest moments. Missing too, I noticed, was regular Andy aka Pug. Finally, Roi from Mechanical Cabaret was due to provide his guest vocals on another new track Try Harder, and although he could be seen lurking around the edge of the stage, he never stepped on it to perform. The lack of an obvious 'frontman' is becoming a slight drawback. The introductory and 'thanks' duties falling to samplermeister Frank - who isn't exactly a born band leader. Perhaps this is a non-issue when they perform with Lahannya. Still, I never tire of seeing this band live and tonight only served to affirm their impressive rise up the ranks. They've made constant progress over the last couple of years and now they are one of the UK's greatest underground acts. All this talent and no egos. How do they do it?

The opening moments of Swarf's set are attention grabbing. The second slow track (not previously heard) is so far ahead of most music found on the digiGoth scene. Liz's voice is astonishing - unrivalled anywhere in the UK. Thereafter though the formulaic sounds and patterns emerge and I temporarily return to the bar outside. I come back mid Fall and even this is sounding dated now. Have Swarf lost their sense of momentum I wonder? Their new label (Cryonica) will certainly be hoping not. Swarf have demonstrated their potential enough times in the past. Now it's time for them to make that brave leap forward and leave their past behind.

[John Foxx and Louis Gordon] Tonight's main attraction was John Foxx - ably assisted by Louis Gordon. In contrast to Greenhaus' earlier visual extravaganza, minimalist electronic veteran Foxx instead goes for the simplest, most elegant of stage set ups. Modest amounts of technology and lots of cold blue lighting - a perfect grey man environment. Having been at the heart of UK electronic music since the late 1970s, Foxx knows how to work and audience and knows that sometimes it is best just to let the music speak for itself. Tonight he did that with an air of both elegance and exhiliration. Ninety minutes later I would realise that this was one of the finest evenings of music I have ever had the fortune to attend.

Kicking off with a radically remixed version of Invisible Women - so radical, in fact, that its hard to be sure that it even was this track. Only the tell-tale title phrase being heard giving the audience an idea of where this originated. Ultraviolet/Infrared was the first song from the new album Crash and Burn but its simplistic construction isn't one of Foxx's most stimulating compositions. Nevertheless, it showcased Foxx's incredible voice - ample evidence that it hasn't wavered any over the years and, if anything, has only improved with age. Second new track Broken Furniture was a gifted step up, whilst Cinema was a thrillingly moody performance that stands as a fine example of Foxx's natural talent for retrofuture electro - glorious melodies draped over swirling synths.

Having done the sales pitch, it was right back to past glories with a brilliant rendition of Metal Beat, a mind-blowingly superb version of He's A Liquid followed by more hauntingly sublime vocals in On The Plaza. Throughout, Foxx remained always half in the shadows of the stygian stage, striking degree-perfect, acute, angular poses for his keyboard parts. On the other side of the stage, Gordon, in striking contrast, is the embodiment perhaps of the inner John Foxx - the Denis Leigh behind the grey man stage persona. Inhibition free, Gordon leaps, claps, spins and expresses his joy in the music the two of them are making. His energy a clear indication that Foxx is never pretentious. 

Touch and Go is delivered in another cleverly extended version that worked amazingly well. More and more classics keep coming and, in a defining moment of the evening and the entire Foxx ouvre, a stunning version of Ultravox's Just For A Moment that ranks up there with the best live work I have ever witnessed. John Foxx's voice wonderfully heartfelt, even angelically cathedral in its scope, power and impact. It was just incredible.

[Genius John Foxx]

[Genius John Foxx]

[Genius John Foxx]

Dust and Light brings us back to the new album and manages to maintain the uplifting momentum Foxx and Gordon have so far built up. The title track Crash and Burn provides a healthy dose of old school Metamatic techno with an industrial edge prompting thoughts that if VNV Nation ever tried to write in the style of John Foxx, this is probably how it would turn out. Drive and Sex Video round up what was more than an hour of sheer genius. The roar of the audience was like no other I'd witnessed at any previous Foxx gig. 

The encore in response was a simply beautiful instrumental refrain of Sex Video that dramatically switched mood being followed by Shifting City the title track from Foxx and Gordon's first collaboration in 1995. In my view, Shifting City especially when performed live in its seemingly natural extended version, is up there with the best of Foxx's finest work. Tonight's rendition providing more than ten minutes of pure adrenalin rush. In choosing Endlessly Foxx and Gordon cleverly wrap up with a joyous piece that provides a suitable crescendo to an outstanding evening.

This was, without doubt, one of the finest gigs I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Both the audience and Foxx and Gordon seemed to realise that too. Perhaps it was due to this being the last night of the tour combining with one of those elemental moments of unmanufacturable convergence. Whatever it was, Foxx remains one of the world's greatest musical artists and tonight was hard evidence of this fact. Moments like the ninety minutes I'd experienced tonight are what life is all about. Genius. 10/10

Rob Dyer


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