Clan of Xymox / Mantra / Waterglass

Underworld, London - 28 August 1999


[Xymox gig ticket]"Melancholy and heartache - an oasis of glory"

I must confess to failing (in part) in my duties as gig reviewer at this event. I went with my girlfriend and five mates and bumped into several people I knew. So for the first hour or so it was something of a large-scale social event with the music simply providing an audio backdrop. That was, of course, only until Clan of Xymox were due on stage - then it was straight down to the dancefloor. So, early on I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have to the two support bands. Which often isn't such a bad thing, but in this case both goth support acts were good. I believe both Waterglass and Mantra are playing in the near future in London and if I go I'll make more of an effort to pay attention!

Waterglass

"Very Cocteau Twins/early 4AD band" is the overriding thought I carried away with me. In fact, a late arriving friend (and big Cocteaus fan I might add) came in when Waterglass were on and thought the DJ was playing the Cocteau Twins! The female vocalist was very good the the songs were strong. I'd never heard them before and yet each song (that I did pay attention to!) kept you interested - avoiding the "it all sounds the same" problem you have with bands you've never heard before. I'll certainly make the effort to see Waterglass again.

Mantra

The Mantra sound, and the vocals in particular, reminded me of Siouxsie and The Banshees. Although the singer was smiling way too much to be taken as too seriously Gothic! At risk of sounding lazy, much of what I said of Waterglass can be said of Mantra. The female vocals were good and again the songs didn't blur into one another. I'll keep my eyes open for another Mantra gig and try to provide a 'proper' review in the future.

Clan of Xymox

Clan of Xymox are a fantastic band. I've been a fan ever since their self-titled first professional album on the cult 4AD label in 1985. Their magical blend of guitars (electric and acoustic) and lush synth sounds combined in songs of melancholy and heartache was the epitome of 4AD in the mid 80s. Their second album Medusa (released the following year) played up the electronics more than its predecessor, and the third instalment, the 1989 Twist of Shadows, was the first album not on 4AD and the first to go under the truncated name of just 'Xymox'. There then followed what can only be described as the wilderness years. The band, led by singer/songwriter Ronny Moorings, lost their sense of direction and released a number of increasingly commercial US club-inspired albums that bore little or no resemblence to the first two masterpieces. Then, in 1997, rumours of a new album under the original name of Clan of Xymox came true with the release of Hidden Faces (on the Tess label in Europe). It was a superb return to form that showed the band could progress without having to rely on their past. It was exactly how one would have hoped the band to sound after so many years of waywardness. Hidden Faces is really the only true fourth Clan of Xymox album, and when the band played here at the Underworld almost exactly a year ago this was acknowledged by the band themselves - whose set consisted purely of tracks from the first three albums and Hidden Faces - completely ignoring the intervening eight years. For me, such a huge Xymox fan, who hadn't seen the band live for 12 years their last gig was approached with trepedation. But not so this one as I now knew all would be well.

A new album, Creatures, was released a few months ago and as I hadn't actually picked up a copy as yet, this would be the first opportunity to hear some of those new songs. Beginning with a couple of tracks from Hidden Faces, the seemingly ageless Ronny Moorings and the new Xymox line up then launched into a stunning version of their pumping, synth-triggering classic 12" A Day (which also features on the first album). Interestingly, this time, there was nothing from the good third album. But there was plenty to keep those (like a couple of my friends) who hadn't heard any Xymox for almost ten years happy. Back Door, Louise, and Michelle all from Medusa put in great appearances. And despite the many intervening years the synths sounded just the same, the guitars were very close, samples and noises were identical and the arrangements were faithful to the original compositions. I saw Clan of Xymox a few times in the mid 1980s and I can wholeheartedly say that they are just as good now as they were then. Sure, some of the backing vocals are missed as is the distinctive voice of the female bassist who gave us some memorable songs in the past but all bands must move on. The great thing about Xymox is that they saw the error of their ways with their early 90s releases and set about correcting their path with Hidden Faces. And they did it perfectly.

The songs from the latest album, Creatures, show a marked difference from Hidden Faces, being much more 'gothic' and doomy. Moorings' vocals at times couldn't help but make one think of Andrew Eldrich and the songs themselves sounded great - I must pick up a copy of that album soon. The brief two-song encore included a glorious rendition of Moscoveit Mosquito and finished with the afore-mentioned Michelle. As there weren't so many old songs as when they played last August the nostalgia trip was as strong this time. Everyone likes a band to play some of their 'old classics' but hankering after the past too much is not healthy. The great thing about Clan of Xymox is that the material they are releasing now is as passionate, emotional and stimulating as it ever was, and their live performances provide an oasis of glory that everyone with a passing interest should take full advantage of. I only hope we don't have to wait another 12 years before they gig in England again. But now, having had my senses overloaded once more, I won't be able to wait that long - I'll travel to Europe to check them out if necessary.

Rob Dyer


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