Catching IAMX for the first time six months ago was a total surprise and delight. I wasted no time in picking up their second album (The Alternative) and since then they have rapidly become firmly rooted in my psyche. Having first opened its doors in 1938, Camden's legendary Electric Ballroom has probably seen its fair share of eclectic acts over the years. A fitting home then for the extrovert troupe that is IAMX live.
The talented burlesque dancer, ornately adorned head to toe in epic feathers, that opened for Sohodolls set the perfect tone for what was to follow. Sohodolls have been working hard making a name for themselves in the last couple of years notching up some impressive overseas locations en route (including Russia, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Austria and USA). Last year they completed an impressive 34 date UK tour as the headline act. Their appearance at the O2 Festival saw them get exposure on UK terrestrial TV.
Their reputation was well deserved. The fan club, seemingly out in force tonight, weren't the only ones cheering those on stage. The quick to judge could be misled by Maya's babydoll voice, writing her and the band off as little more than a lightweight, quirky distraction. But anyone who sticks with such a misguided impression clearly doesn't know a good thing when see or hear one. Sohodolls don't leave any room for waverers. They manage to reach out to newbies like myself as much as they do to the hardcore who squeezed themselves down the front to be as close to their idols as possible. There's nothing passive about Sohodolls' music or performance. You've just got to get up and dance, clap, shake your arse and get involved.
Thumping glam electro rock songs about late night adventures in Regent's Park and (in my personal choice cut tonight - Pleasures of Soho) about getting beaten up in London's legendary good-time quarter are quintisentially English but well-written enough to overcome any accusations of being too parochial or London-centric. Packed with charisma, drive and energy, Sohodolls deliver on their promise of a satisfyingly decadent night out.
Rumour has it that Chris Corner has just moved out of sharing a flat with The Mighty Boosh's Noel Fielding, relocating from London to Berlin in the process. If ever there was a city that Corner was destined to live in - it's Berlin. London may be seen across the globe as one of the most fashionable cities on the planet right now but nowhere has yet topped Berlin as the true home of nighttime electronic music cabaret glamour. The perfect home then for Corner's alter ego to reside. Tonight the live IAMX outfit chose to hide in the shadows with no front lights, lots of backlighting and only strobe lighting on the stage occasionally piercing the stygian mist that pervaded this evening's performance. This was in contrast to the last time I caught them but was entirely in keeping with the tone of the show. Although always more angst-ridden and darker than their recorded counterparts, this was particularly gloomy in more ways than one. None the worse for it, mind you (except it made grabbing a decent photo of the band a challenge I was unable to overcome with my limited photographic equipment).
The thunderous renditions of the by now familiar songs worked. Instead of collapsing under the weight of darkness being laid onto them, the tunes held their own, whilst Connolly's vocals were as affecting as ever - if a tad more aggressive than usual. Not sure what accounted for the heavier approach, perhaps it was simply an exercise in maintaining the performing interest up for the band. The audience certainly didn't seem to mind any. The mosh pit rocking of Nightlife remind one of Depeche Mode at their peak when performing Violator live. By the time of they belted out the monstrous version of The Alternative they really whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
Up front keyboarder Janine Gebauer not only provides an excellent vocal counterpoint to Corner's lead but is almost as entertaining as the skinny puppet jester and is representative of a live band that are just about as solid as they come. Drummer Tom Marsh again deserves a special mention for a stunning job, and it seems unfair not to namecheck guitarist Dean Rosenzweig too.
IAMX are a different animal live when compared with their studio work, but its a variant beast that only augments what already exists in the recordings rather than transform the compositions beyond recognition. It manages to add a more cerebral dimension without ever destroying the clever pop subtleties that make the songs what they are. It's not an easy trick to pull off live and few bands ever really master it. IAMX do. 8/10