Tonight fell slap bang in the middle of Assemblage 23's European tour in support of latest album Compass and was one of two UK dates (the other being in Glasgow in Scotland the next day - on Valentine's Day). In fact, a peek at the tour, taking in Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, France and no less than five dates in Russia says all you need to know about just how far Seattle-based Tom Shear's project has come over the past 11 years. There are a lot of American acts that rarely visit Europe and few who can attract demand for and actually bother to put on and pull off a full, fourteen date tour spanning tens of thousands of air miles.
Although now he tends to play in the UK about once every year or so, I really couldn't remember seeing Shear since catching his first UK appearance in London back in 2001. Incredible if true. I've still very fond memories of that gig with his cover of The Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way still up there in my all-time live cover versions chart. In the studio the 'band' is just Shear, but these days Assemblage 23 on stage is completed by Paul Seegers on keyboards and Kevin Choby on electronic drums.
There was a big crowd out on this cold winter evening and although the venue's mezzanine level wasn't open, the entire ground floor of the Islington Academy did a convincing impression of sardines in a tin but, you know… ones dressed from head to toe in black… and stuff… ;-). That meant there must have been upwards of 600 fans cheering Shear and co. on. This wasn't lost on the front man who not only confirmed that this was the biggest UK crowd he'd played to in all his years but went on to acknowledge their vocal enthusiasm (something often hard to coax out of a spoilt London crowd) by asking "You guys wanna go on the rest of the tour with us?". His energy level never flagged and, unlike acts occupying similar musical territory, Shear never comes across as aggressive, mean or even angry (even if these traits are usually put-on), instead his personal character tends to come through more readily, and it's all delivered with huge amounts of passion, verve and honesty. This creates quite a distinctive, positive vibe in the room.
A selection of songs from the new album mixed well with plenty from the back catalogue. Whilst the latest stuff continues to show progression, across Shear's decade-plus career it's been more of a natural progression rather than dramatic changes in direction. Easy though it is to group A23 in with the likes of (most particularly) VNV Nation, Shear has a very personal writing style that manages to always set his stuff apart. Alive (from Compass) with its mid-tempo verses and chanting rallying call chorus perfectly sums up what Assemblage 23 do best for me and was a personal high spot this evening.
Perhaps not the chattiest between songs, nevertheless, Shear was clearly having nearly as good a time as the audience and there was a strong rapport between them throughout without him having to resort to the usual clichés. In his formative years Shear felt intimidated by singing live. If those reservations remain today no sign remains, and no need for them either as he now has all the range he needs to express the various emotions his writing requires. From supporting role to headline act, over the past decade Assemblage 23 have convincingly earned their position and status today as one of the leading lights of the industrial genre. I won't be so daft as leaving it another 10 years between seeing them live. 8/10