Help! I'm being stalked by an Industrial band! Well, that's perhaps a bit much, but I ask you - what are the odds of me emigrating (from London) to Phoenix, USA, only to find VNV Nation playing their first-ever gig in the town the very next day? Indeed, had I moved out here 24 hours later, I'd probably have been on the very same flight as Ronan and Mark, though I doubt I'd have been looking for them... So, my first concert-going experience in my new home town took place at The Bash on Ash, a club in downtown Tempe, and I learned a few things from the experience. Top of the list would be "Always Bring Your ID": no ID = no yellow wrist-band; no wrist-band = no alcohol, and you couldn't even get someone else to buy it for you, since no-one was even allowed near the bar unless they had one on, and no beer was allowed out either - double ring-fencing and security guards made sure of this. But what do you expect when the legal drinking age is 21? Having acquired a legitimate beer, we settled down for the first of the two support acts:
Yolibet. Initially kinda intriguing, in a Bjork-goes-techno sort of way, I have to confess my interest tailed off rapidly, once it was established that the wavering voice was less an effect than straightforward inability. They weren't helped by having effectively no stage lighting at all, rendering them all but invisible in the darkness. The following conversation effectively summarises Yolibet: "Are they going to play much longer?" "I dunno - why?" "Because they suck."
Fortunately, the main support, The Strand, were a great deal more proficient and interesting, as well as winning the award for Best Merchandise: their shirt which boldly proclaimed "I Hate My Fucking Job." In the studio, they're largely a one-man operation, Dave Strand doing composition, instrumentation and vocals, assisted on the last by Kimberley Brown. Live, they add a selection of odd-looking individuals, to beef up the sound and add punch. The result is certainly interesting to watch, with a lot of infectious enthusiasm. They sound a little like Psychopomps, although the subject matter heads towards the angrily personal - not just with the previously-mentioned I Hate My Fucking Job, but also Chicks Suck (Or Guys Suck), an equal-opportunity venting of annoyance, which even had the audience singing along at Dave's request. We enjoyed it so much, we bought their In the Trench CD... not to mention the shirt... and I look forward to checking out more of The Strand in future. [Interested parties can find the website at http://www.strandland.com]
And then - once again starting at around 10:45 pm - it was time for VNV Nation. As Rob Dyer has pointed out, one of the great things about VNV is the tightness of their sets; they have no bad songs, every one is "Yeah, I love this tune!". Why they are not appearing on Top of the Pops, I have absolutely no idea; it may only be a matter of time. Despite this being the third time in two months I'd seen them live, everything was a fresh as before, and Ronan showed no sign of the jet-lag which had had me crashing out the previous night, and was as enthusiastic and vocal as ever, whether bantering with the crowd, picking up Mark's cymbals, or badgering his sound guy. [We subsequently debated whether Ronan and Mark are the Penn and Teller of industrial music, or are more like Jay and Silent Bob...] There's really little point in saying, once again, how amazing they were.
Ronan mentioned that American audiences seem to take longer to warm up than British ones, perhaps reflecting a lack of familiarity with the songs. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it was a delight to hear Forsaken end completely, with the vocal sample from Jacob's Ladder, before the applause started. But by the time that Standing (Motion) finished - perhaps the most startling remix ever, changing a mournful lament into a floor-filling stomper - the crowd were moving as well as any British audience. And by the time the encores, including of course the anthemic Solitary, had completed, it was clear that not only had Phoenix been won over by VNV Nation, but VNV Nation had been won over by Phoenix, and they promised to return. I hope they hurry back - it's been a very long time since I've been so genuinely enthusiastic about music, and for that alone, Ronan and Mark deserve my thanks.