This Flag event carried the heading "Xmas Presence". This was because each of the bands playing tonight had donated ten items and the first fifty arrivals could choose one item each - as a Chrissy pressie. How nice! The alert amongst you will have noticed that ten items multiplied by four bands does not equal fifty presents. That's because I left before headliners Altered States came on. I'd seen the once before and that was sufficient, thanks.
Being so close to Christmas, it came as no surprise that the audience was somewhat thin on the ground. When Theda took to the stage to kick start the evening there were just a handful of lurkers in the shadowy corners of the Underworld's gloomy environs. Theda are an English three piece electro goth outfit with all the usual sartorial trimmings. A male guitarist takes the lead vocals, sharing the stage with two female synth players, one providing backing vocals throughout. Melodic power goth with some nicely hooky lead synth lines is Theda's line of business, only the simplistic and predictable drum programming (and lack of variation in tempo) was an irritation - it could easily have been the same pattern throughout the entire set.
The lead singer tried admirably to get a rapport going with what little audience there was, talking in between songs and introducing the titles (I like this not only because it makes life easier as a reviewer but if there is a song I like, I want to know what it's called). He introduced one song with "This one's about my mother... and child abuse". I assume the track that followed was used to exorcise some personal demons. Bedsit Symphony with its pumping bass synth was the high point of the set - an anthem for all the lonely students out there. On the way back to the bar after the set, I picked up one of a number of transparent pink plastic heart-shaped boxes which had a label on it with a picture of Betty Page - "With love from Theda" it said. When I got home and opened it, out popped a black nylon G-string - with a picture of Betty Page on the front. Somehow, this dainty little gift perfectly summed Theda up - sleazy, cheesy but undeniably slightly attractive.
Masters of live minimalism, Mechanical Cabaret features singer/songwriter Roi formerly the front man of Nekromantik. Two goth guys, big hair, small stage presence. Visually it's still Soft Cell all over again but musically Mechanical Cabaret have definitely progressed. Tonight's set featured two new songs, We Have an Agenda and A Slapdash Affair and two existing ones had been reworked significantly. The effect was impressive, the sound more polished and professional. Roi's vocals were sometimes still at odds with the music, he works within a limited range but some tracks demand a different vocal approach to avoid repetition of style. Whether he's up to the job or not I don't know but it's something that needs addressing. As for the 'live' set up, as explained previously, this consists of live vocals and the odd, ear-splitting drum synth pad sound - everything else is on mini disc. The odd projection of disemboweled teddy bears is a step in the right direction but something needs to be done about the presentation. Another two-piece, The Nine's recent adoption of a live guitarist has helped introduce further interest to their live performances. Mechanical Cabaret need to think about what they can do. Although Roi is an energetic (and glamorous) enough front man the largely comatose drummer can show Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys a thing or two about keeping a low profile. The fairground/music box melody of new track A Slapdash Affair made it the most outstanding song from what is now a strong set - musically at least. Vocal reservations aside, the Mechanical Cabaret sound is developing nicely, and I await their first CD with interest.
The presence of intelligent electro techno outfit Greenhaus explained the rather odd mixture of people in tonight's audience. Scattered in among the odd shaped, black-clad darkwave/goth types were the occasional clean-cut, casual-but-cool in a 'skate dude' fashion others. These included three glittering young blonde women who were like an oasis of light and bright colours amid the darkness and doom. These few looked largely lost during the first two acts but came into their own, and down to the dance floor, when Greenhaus took to the stage. Greenhaus never supply the same set twice, largely because so much of what they do live is (despite the reliance upon technology) just that - live. Played, mixed, tweaked and performed on the fly. This unpredictable edginess has been further enhanced by the recent introduction of a guitarist on stage. Adopting their usual unassuming and nonchalant approach, the honesty of these boys comes across during every moment of their non-stop set. The enjoyment they seem to get from playing live is exuded without pretence. Their fun was reflected in some sections of the (by now more healthy) audience who went into the energetic convulsions of some weird kind of workout routine to a technoid beat. Flicking from hardcore beats to fiddly sample juggling, Greenhaus continue to impress like few others. Most memorable was a technologically mutated version of Joy Division's Transmission that finished the proceedings with a bizarrely effective flourish. Hooky indeed.
Having been unimpressed by headliners Altered States before, I'd already decided that Maxdmyz was as far as I was gonna go tonight. Unfortunately, death-rock-metal-industrial-performance-indulgent-nonsense is not my type of thing. So I went home to bed instead.