Is it possible to be eccentric in the year 2003? To be eccentric means to follow your obsessions until you’re free from the gravitational pull of normality. The archetypal eccentrics are like the characters in the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, those whose life is devoted to developing their crotchets and theories in splendid isolation from the rest of humanity. Is there anyone out there who is prepared to be mocked in order fulfil their self-realised destiny? Look at David Blaine’s tests of endurance, they are strange, but all that waving at children crap: it’s so depressingly regular. Perhaps the problem is that things are so easily domesticised, nowadays we are all trapped in a world wide web of peculiarity where uniqueness is dissolved in a million message boards and weblogs.
Jeffrey Lewis, previously unknown to me, apart from being vaguely associated with the Moldy Peaches, looked amateurish as he started strumming and picking his acoustic guitar. He could have been anyone. The crowd chattered away, as a London crowd waiting for a rock band will, but for those courteous enough to listen there were pleasures, original and distinct, to be had. In songs like The Last Time I took Acid I went Insane (“people always laugh when I say that,” he says perplexedly), Lewis tells intricate stories which progress and develop with subtlety. The danger is that narrative songs can warp and crack under the weight of their coherence. We listen the once, but repeatedly? No. Stories and songs are almost diametrically opposed. In order to tell a story you need to locate the specific, in order to write a great song lyric you need to find the universal. The reason he succeeds – I can tell you after buying the album and listening to it frequently – is that, like Leonard Cohen, who he name checks, for all his detail, there is always a sense of mystery.
From interviews and reviews I had learned that British Sea Power’s orbit was distinctly odd, taking in stuffed birds and foliage, adventurers and Field Marshall Montgomery. The artwork for The Decline of British Sea Power I thought interesting, the actual music intriguing; indeed, it was only let down by the fact that the lyrics were sang in a way that made them completely incomprehensible. Still, I was eagerly anticipating an exuberant display of . . . well, whatever they had to offer.
For a band like British Sea Power – with a critically acclaimed debut album under their belts – what is the purpose of playing live? Is it just to promote the album? Is it merely to consolidate their current status? Ideally, a great live act reveals a part of their album you hadn’t considered before, reinvigorating it with new meanings. Tonight, however, British Sea Power somehow managed to sap meaning from their album, leaving a friable husk in its place. That which seemed portentous with ambiguity was reduced to the simplest of rockisms.
They are so dull:- their clothes, their oh-so-conventional guitar riffs, the way that the singer barely opens his mouth when he sings.The defining moment occurred when they went off stage. Never have I heard such a pathetic call for an encore greeted by a band with an encore in such a short space of time. Their fans looked expectantly at the stage with barely a whistle or a whoop, safe in the knowledge that they were going to get more. Indeed throughout the concert the air hung heavy with the sense of duty. The audience clapped and cheered a bit, acting out their pre-ordained role, but not once did I see even a flicker of an unforced smile. Their pretensions to eccentricity aside, British Sea Power are dull and conventional to the very core.