The smell of human effluent permeated the air in Leicester Square as workmen attempted to clear a blockage in the sewer. No one seemed to mind: tourists are like flies and seem to swarm around shit. This is the setting for the new Marquee, the third venue in London to have gone under the name. Mk.1, in Soho, played host to Hendrix and the Who before turning into another indie dive. Mk.2, in Islington, was owned by Dave Stewart, but had little or no promotional clout (I once saw Mohair play to 40 people in a cavernous venue that held 750), it was soon gobbled up by the Carling corporation. The Marquee mk.3 suffers the same problems as its short-lived predecessor – expensive drinks, soulless setting and an absurd situation where you have up 2 flights of stairs to get to the toilets. They must be hoping that tired, bedazzled tourists will drop in to get some “authentic” rock action. Hence, the fourth floor heritage gallery of classic rock photos.
Of course, the irony is that the Hidden Cameras have become well-known for playing in unconventional venues – churches, porn cinemas, dance theatres, casinos – so to see them in such a grim setting was bathetic. One gets the feeling that on this, their first UK headlining tour, they are getting down to business, attempting to break out of their cult indie band pigeonhole. There’s no time for fripperies such as interesting venues or dancers in pants and masks.
Having said that, with 8 members – most of them bouncing around ecstatically throughout – you could hardly call them stripped down. There is a real of sense of joy on stage – particularly Jamie the bald violinist, who looked for all the world like a fiddler doing an Irish jig. Indeed, there’s so much effervescence that it’s difficult to understand why there’s so little substance. The lights are on – strobe lights, accompanies by smoke machines and disco balls – but there’s no one home. They lack the subtlety to pull off the big band aesthetic; compared to, say, Misty’s Big Adventure (who also have 8 members), they bludgeon their songs.
If their coruscatingly beautiful first album was “gay folk church music” their second is best described with an oxymoron, something like “primal indie”, acknowledging the feral growls and tribal drums that have, of late, shouldered their way into their jangly indie-pop sound. On the Doot Doot Plot, we first hear the celebratory rhythms that will become familiar over the course of the evening. It slowly dawns on you, they think they’re playing a barn dance. All that’s missing is for Joel Gibb to start singing “Now take your pardner by the hand”.
Perhaps he did sing that, who knows? The lyrics are inaudible throughout, not because of the sound desk but because of Gibb’s voice, which is a kind of muffled whine. I heard him sing “I want another enema” that was crystal clear, but little else. Maybe this doesn’t matter, especially if you have the lyrics booklet, but its hard to connect emotionally. It’s very pleasant background music – and, without words to distract, great to write to – but ultimately unsatisfactory.
The Hidden Cameras have the potential to be a band like REM, pleasing the indie crowd before breaking through to the mainstream. Gibb’s melodic talents are fine enough to pen a song as irresistible as Shiny Happy People. At the moment, however, they lack musical focus, they have too many superfluous members and the lyrics, well, you still can’t hear them. I know I’m in the minority when I say all these things, but good time music never gave me a good time.