Monday 6 July 2009

That Petrol Emotion, Rescue Rooms

Tonight, we're at the Rescue Rooms for a bit of a special occasion, the reunion tour of That Petrol Emotion. Guitarist Raymond Gorman posted on the band’s forum the question 'What if you announced a tour after 15 years and nobody came?' A good point. My partner and I are ticket numbers four and five, which I suppose is better than when it was originally announced but then cancelled last year, when we were numbers one and two. Not that we’re keen or anything. I know a couple of mates of ours who are going but it's a real possibility that there could be less than a dozen of us there. Where are the rest of the true believers when you need them? Problem is there weren't enough of us in the first place. The band were always lauded by the critics but never really sold many records. When they split up in 1994 I got the impression that it was more out of frustration than anything else.

Of course you should never go 'back', many do of course but things are never the same. Still, it's good to wallow in a bit of nostalgia, which is, I guess, why we are here. I couldn’t do anything else really having been there at their farewell gig at The Clapham Grand in 1994. As they say, been there, bought the t-shirt, wearing it tonight.

First though, a support band of a similar age. A Nottingham band called The Amber Herd, their slogan ‘tune in, turn on, herd up’ with yet another Craig Finn lookalike on vocals. Is there a factory churning these people out? They’re very good and put in a polished rather than a spectacular performance. It does seem to be the case that musicians get better as they get older even if they do lose a bit of edginess.

We miss the start of their set but the first track we hear reminds me of the Doors, the second of the Flaming Lips, well on a Velvet Underground day, the third I'm told sounds like James, I would add the caveat that it’s James after having lunch with the Jesus and Mary Chain. The rest of the set is a varied mix too... Neil Young, Pink Floyd... oh I don’t know.

They finish with a track called 'Stage Fright', their debut single. Not bad at all. Although perhaps they’re a bit on the old side to make it big but you never know.

Rather worryingly as they leave the stage the already only half full Rescue Rooms suddenly becomes even less populated. Well at least we can kill any rumours that the Petrol’s are just doing this reunion tour for the money. I hope everyone’s just popped out for a smoke and not gone home early. Thankfully as 9.30 approaches it starts to fill up again.

The band amble on stage with little fuss. As lead singer Steve Mack fiddles with his loop tape, I realise he probably looks less haggard now that he did at their prime. Loop tape sorted, they open up with two tracks off 1990’s Chemicrazy album, ‘Blue To Black’ easing us into the livelier ‘Gnaw Mark’. It seems the boys still know how to rock and Mack having lost none of his old enthusiasm is soon bounding around the stage.

The band originally formed in 1983 from the ashes of the Undertones. The O'Neill brothers, Sean and Damian joined up with fellow Irish men Ciaran McLaughlin and Raymond Gorman and then added an oddball American front man in the shape of Mack. Sean O'Neill left after their second album and the current bassist is Brendan Kelly who joined them in 1990.

Next up, real nostalgia and a cheer greets the opening to the early (ish) single 'It's a Good Thing'. Is it really 23 years since I sat in the Student Union bar wondering what that perfect pop song was as it was played on the jukebox?

This is following by their ‘big’ hit... 'Big Decision' reached a massive number 43 in the charts in 1987. Given how well 'Big Decision' goes down it's a surprise they don't plunder its album 'Babble' for more. 'Swamp' anyone? 'Spin Cycle'? or the epic 'Creeping From The Cross', perhaps they're just not into revisiting the political agenda of that album anymore.

Their debut 'Manic Pop Thrill' fairs a little better but only because the excellent 'Lifeblood' gets an airing.

Nothing comes from the ‘disco’ experiment that was 'End Of the Millennium Psychosis Blues', an album that probably alienated a few people, sadly not even ‘Under The Sky’, although I gather it’s been played elsewhere on this tour.

Their fifth and final album, also one of their best, ‘Fireproof’ only provides two in ‘Catch A Fire’, their final single and ‘Last Of the True Believers’. No ‘Detonate My Dreams’ despite it being on the set list at Mack’s feet.

The rest of the night, that’s the last five songs of the main set and both songs of the first encore, are pulled exclusively from Chemicrazy, making a disproportionate nine songs in total. So one can only assume that the band see this as their best piece of work. Others may say that there are three other candidates for that accolade. It is probably their most commercial but it still managed to undersell its three predecessors.

All in all it’s a terrific performance all round, particularly considering they’ve been apart for so long. O'Neill and Gorman combine well with their guitars and Mack shows that he can still sing those high notes, as well as dance and drink what appeared to be a tumbler of whisky at the same time.

The crowd are appreciative but not riotous. There’s a bit of light bopping down the front but nothing too strenuous, some of those waistlines won’t permit much more these days. The band remark on how well the crowd have aged. Are they sure about that?

They are cheered back for a second encore, which is, wait for it, ‘Chemicrazy’, an obscure b-side that although it bares the same name as the album didn’t make it on to the record. It’s probably not terribly well known and it’s very difficult to get hold of, I know I’ve tried. I got it eventually, last week.

The band look genuinely pleased with the overall reaction and Mack is quickly at the t-shirt stall afterwards, shaking everyone’s hand. If this is their second obituary then so be it but if so, we'll all be the worse for it.

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