The Police, The Cramps and Bobby Henry at the Lyceum...
There are various ways of revitalising old-fashioned rock music. Three of them are playing the Lyceum.
Bobby Henry opens the bill with an encouraging but inconsistent set. Firmly rooted in '60s rock, he showers arrangements with all the components that ought to make them varied (and contemporary) - brazen dischords, well-timed hooks, disconcerting solos and occasional-stumbling rhythms - but ultimately you can't remember a single one of his melodies. He has confidence, a decent band and a very powerful voice, and will hopefully write some songs to match.
Deliberately I assume, the Lyceum sliding roof rolls back to admit a ghoulish half-light as the grotesque Cramps stumble out under the sick green sidelamps.
They epitomise the disposable New York garage formula of slamming together a bizarre extremes in the name of instant novelty, and then jetting into the headlines as fast as they'll fade into obscurity. Their lifespan is measured in minutes - minutes to be savoured.
They are the magnetically dumb Ivy Rorschach on guitar; the suave, automaton Mick Fox 9drums); the high priest of inane vampire camp, Bryan Gregory on polka-dot flying V; and the seamy, frenetic Lux Interior on tremolo pastiche vocals.
The noise they make is a thick blanket of bassless distortion, tinged with acid off-key sub-Duane Eddy solos and hauled over a lumpy tom-tom beat plus cymbals. It's swiftly reviewed by a consensus below stage, given the universal thumbs down and greeted with a hail of phlegm and sprayed lager.
The set lurches towards disruption, with a hideously flecked Bryan Gregory threatening his assailants while the gob visibly thickens to his every duff note.
Sympathy and helpless laughter cloud the memory, but highpoints were a classic rendition of Jack Scott's 'Way I Walk', and the sight of Lux being dragged squirming from the crowd in the convulsive climax to 'I Was A Teenage Werewolf'. Farewell Cramps, it's been a sweet romance.
The Police pitch against this shameless mayhem with a show that's suspiciously routine and professional. It seems the nine months of ceaseless slog that have suddenly shot them into the limelight have also denied them the chance to expand their material accordingly.
Their prime assets - Sting's domineering high-register and the band's acute sense of brisk percussive dub/rock - are stretched to unjustified limits to pad out a short and transparently overworked set.
What hits on record is the tension and precision they compress into each sparse four minute package. On stage, they deflate almost every number with tired sections of boogie while Sting explores his echo chamber, and some (notably the ransacked 'Roxanne') have already been tailored for mass audience lead vocal.
Behind all this it's still obvious (and frustrating) that The Police are quite exceptionally competent. Stewart Copeland keeps the drumming clean, sharp and meticulous, the severely underused Andy Summers complements with graphic rhythm guitar, and Sting's bass is effortless, exact and sometime (as in 'Hole In My Life') surprisingly ambitious. Between them, they leave just enough slack to sound spontaneous.
With these near-perfect criteria, it makes little sense that they lean so heavily on what they invert within the standard rock trio format - soft centred, self-pitiful lyrics and instrumentals that attempt to seduce rather than assault. The new single 'Message In A Bottle' points them even further in that direction.
When they've sifted through their old songs, installed some new ones and put together a tighter set, The Police will deserve the kind of success they've already achieved.
It's not more than a matter of time.
© New Musical Express by Mark Ellen