“Everybody still yearns for the old bands.” That was the message emanating from the Happy Mondays’ longstanding vocalist Rowetta Satchell when we recently convened with the expressive Mancunian and now deeper within December, her belief couldn’t be more explicitly vindicated. Shaun Ryder, Bez et al. have the north of the capital covered, whilst Liam Howlett & co. button down the hatches and take the south by storm, Brixton caught up in a hefty whir of trance-scented ex post facto revelry. Tonight is neither today, nor yesterday, nor even yesteryear but a violent throwback to a decade long since lost. Suitably perhaps, NW1 reeks of a more pungent illegality than it does on any given Monday (or indeed Thursday), and outside Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse the prerequisite drugs bust is taking place, the police toting, well, chalky powders bagged up in polythene like it’s the sodding ’90s all over again. Staring right down into the depths of an empty crisp packet, with London bleeding population in the Christmas run-in the night typifies that bleak inertia we came to accept as the standardised mode for said decade. It’s that which contained my formative years, and so consequently it’s one I recall relatively little of. That said, it’s hard to believe a foetus not popped out ’til ’94 would remember less of it than most here in attendance. There’s that customary influx of accent from Madchester; anywhere-on-Trent; wherever, and certainly the appeal to the ‘Mondays comparatively groundbreaking, and once seemingly unthinkable reunion lies in its ability to defog some of those more nebulous of memories. To relive that halcyon epoch of verdant haze and infrangible smiles on little white things, and above all, tonight and tonight only, to Step On (into Christmas).
Questionably Northern England’s most dysfunctional band, the ‘Mondays effectively haven’t functioned as was initially intended since the early ’90s (their ’07 horror show LP Uncle Dysfunktional of course cast aside from context) whilst The Prodigy’s heyday went grey, withered and died long ago, too. A cursory blunder through the gross bombast of Invaders Must Die clearly elucidates as much. Though that unadulterated, and ultimately intoxicated abandon the two bands once stood, and indeed seemingly somehow continue to stand for is perhaps the key ingredient for which we still apparently so insatiably thirst. As Peter Fonda once responded to some officious stickler in Roger Corman’s since lionised ’66 flick The Wild Angels, “we wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna have a good time. We’re gonna have a party.” Tonight ought to be that party.
Passé Northerners 808 State may have lugged their so-called Soundsystem (a laptop upon a wheelie table, more or less) down from Manchester, though the again only so-called Spinmasters Andrew Barker and Darren Partington aren’t the twisted fire starters to this particular, and particularly mild evening. The latter is the chunky chappy installed the other side of the table and behind the azure glow of a decrepit laptop; the former the invisible man rifling through records. They’re playing New Order, True Faith – the timeless giveaway of the retrograde DJ. Then there’s some plastered MC slurring generic inanities, while swigging viciously and looking like ’93 only just bothered to belatedly puke ‘im oop. He’s part Shaun Ryder, though mostly just shit-faced and is distinctly unpleasant. “Raight are ya ready for the fookin’ ‘Mondays?” he garbles over gulps of flat lager and though the ‘Soundsystem couldn’t make us yearn for ’em any more if they aired Love Will Tear Us Apart, there’s an all-pervasive look of bemusement plastered about the Roundhouse which immediately feels symptomatic of that disconnect between north and south; between Manchester and London. This hydrophobic ringleader is unmistakably, and inextricably Manc, and it’s a behavioural complexion London still struggles to fully grasp, or so it’d appear.
Nonetheless the capital has here thrown up an intriguing mélange of newfound thrill-seekers, timeworn pill guzzlers, and baggy(-eyed) revivalists for this, the second of the band’s two festive throwdowns. The choice of venue itself is of equal interest, not merely because it was in fact only active for three of the seemed thousands of years over which the ‘Mondays have been in many ways operational, or in any way cooperative. I mean Camden is a pretty throwback borough: it still resiliently subscribes to the unerring notion of the guitar being a preternatural wand to be sung along to and snorted from, even in an age vehemently convinced of the instrument’s utter, utter irrelevance. The streets are as filthy as the tousled shambles that aimlessly parade it so – it is steadfastly tied to the naughties as most of its inhabitants are to the bottle, and if you’d ever wondered whether the place could crick its neck further back, well, never did I ever see it in quite such a state as when the ‘Mondays rolled in and fookin’ smoked it…
Gloriously incompetent, Bez outs with a plastic chalice of booze of course affixed to his palm. “It’s Christmas!” he bellows in his bezzie Noddy Holder impression and, turned out in tweed, it’s as though he’s finally found his true calling: fuck the maracas; give the man a mic and he effortlessly becomes probably the best compère in the world. Though by and large, he’s drastically absent. Elbows akimbo, he motions an Aztec take on front crawl; brandishes those perennially inaudible maracas a bit; inadvertently exposes a little more of Satchell’s underthings than she’d perhaps like, but that’s about it. And it’s nowhere near enough. He’s an institution; an ever inebriated paragon of enviable imperfection.
Though ahead of all that tomfoolery aforesaid, the ‘Mondays act like it’s a Haçienda Friday and ah-leh-lu-zha it’s loud. Bez flings himself about dementedly to the Arabian twangs of this wondrously monstrous opener as the room twitches with pangs of forgotten paranoias of another era, though maybe that’s my mistaking of a reaction to an undiluted euphoria. “He’s a fookin’ good-lookin’ coont”, Ryder exclaims of his effectively unskilled sidekick as he disappears off behind a blackened sheet. Shaun himself is, by contrast, oddly sedate. He’s cleaned up his act, though in doing so has lost some of that antagonistic edge for which he was once known and though this isn’t meant as an incitement for him to return to his wicked ways, he could do with at the very least a pep talk, if not a potent pep me up. Though as Satchell previously avowed with such conviction, vocally, he sounds more robust than ever before. He’s almost singing, as opposed to unintelligibly droning and though the lyrical content perhaps tellingly lent itself to the latter, this allows for the likes of 24 Hour Party People and Kinky Afro to be fully appreciated as singalongs, as opposed to total shit shows. The former is protracted, and seems to go on for approximately 10% of its cited duration though it’s a scratchy post-punk keeper irregardless.
And again to recur to that which Rowetta so concertedly insisted, despite all to have befallen she and he, they share the sort of onstage chemistry that could never be concocted in the labs of any which major, sharing the odd sporadic smooch here and there. Satchell injects vivacity into the band, and vim into the night. She is its shiner in Santa garb, florid red glinting in the peepers of the starry-eyed front few. Though most pertinently, vocally, she is absolutely flawless and as Ryder’s vocals dwindle as the set itself sags somewhat, she upholds it singlehandedly. Ryder, by contrast, inhabits the shadows as he’s left to play a peripheral role – an outcast of the social group he first put together. He looks forlorn; hopeless, even as once his vocal goes, he’s helpless. Two lefthand fingers dipped into a pocket and a couple from his right limply curled about his mic, he quite apparently is no longer the band’s compelling powerhouse. That, ultimately, is now Satchell, as she fuels it with volatility and alluring vocal acrobatics. Musically, though, standards have arguably slipped into a fenny mess with too much time having been spent getting messed up and not enough getting readied, most probably. Loose Fit epitomises this as when quite so baggy, even the most protuberant of bellies couldn’t keep it from tumbling downward into tedium.
And inevitably with these sorts of commemorative come togethers, hindsight can be a lens capable of magnifying the beautiful, as well as the brutal. Judge Fudge, lamentably, may now go down as the groggy blurt responsible for the existence of Reverend And The Makers as it resounds throughout the Roundhouse an unmistakable influence, and an indefensible deed unwittingly done. It’s on this one, more so than elsewhere, that you sense that Paul Ryder continues to foster an intense resentment for his sib as he champs his gum with an increased unease. The bassist initially ditched the band some time circa the turn of this millennium, citing a lack of mic and thereby a voice to affront the jibes of Shaun as cause and some things are sometimes destined never to change. His guttural thrums aside, his presence is only murmured as he remains powerless and, again as his brother now is also, peripheral. So some things do change with time…
“I don’t think we ever come out the ’90s, really…” the miked Ryder almost incoherently concedes and ultimately, what tonight proves more than perhaps anything, is that their musical outpour didn’t really either. They’re renowned as much, if not more for the substances they put into their bodies as the songs they produced and subsequently put out, and despite the acclaimed successes of this particular reformation, I find it almost unfeasible not to set their 2012 against Primal Scream’s triumphant 2011, throughout which we were compulsively reminded of just how spectacular a record Screamadelica really was, though above all still is. The ‘Mondays lack that Come Together; that Damaged; that Movin’ On Up; that Inner Flight, even. Loaded of course, though then the ‘Mondays themselves always were. And again, that’s the intrinsic issue: that the ‘Mondays are the sort of band that were once innately amusing, given their insatiable penchant for both the illicit and the ludicrous. Though in sobering up, they’ve softened the effect of the latter and without the sideshow, and with but one super heavyweight chorus to call their own, the headliners can’t substantiate the hype.
That chorus inevitably comes, and is naturally housed within Step On. Those woozy keys still glint like fookin’ golden teeth as it still sounds a refined diamond. Bez is back on as well, twisting melons and twizzling maracas. He’s got to be wholly loaded by now to be doing that, and having witnessed his prolonged absence onstage he’s undoubtedly had the time to remedy the sobriety whilst off it. However, the Happy Mondays now carry what is essentially that same insoluble appeal to Madame Tussauds: though I never saw them in their heyday per se, I can only imagine that they are now but pallid replicas where once stood bona fide loons worth lauding. Now, as Bez ever did, they’re an unflattering exemplar of that miraculous modern-day ability manipulated by so many, whereby longevity may be strung out by the unable.
All in all, a hollow Hallelujah that’s unfortunately rather more no no no, than ho ho ho.