When the Eurythmics first combined with Aretha Franklin in ’85 to contrive Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves, they couldn’t possibly have foreseen Yoko Ono’s Meltdown 2013 curation although it’s exactly this kind of event – sociopolitically enlightening as it is emancipatory, irrespective of gender – that they surely had in mind.
An impromptu Pussy Riot interview is earlier delivered inside the Southbank Centre by two of the insurgent Russian punk-rock activists’ number (they don balaclavas and articulate their antagonistically revolutionary notions on activism, worldwide rebellion, and so on via voice anonymisers) while outside, “punks have taken over.” An air of unshakable ’80s therefore prevails with perma-leather all-pervasive, vertiginous creepers as standard and bluish black hair dye battling valiantly with those pesky thinning greys beneath. Retrograde as it may feel, there’s an unmistakable sense of revolution present about the South Bank this weekend – incongruous herb garden notwithstanding – which, if not entirely reflective of Britain’s capitalist kernel across the Thames, completely pervades the heterogeneous compilation of Ono’s curation.
Entering into the ‘Centre, a supposed punk sits pensively mulling over an overpriced chardonnay. Sharpening an already keen paradox, she’s dolled up in suggestive American Apparel although a considerably more polished portrayal of the punkish finished article, Viv Albertine – once of The Slits – brings us bang up to speed with a modernised take on mellowed rebellion. The fishnet tights continue to cling to her svelte frame, protruding from spangly frock although as was always her wont it’s the music and not the appearance of the self-professed “MILF” that strikes that most resonant of chords this evening. Her childlike delivery frequently punctuated by jejune onomatopoeia, she makes conflicting quips concerning love with the blithe insouciance only age and (mis)understanding can bring. Quite how convinced even she herself may be of her impassioned condemnations of all emotion (“it’s a temporary madness” she chirps of an effervescent If Love, having kicked off with the wickedly wry I Don’t Believe in Love) remains uncertain however, although it’s an unprecedentedly excellent and explicitly introduced Needles which most acutely cuts her clean open. Initially written with regard to The Heartbreakers’ penchant for opiate substance, the song has since adopted a newfound significance with her crackling croaking of “Needles, needles/ So many needles” now sung in reference to in vitro fertilisation. As to whether or not her daughter would approve of such a prelude I’m similarly suspicious, and in light of the area’s continuing gentrification her perfectly eloquent Muswell Hill beginnings sit a little contradictorily with the whole punk ethos with which the evening is so remarkably imbued. In that same vein, she’s probably too musically proficient to cogently purvey such a portrayal but what cannot be refuted is the calibre of her songwriting: privately sentimental and quintessentially British, whoever Albertine might be these days and whatever she may or may not stand for, she really ought to be savoured.
A lengthy interval then ensues. Sat within hurling distance of Gary Numan and throwing distance of Thurston Moore who’s sat next door gorging on Cibo Matto, socialites line the aisles. There’s patent evidence of enough monochromic dye to drown an already reputedly soggy Download Festival, whilst those a little higher up in the balconies flail their arms like World Cup final inflatables. Though irrespective of seating arrangements, the anticipation for Siouxsie’s first show in some five truly exasperating years is palpably universal. Thus with unplanned plastic surgery consultations abruptly interrupted, it’s down with the shutters and on with the show. Emerging one by one with a Machiavellian swagger, the setup may be minimal but the rapture Sioux & co. receive is fully maximised.
She looks less like the commensurately androgynous Robert Smith this evening, and more a Tim Burton-imagined cross between Kate Bush and Hilary Devey as she materialises in a puritanical flow of white PVC. Instantly, and indeed unanticipatedly celebratory, Siouxsie proves compelling from the word go. That word is “this”, and this is Happy House. Its foundations so apparently built to last, it might well have undergone some substantial renovation since first released in 1980 – its tender guitar lines tonight sound intense enough to affect insentient stadia, while its hulking bass approaches an animalistic brutality – but it has consequently been impeccably revitalised with the expiring of time.
But “nice” as it might allegedly be to reconnect with her rabidly adherent, all is not as it seems. “It’s not a hit show. Now, it’s something else” and as she slips into a perfectly dirgeful, if sporadically turgid Tenant which tonight incidentally sounds equivalent in timbre to much of Numan’s composing, notions as to what may be about to occur begin to mentally coagulate. “This is something we’ve never done before. I think by now you might have a clue” she mischievously continues and as they dust down a brash Trophy, it’s all but transparent that they’re to reinterpret Kaleidoscope so as to make it sound all shiny and new.
The issue with the album retrospective is that it inevitably lacks a sense of spontaneity and similarly, unless we’re talking a work of immutable consistency, the consequent shows can have a tendency to sag in all those truly unfortunate places. But as we gaze again into Kaleidoscope, it becomes ever more evident that Siouxsie and the Banshees’ third full-length can quite conceivably be deemed their finest.
The shutters then unfurl and come hurtling down, Siouxsie instilling a tingly sense of fear with her aptly lugubrious banshee moan. Indeed, so enthralling is this trashy thrashing of a warped Trophy that she’s awarded a blood-red bouquet midway through, which she gingerly places upon the drum riser. Indicative of there being a positively compassionate heart happily housed within the bewitching gothic exterior, it’s an intimate show and she is so too a connecting individual. She has that allure of the otherworldly to her and yet for all the hairspray, bondage straps and polyvinyl costuming, her accent has a decidedly earthy English quality to it. Like a still soiled potato, it’s a dead lumpy giveaway to her earthly belonging but it’s to London she’s most closely bound, and tonight we bond in marginal peripherality. “You’re a misfit of me; I’m a misfit of you” she sneers during Hybrid but she appears to be the perfect match for the hordes of impersonators and aficionados here congregated.
Thus although we might have been forgiven for initially fearing the show to have potentially fizzled out after such an explosive opening salvo, there’s no room for any negligence of the sort for each song pertains to such hypnotic rigmarole that we’re swallowed whole by her every one. We fall helplessly down the rabbets once so diligently carved into them like Lewis Carroll characters tumbling down a fathomless hole, only reawakening once we’ve hit the run-out groove. Each therefore feels an enticing nightmare we’ve not even the slightest desire to depart though that we’re forever fated to, and with each a concise pop song in length, we’re consistently left bloody well baying for more. Though not only is Siouxsie’s performance aurally consummate, but it also astounds visually: a profoundly involving masterclass in both pomp and show, where Albertine lacked a sense of spectacle Sioux has seemingly perfected the art of megabuck production on a relatively modest budget and as the Venetian blinds clatter and slat into and out of place with growing frequency, it all proves proportionally iconic to the naturally chameleonic performer herself. Equivalently, whereas Viv’s voice was at times questionable in its consistency, hers is considerably more faithful than most waxwork replicas, or indeed largely dubious surgical reconstructions.
And when held up to the revealing light of the contemporary, so too Kaleidoscope itself holds up pretty powerfully: Clockface, a militaristic call to arms devoid of the English lingo, serves as an Adam Antsy standout with those weapons of choice of course off-license liquor and eyeliner, while Red Light brings to the fore a phoney photographer as Sioux whisks her skirt off to swirl it overhead like a prepossessing macabre matador possessed. Its schizoid twitches and disquieting glitches glimpses into an avant-garde nonpareil, Numan looks on seemingly more than a little envious although almost as striking is the reality that Siouxsie remains a primarily cultish concern, even in spite of the innate crossover appeal located within this recording alone. A perfunctory look around the room reveals there to be very few newcomers, with the entirety of the stalls apparently previously acquainted and as they so incessantly natter amongst one another (“you can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics” but not even Siouxsie can shut them up), even after such a trying pause of half a decade it seems less a case of all they’d waited for and more, and more one of simply being able to say they were there when she so magically reappeared.
Which is pretty lamentable really, not least as the latter half of Kaleidoscope is just as formidable as the first. The show therefore grows in intensity all the while, with its ringleader warming to it well although a reservation persists, and that is thus: for all the volatile, if eternally accessible qualities intrinsic to the album, it is by nature a little at odds with such a salubrious setting. We’re seated – or rather we should’ve been – in a relaxed, if culturally tensed centre of multidisciplinary excellence and in keeping with punked up hysteria, here we are all crammed down the front. It does little to cramp her style, but it does just seem a strange location in which to witness such a pertinent return. I’m already made fearful for the Southbank Centre and so too its on duty security guards, for Iggy’s due next week…
But to the venue’s credit, it does her sound and so too the overall spectacle a wondrous service and the propinquity of her dressing room benefits every last one of us as she only ephemerally disappears to “sponge” herself down. Reappearing to the slithering riffage of Israel, her resonant bellows ripple in the glaring whites of her eyes – the piercing jellies of the beholder of that forever elusive it. She’s got oodles of it, even if “Pompeii finally comes to London” only for Cities in Dust to sound rather a lot like a prototypal Coldplay. Her vocal a little awry, it becomes rather more illusive still but she gets away with it – the one dodgy delivery in twenty-one. She’d get away with anything and indeed everything on a night like this, inclusive of accented Radio Ga Ga referencing during Dear Prudence.
Nonetheless no matter how electrifying an extended coda comprising a couple from ’07 LP MantaRay may be, tonight is all about one and only one album. And as we’re constrained to revisit the prismatic Kaleidoscope, we leave with a better understanding not only of that particular record, but also of its author. Which, as a relative newcomer, may be no bad thing for the perpetuation of such pulsating, nostalgia-addled jamborees as this. For seen with fresh eyes, Siouxsie is as though a punk vulture: perennially hungry and painted with an oily smoothness, never is she the same twice. For not only one of the punk-rock genre’s irrepressibly glamorous greats, she tonight proved herself to have developed into a supreme performer on a keel even with most contemporary popstars. “What in the world is happening?/ What in the world could this be?/ I’m on the verge of an awakening/ A new kind of strength for me” she caws during Into a Swan and as she completes her transformation from cathartine to cygnine species, she bursts out into a swan black as that which Andrés Heinz surely first had in mind.