Spiritualised with Siouxsie and the Banshees

It is clear to me why Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees are iconoclasts in the musical world. Everything they do, the music they play, the lyrics they write, and the live image they project, are all different from any other band I've seen. It is not just that they are unique, it is that they are strikingly, disturbingly, and inimitably so.

I just returned from seeing them at the GWU Lisner Auditorium and my ears are still ringing from the aural assault from both the opening band and the wail of the Banshees. The volume was not exceptionally loud, but the sheer dissonance of the music is enough to entirely upset one's sonic equilibrium.

It is evident from the live show that it is Sioux who is responsible for the exotic and melancholic image that the Banshees have. But it is also evident that she is no longer as youthful as she was when she toured with the Sex Pistols and that extensive touring takes its toll. She was not able to hit the high notes in many of the songs and while normally I'd consider this to be a problem, it simply added to the cacophony of the music, making the listening even more unsettling. If you are all familiar with the Banshees' music, you'll understand why this is a compliment. However, Budgie's drumming was tight and Steven Severin's bass work sounded as good as it does in the albums. The new guitarist, was exceptionally good and accurate I thought, even though he stayed out of the spotlight.

The thing that is most surprising to me about the Banshees is that they've largely been ignored by the commercial rock world. This could because of the reasons in the first paragraph above, but it is also likely due to the fact that they are intrinsically more talented than their Punk peers. It might be because they are toeing a line that lies between Punk and another form of music that co-existed in the 70s, Industrial Noise. It should come as no surprise, given the Banshees' experimentation with dissonance and their ability to deconstruct to pop music so successfully, that I link them with the latter genre. The corporate rock world, even given successes of bands like Nine Inch Nails, has never been able to stomach this genre for long periods of time.

Live, the Banshees are better than anything I've heard by them on CD. Severin has commented about how the Banshees wanted Rapture to be a "live sounding record" and my view before I saw them live was that Rapture, although a reasonable sounding record, didn't represent anything new. But my mind was changed after I saw performances of the songs like The Double Life, Tearing Apart, Stargazer, Fall from Grace, Not Forgotten, Falling Down, Forever, B-side Ourselves, and the fourteen minute magnum opus The Rapture, which is also the title of their latest John Cale produced release. The new material, while not strikingly innovative, is still as daring as ever, evident most clearly in the title track, but yet retaining the trademarked Banshees sound. Old favourites they played included Killing Jar, Face to Face, Christine, and Kiss them for Me. These seemed like the only songs that got any reaction from the audience.

The crowd, especially in the front, didn't seem too enthusiastic especially with the new material. Sioux even made a comment about them acting as though "they were watching a movie." But by the time the encores came around, they had sufficiently loosened up. The audience was somewhat mixed, but most of the fans seemed to be college-age. While there were some odd hair colours floating around, the predominant dress colour seemed to be black. I always find it fascinating to see people dressed in the "punk uniform". It's a great example of how a movement has defeated itself and a strong argument against organisation of any sort.

The opening band, Spiritualised, was quite good given the music they indulged in. They reminded me a lot of the Electronic Noise bands in in the 70s like Maelstr"om and Robert Owens, except that instead of twiddling knobs on analog synthesisers for the noises, they relied essentially on feedback-drenched flanging and chorusing guitars. They were a five piece band and the female keyboardist also contributed quite a lot to the noise-making. But people didn't get into them at all, which is somewhat surprising, since I think the Banshees are also dissonant and are in some ways closer to the Noise groups than Punk groups. If you are into Noise at all, I highly recommend checking this group out! I know I will.

The only disappointment I have is that they did not perform Dear Prudence, which was one of the songs they played in the set lists I've seen. But they sort of made up for it by coming back for encores, the first of which consisted of Cities in the Dust and Israel. By this time the crowd was pretty charged, but still in their seats since security didn't allow anyone standing on the aisles or in the front. This apparently irked Sioux given her comments about the security guard in front being "full of shit" and throwing water and bread (?) on him. She finally had her way when, during the second encore, Peek-a-boo, she invited everyone to move up front and the crowd didn't hesitate to obey her. The result was a short and sweet exhibition of free movement both by the accordion weilding Martin McCarrick and the crowd. This was the first time I had ever seen an artist at Lisner provoke the crowd enough to accomplish this. Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end, and this time it happened as Siouxsie jumped on McCarrick's back and was carried off stage by him.

They say follow your heart, 
follow it through,
but how can you?
When it's split in two.
  ---Siouxsie and the Banshees,
     Face to Face

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org May 1, 1995