Magazine at Komedia in BathPosted: 03/11/2011
I saw Magazine play live just the once in the post-punk era – with Bauhaus in Leeds in May 1980. These were dark and serious times and I went along expecting a dark and serious gig – I wore my dark and serious and overly long coat in readiness for all the darkness and seriousness – but Magazine weren’t having any of it. I remember thinking they were much more cheery than they were meant to have been and my head still holds an image of frontman Howard Devoto skipping across the stage like a small child, at one point almost slipping into that sand dance everyone used to do to Jonathan Richman’s “Egyptian Reggae”.
Back with a new album, “No Thyself”, their first for 30 years, Magazine are as mercurial as ever. At Komedia in Bath, the opening night of a 10-date UK tour, they begin with three old favourites, but “Definitive Gaze” and “Give Me Everything” are at best tentative, at worst perfunctory. It doesn’t help that Devoto seems mainly interested in holding up and waving around a couple of gigantic placards. I have no idea what the placards say because Devoto shields the messages printed on them from the audience. When they get to “Motorcade”, though, it all changes. The placards are chucked into the wings, keyboard maestro Dave Formula is on his feet, guitarist Noko’s chin is tilted up, and Magazine rock. Magazine rock as in THEY REALLY FUCKING ROCK. And from there on, they don’t stop rocking for a moment. I keep wondering if I had maybe wandered into an AC/DC show by mistake.
That bit about AC/DC is me being silly, of course. However full-on everything is, Magazine’s take on rock still involves atmospheric keyboard passages and funky bass runs, subtle shifts and sudden bends, awkward shapes and odd angles. Once they’re bedded in, there are many high spots. “Hello Mister Curtis” (one of only five tracks from “No Thyself”) and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” are perfect platforms for new bassist Jon White (he’s very good). “Permafrost” is introduced as a song about “the wrong kind of sex” and has Devoto speak-singing with particular precision. “The Light Pours Out Of Me” gets his arms zig-zagging like a nutty orchestra conductor. “Shot By Both Sides” is the blistering finale and the band at their most punk, but it climaxes with drummer John Doyle locked into a pumping groove and Formula throwing in squelchy noises and the strobes going ballistic. If they’d carried on like that a little longer, I swear the crowd would have had their shirts tied round their heads and been yelling “Aciieeed! Aciieeed!” at the tops of their voices.
In a 1977 interview published by New York Rocker, Jon Savage asked Devoto what he wanted “to do” with Magazine. “Improve people’s memories,” said Devoto, which you could read at least two ways. Tonight certainly reminds me how much Magazine have added to my memories. I hope it might do something for my memory as well. I’d hate to be sitting about in pissy trousers 50 years from now telling anyone who’ll listen that Howard Devoto was this Egyptian bloke who invented acid house.
Howard Devoto photo by Tony Smith at Hotpix UK