Digging the scene with THE BLOW MONKEYS 30 years on

In 1984, I was 16 when THE BLOW MONKEYS released their debut album “Limping for a Generation.”  Their second album “Animal Magic” was released in 1986 and it is these two albums that make up the two sets tonight.  To be honest, The Blow Monkeys barely registered in my musical aesthetic at that time.  I was listening more to bands like Van Halen, Prince and Big Country (and latterly, Iggy Pop, The Cult and Peter Gabriel).  The Blow Monkeys always seemed a bit too slick and safe, but I suspect this had more to do with my wanting to distance myself from fashion clones who did like them than the actual band itself.  Granted though, singer Dr. Robert did possess one of the most distinctive voices of the 80s, with Neville Henry’s saxophone helping to mark them out from the herd.  They also stood out politically, later joining the RED WEDGE collective.

In preparing for their double-set, two things stick in my head: The phrase “Nostalgia is not what it used to be” and this line from the film High Fidelity – “Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?”

So, although I was somewhat skeptical to be seeing them some 28 years later, there are approximately 350 to 400 people here who would disagree with my teen angst-ridden recollection of the band and who willingly braved the harsh winter conditions to pay to see their musical heroes.  To my delight, what we actually get to see is band who can still perform.

The start of the first set is a little lackluster, reflected in the muted response of the crowd, but by the third and fourth numbers, band and audience begin to connect.  Personal highlights are “Fatcat Belusha,” “Go Public” and “Waiting for Mr. Moonlight” and they close with classic cover “It’s Not Unusual.”

During the half-hour interval, I take the opportunity to walk among the crowd to gauge the mood.  With 80s songs on the PA prompting references to events past, I catch snippets of conversations of various recollections, see complete strangers singing along together, and am witness for the prosecution of some classic ‘embarrassing dad’ dancing.

When the band takes to the stage for the second set, they look more relaxed and receive a more positive audience reaction, the first track being hit single “Digging Your Scene.”  Highlights are “Wicked Ways,” “Sweet Murder,” “Don’t Be Scared of Me” and “Aeroplane City Lovesong.”  The encore includes two great covers: a haunting version of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield.

The Blow Monkeys are definitely much more than another retro act – they were pioneers of their time, with their no-holds-barred anti-establishment approach, experimental arrangements and collaborations with fantastic female vocalists such as Kym Mazelle and Sylvia Tella.  While I’m not a fan of their early work, I’m looking forward to checking out their last two albums “Devil’s Tavern” (2008) and “Staring at the Sea” (2011).