Monday, November 05, 2007

Carter USM at Brixton Academy

It was always going to be an emotional night. Having been a devout follower of Carter USM since my teenage years, this final full-stop had been circled on my calendar for many months, yet it took arriving at Victoria station and seeing pockets of punters in an array of Carter T-shirts for it to dawn on me that this really was the end. From that moment onwards, the evening was an odd mixture of feelings that skipped between the mortal sense of all good things inevitably coming to an end and a joyous journey down the streets of reminiscence. As I travelled the tube, I noticed that the Carter fans dotted around were older, more sensibly dressed, yet visibly excited at this one final hurrah. Having to push past a posse of touts at Brixton tube station reminded me of a bygone era, but it was arriving at Brixton Academy that really felt like a step back in time: the sold-out sign, the large queue snaking down the road, the flurry of activity at the doors.

This was where it all began for me, in 1993, as a wide-eyed teenager on Carter’s Post Historic Monsters Tour, and so it seemed a fitting place for it to conclude. I took a deep breath and stepped into the auditorium. Here was where the story ended.

As I stood on the exact patch of carpet from where I had first seen my favourite band all those years ago, I bumped into someone I know from my current hometown of Sydney, and it instantly became clear just how much effort people had made to be here for Carter’s swansong. Because of that, the mood at Brixton was buoyant and celebratory and, at 8.30pm, as the band’s hand-picked mix of tunes belted out over the PA, there was a mass singalong to The Wonderstuff. By 8.45, people were crowd-surfing to The Fratellis. It was obvious that this was going to be one hell of a party.

On the dot of nine, Jimbob and Fruitbat bounced onto stage. Jim looked typically focused and handsome; Fruity cheerful and trim. They were welcomed by a full-house that greeted them with an appreciation which bordered on hero-worship. Some of the crowd had followed the duo’s solo careers closely, others hadn’t bought a record since 1992. Regardless, everyone was here tonight to pay tribute to a band that mean a great deal to them. Before the first song had even begun, the stranger next to me had one arm round me and the other high above his head. It was that kind of night.

The set was long and, while not a comprehensive anthology of Carter’s lifespan, was a crowd-pleasing collection of old classics. Opening, of course, with Surfin’ USM, and ripping through tracks from their acclaimed first two albums, 101 Damnations and 30 Something, the band kept the tempo high in the early part of the set, and were even brazen enough to throw away their two biggest hits, The Only Living Boy in New Cross and After The Watershed back-to-back fairly early on. These songs were met with the delirious fervour.

It was loud. Holy fuck, it was so bowel-shakingly loud that my ears are still ringing two days on. The critic in me would perhaps suggest that the sheer volume drowned out some of the subtleties that make Carter’s tracks so special and, at times, they would have benefited from being turned down from eleven. Ultimately though, this mattered not a jot, as everyone in the room sang along to every word anyway. This was less a gig, more a raucous singalong amongst five thousand friends reunited.

Highlights included a belting version of The Music That Nobody Likes, an atmosphere-drenched rendition of A Prince in a Pauper’s Grave, the powerful Bloodsport For All and the fitting paean to the underdog, The Impossible Dream. Elsewhere there was a charmingly shambolic version of their first ever single, A Sheltered Life, delicious covers of This is How it Feels and Rent and a typically epic delivery of A Perfect Day To Drop The Bomb.

There were some glaring omissions though, most notably the earth-shatteringly disappointing decision not to play their standout song, Falling on a Bruise. Equally, there was no Midnight on the Murder Mile, arguably Carter’s most underrated track, and, Glam Rock Cops aside, nothing from later than 1993 (in other words, the songs with real drums). However, with just two hours of stage-time and nine years’ back-catalogue, there were always going to be a few casualties, and therefore we had to do without the aforementioned classics, as well as Let’s Get Tattoos, Alternative Alf Garnett and, disappointingly, Re-educating Rita.

The songs Carter did belt out though, and there are too many to recount, were delivered with vigour and energy. Jimbob’s acoustic solo work has really given his voice impressive dexterity, and his former angry and bile-ridden vocal was often replaced by a slightly softer approach. Between songs an affable Jim joked with the crowd, while Fruitbat smiled throughout. They were clearly having a wonderful night and, as the evening drew on, their dreamy gazes into the crowd noticeably grew in length, as they drank it all in for one last time. Equally, individuals in the audience yelled and clapped and jumped and danced with abandon. To my left a man sang every word to every song with his eyes closed, as though he were imagining an earlier time. To my right, a gaggle of men and women linked arms and danced in a circle, like they were at the best wedding reception ever. I repeatedly found myself simply gawping around the venue, mesmerised by the sea of faces that were lost in the moment. It was such a warm feeling, to be amongst so many people that shared a love for my favourite band. Thousands of misfits, united for one last time.

Encoring with an exceptional version of Sheriff Fatman which had the crowd turning cartwheels, Carter fittingly said their final farewell with G.I. Blues. Arms were raised, lungs were opened and tears were shed before the house lights came up and, sadly, it was time to go back to our lives. As I meandered to the tube station past a gang of wide-boys selling knock-off T-shirts, it felt as though a piece of me had been laid to rest in the Brixton Academy. Heavens knows how Jimbob and Fruitbat must have felt.

And so, on November 2nd 2007, the rather strange rollercoaster ride that was Carter The Unstoppable Machine finally stopped. “Tell your kids,” Jimbob said as he held his bottle of wine aloft and exited the stage.

Carter will continue to live in our stereos, our memories and our hearts, and this was a perfect way to say goodbye and to draw a line under a chapter of our history that none of us will ever forget. Goodnight Fruitbat, goodnight Jimbob. Thanks for the memories.

UPDATE: So successful was this reunion, that the band have gone on to play annual shows!


j30 said...

It was indeed awesome... and very, very loud!

A nice review Rob. Says it all really.

Matt A said...

Hey man - nice write up, can I borrow a couple of your photos for my retrospective as some of mine didn't come out (hard to focus when crowd surfing!!).
It was an awesome night - maybe Carter the 'UNFORGETTABLE SEX MACHINE' will be my title of my blog post - check it out if you get a minute.


Shravaka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shravaka said...

Top review of the best gig ever! If you thought that was loud, you should have seen them at Barrowlands! (where incidentally, they did play Re-Educating Rita)