Viv Albertine Showcase: 12 Bar Club, London – live review
23rd Jan 2013
Viv Albertine recently took to the stage in London both to play a handful of songs & too read from her forthcoming memoirs. Louder Than War were present.
The fountain of youth is a mythical ideology that has been long pursued by explorers for centuries and (nowadays) fantasised about by aging housewives alike. Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de León ventured into the depths of Florida in 1513 supposedly in hot pursuit of this age-suspending, wrinkle-vanishing spring of eternal youth only to be disappointed with his findings. Well, as it turns out, he needed to search a little closer to home and live around 500 years longer to uncover its location. On the 22nd of January 2013 in 12 Bar Club, Denmark Street, London, I finally stumbled across the fountain of youth; or at the very least, its keeper. She is former-Slit and time-evader Viv Albertine.
Complicated, over-zealous descriptions aside, Viv looks simply stunning – at 57 (something that prompted me to consult the all-knowing, all-powerful Wikipedia to verify her age, due to disbelief) she seems to be completely immune to the effects of aging; her face still harnesses the same youthful energy and vigour that made The Slits a force to be reckoned with some 35 odd years ago. However, as I was soon to discover, the post-Slit Viv still proves a mighty force to behold, oozing attitude and flare, and spouting cutting-wit. If we are to believe the punk prophesiers Crass on this one, Punk is supposedly dead; ‘Bubblegum rock on plastic transistors/schoolboy sedition backed by big time promoters’; and whilst this may indeed be the case, its essence was dragged back up from its premature burial and very much resurrected in Viv’s angst-laden, guitar-strangling performance at 12 Bar Club.
Whilst she was not backed by your typical rock-band line up – swapping the traditional set up for a more stripped down ensemble of guitar, cajón, synth bass and violin – the slightly unconventional group still produce an aggressive wall of sound; ensuring that the audience are pinned down and listening intently. Opener ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ centers around a hypnotising, swirling guitar riff that is soon joined by ominous and similarly haunting chants of ‘a-ha, a-ha’ from the group’s backing singers as Viv dispels the myths of Love, Time and also God and instead proclaims her love of definite concepts – fire, granite, gold and iron, amongst others – adding an abstract, almost Talking Heads vibe to the track.
‘I want more’, taken from Viv’s latest release ‘The Vermilion Border’, adopts a similarly menacing, confrontational tone. Viv’s words and gritted-teeth vocal delivery serve as a proverbial knife to the throat – this is a woman who knows what she wants and if she doesn’t get it, you get the sense that there will be trouble afoot… if you’re still standing to experience it, that is. The musical accompaniment perfectly complements this ominous undertone – while Viv’s delivers the verbal assault, spitting her words in the face of her adversary, the violin and synth bass pull the punches, with their synchronised stabs shoving the audience in the shoulders, asking for a fight. I politely declined. (I’ve always been a bit of a bambi-legged, weasel-y-armed wimp, you see.)
The biggest paradox of the night considering these hostile undertones was the fact that Viv herself, throughout her performance of these intense, in-your-face tunes, was the very embodiment of charming. Endearingly engaging the densely packed crowd, Viv confesses at one point that she had come dressed as a ‘Yummy Mummy’ to which there was an eruption of clattering laughter around the room. Both Viv and the audience, featuring friends and former punk/rock peers alike – including Mick Jones and Glen Matlock to name but a few – beamed with smiles throughout Viv’s poetic and enlightening set.
The parting number ‘Confessions of a MILF’ showcased Viv’s sparkling and close-to-the-bone wit at its finest. Delivering a brutally honest yet incredibly amusing account of the mundane triviality of the life expected of a modern day house wife, Viv’s words transform her into a rabble-rouser for dissatisfied, disenfranchised house wives everywhere. Her lyrical mastery knows no bounds here, as she shatters all illusions of the ‘ideal’, Disney-inspired happily-ever-after lifestyle that brainwashes so many as she proclaims: ‘There are those that say we’re supposed to mate for life/like Swans and Seahorses’/I’m afraid we ain’t that nice’ – her sweet, gentle guitar and vocal melody serving as the perfect oxymoron to the starkness of her words. Ouch. The truth hurts, as they say.
Whilst the set only consisted of 4 tracks culled from ‘The Vermilion Border’, this was by no means a disappointment as afterwards guests were treated to a reading from her forthcoming memoirs. Named after what her Mother described as being ‘[Viv’s] only interests’ from a young age, ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys’ serves as an account of Viv’s career from The Slits to the present day – offering an invaluable insight into the Legendary and renowned London Punk Scene of the 1970s.
The brief excerpt that was teasingly previewed on the night of the gig dealt mostly with The Slit’s time on the notorious White Riot tour of ’77 alongside The Clash and Subway Sect. Offering an insight to the unparalleled madness backstage, Viv told stories of a teenage Ari-Up being taken as prisoner in the tour bus toilet, hotels refusing to take them, being bottled onstage, the heartache of finding Mick Jones in bed with another woman and – my favourite anecdote of them all which conjured resounding, hearty belly laughs from all around -whereby Viv recalls the horrors of The Slits’ first show – ‘We’d never played the songs all the way through before […] we all ended at different times’ – an admission I liked perhaps due to my own painful experience in certain bands over the years. Mind you, at least they all finished the songs, irrespective of time, not like a drummer I once had who decided to keel over mid-song after a heavy night and consequently a heavy stomach courtesy of the local Devonshire Ale.
So there you have it, the years may have rolled ever onwards – halting for no man or woman alike – but Viv Albertine still manages, 35 years on, to remain as relevant, insightful and interesting as she ever was – you certainly wouldn’t catch her on no butter advert.
All words by Soph Lord. You can read more from Soph on LTW here.