Magazine at Manchester Academy One, February 17, 2009
Proust never was one for the rock and roll -- it simply hadn't been invented -- but the most immaculate of consumptives would have sympathized with the strange relationship between performers and their public. The remembrance of former glories related to youth's often unrealistic expectations, and the ever-present grief over things that wither and die, would have rested heavily on his heart. The audience members for tonight's spectacle are returning after a quarter of a century; largely male and middle-aged, their waistlines have widened and their hairlines receded. There are women, too, with history on their faces, who still have a misguided faith in bleach.
A sense of renegade nostalgia haunts the air as the dry ice floats eerily from the stage. Proceedings begin with Ipso Facto, four girls who look like they've fallen off the set of some ancient Robert Palmer video, and are now in search of a Louise Brooks look-alike contest. They perform pithy pop songs in the mode of the Passions and the Raincoats, providing the audience with some chic eye candy and worthy tunes to listen out for in the future.
The space they vacate is quickly claimed by Linder, friend of Morrissey, designer of Buzzcocks sleeves, and general Manchester muse, who wanders 'round the stage like Katherine Hepburn at an English garden party while treating the audience to an array of vocal acrobatics, part Lydia Lunch, part Garage Enya.
As the backdrop for the main attraction is revealed, the real reason for this night of strained anticipation grows ever closer. Linder executed the haunting faces for her then-lover's first album. They now look out on the audience like disapproving Japanese whores.
The band was Magazine. The frankly unclassifiable combo, part art-house, part new-wave, but never punk, left a lingering sense of absence in the minds of those who cherished their jagged, frankly European sounding confections. The lover was Howard Devoto, who now informs the audience from the wings that he is "Doing this because there's this girl I want to impress." When he takes to the stage, he cuts a strangely fascinating, shaven-headed figure in a pink jacket, knee length black trousers, and matching cloth slippers. A hybrid of cabaret host, malevolent bingo caller, and kinky vicar, he immediately launches into the uplifting "The Light Pours Out of Me." The curative rejuvenation of song sparks the audience into a spasm of activity. They are young once again, punching the air and singing their hearts out.
A quarter of a century has vanished, but the amazing thing is the power of the band. Devoto prowls the stage like a catalyst whose arms pull the music from his collaborators. They rip the arse of anything that postures as contemporary contenders. Magazine never sold in number-crunching quantities, but their influence can be heard in bands as diverse as Joy Division, Radiohead, and Blur. Devoto has done little in two decades. His next band, the appropriately named Luxuria, never gained the recognition its opulent efforts deserved. He was initially reluctant to chance this trip down the lane of memory, but thanks to the efforts of keyboard player Dave Formula, he relented. Barry Adamson shoots brilliant bass lines through Formula's epic soundscapes. Top-hatted, in shades, he cuts the debonair swagger one would expect from a former Bad Seed, resplendent in a flame-colored shirt and a black waistcoat with a dangling watch chain.. Memorable songs cascade into the auditorium. Devoto still does his Mancunian Marlene Dietrich routine with tremendous aplomb, exuding a sense of menace and seriousness that removes any sense of camp from the proceedings.
Songs such as "I Want to Burn Again" and "Permafrost" are magnificent, As he prowls and swoops across the stage, he remains a unique and enigmatic presence who even has the audacity to halt the proceedings in order to deliver from a pulpit "The Book," a hauntingly dark story about the Gates of Hell, but the momentum is not lost. There is a madly energetic response from the audience to "Shot By Both Sides," a song that has lost none of its dynamic clout, as the front of the crowd becomes a pogoing wave of middle-aged enthusiasm There is an understandable nostalgia in this, Magazine's second Manchester show in three days, but it really shouldn't end after the encores.
The band is brilliantly sharp, and talent and cohesion of this kind should not be left to waste. Their version of Sly Stone's "Thank You for Lettin' Me Be Myself Again" has a tremendous poignancy. Devoto is unique, has been elusive for too long, and has been missed. Although this exercise cast years of relative inactivity into the past, it would be criminal if he didn't harness the spark he has so obviously struck from this series of events. In another twenty-five years there'll be little left. The love the audience wills and projects will not be here, because they will have become the stuff of memory.
There will always be songs from under the floorboards, but they won't be like Devoto's. There's room for more, and more is required, especially when there's a girl to impress. This is the correct use of hope.