Skinny Machines: Live in London at the Half Moon, Putney (DVD) The stage is a black desert sky. A bleak instrumental theme, a hesitant twitching heartbeat draped in questioning chords, drifts across the audience. It‟s eerie; very eerie – Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino in equal measure. Out of the darkness the band enters stage left. Vocalist Jay Marsh walks into the spotlight, ducks under his guitar strap and fixes his congregation with a hypnotic stare. Bringing them to order with some assured crooning, he nods his head supportively as if telling a bedtime story. Matters seem to be in check. Or do they? In just five lines of clarion-clear vocals Marsh has addressed drugs, over-reaching, obsession and ill-founded relationships: any peace, one feels, is about to be shattered. And how: another verse with full band ratchets up the tension until, as the pressure cooker starts to spit, Marsh suddenly comes over all psychopath, snarling horribly before grabbing his guitar round the oesophagus and making it wail like a banshee. Opener Muzzle Me thus despatched, drummer Dan Roth launches straight into the title track of the first CD, Wrong Side of the River. Step forward guitarist Rikki Glover to lead the charge with some impressive choppy riffing and an angry beast of a solo. Next up The Piper sees Marsh pogoing frenetically around the stage as Glover lets his bouncing mane take the strain. Bass-player Mike Woodhouse rounds the song off with a rumble of sternum-shaking proportions reminiscent of some heavy military ordnance starting up in the basement. To their devoted fan-base, the quality of this performance will not have come as a surprise. Alt/ indie masters of the multi-faceted four minute musical snap-shot, Skinny Machines have been selling-out concerts across the British Isles and mainland Europe for a couple of years now and, for many fans, the visit to London‟s legendary Half Moon to record this live DVD will have seemed a long time coming. Back on stage, the band steam into Steady Eddie, a crowd-pleaser if ever there were. A curious yarn, too, ostensibly about a difficult sea crossing, a disengaged waiter and a challenging fish course but managing along the way to explore life, love, death, demons and Hell – remarkable, really, but this is the sort of fare that Marsh, the band‟s resident lyricist, likes to serve up. Glover again stands out on Steady
Eddie with some big-hearted funked-up rhythm vamping. By the time festival fave Cradle draws to a close the walls of the Half Moon are dripping and, arms to the Heavens, the crowd are loving every second. For Steady Eddie and most of Cradle, and as he will do for a couple of later songs, Marsh had dispensed with his guitar, allowing him free rein to demonstrate to the full his finely-honed front-man creds. Blessed with a three-octave crystal voice, he‟s an old school, quintessential front-man through and through, and a consummate communicator too. On stage he inhabits his (very literary) lyrics, seemingly taking up residence in the slices of life which he lays before us. Sometimes this sees him cast as story-teller, sometimes as orator or confidante, sometimes teacher or doe-eyed little boy lost. Other times, he‟s a very effective “Oi, you lookin‟ at my bird?” pugilist verging on serial killer – it would be most unwise to spill his pint at these times. His prowess is perhaps never better illustrated on the night than in Interpol, where we see him testing the boundaries between reasonable dating practices and unacceptably animalistic behaviour. All of a sudden on stage, it‟s time for a “wow” moment as unadulterated beauty steps up to the plate. The glissando-rich guitar doodle which will evolve into the main theme of next song One Step at a Time is both heart-stopping and exquisite. Then it‟s time for up-coming single Stop That Girl, featuring a marvellously extravagant entrance from Woodhouse, intriguing lyrics and prodigious riff chomping from Glover. Marsh is left looking genuinely startled as the audience begins a crowdsingalong completely unbidden by him. That‟s nothing - in the encore the Skinny choir will virtually commandeer the vocal duties on Superhappy, dealing effortlessly with the complex lyrics and awkward themes of this tawdry tale of mid-life crises, fears of ageing and quick-fix chemical assistance. In tune, too. All too soon, the main set closes with an all guns blazing extended drum-guitar rat-a-tat led by the twinkling Roth. Resplendent in natty bowler hat, Roth, behind the drums, has been frankly flawless throughout, also offering a nice line in backing vocals and cheeky grins to camera. With him plus the dancing bass of Woodhouse the Skinnies need look no further for one of the very best rhythm sections on the block. A quick side-bar here about the production of the DVD. Sound and visuals are both first-rate, the camera work excellent and the editing quick-fire enough to capture the pace of the action without being
excessive. The gig was also much enhanced by the wonderfully evocative light-show, from the Batman searchlights of The Piper to the white shroud which marked the end of Wrong Side of the River. Top marks all round to the techies. After a three song encore it‟s time to roll the credits. Literally. The replaying of the introductory instrumental theme at this point is a delight, giving the whole piece a cinematic feel and somehow a sense of genuine joy. I have to say, I loved this DVD. There aren‟t many bands who reaffirm your faith in the whole rock n roll thing but Skinny Machines do just that. “Thanks, guys, for sharing some history with us,” declares Glover at the end, and he‟s probably right. Catch Skinny Machines now, „cause next time you might have to traipse all the way to the O2 Arena just to watch them on a far-away screen. And, while you‟re at it, find yourself a copy of the DVD, too.