Jun 22 2000
Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre
“PERFECTIONIST!” Now that is a fucking great heckle. “I expect you’re in a band, aren’t you?” Smart comeback from Stephen Jones, but way too late to save the show. Because we’re already 40 minutes into Babybird’s opening night and, frankly, it’s all been downhill from opening stompathon ‘The F-Word’.
Considering he’s a published author and renowned wit, Jones is hardly on his mental mettle tonight. He swaps half-arsed insults with the fractious crowd, several of whom carry on taking the piss regardless. He makes it clear he doesn’t want to be here, which only antagonises the audience more. Perhaps he’s looking to provoke a reaction, but fierce indifference is about the best he can muster. It would help if the hall wasn’t half empty, of course. But it might also make a difference if Babybird weren’t playing back-to-back new tunes from their just-released ‘Bugged’ album. Or perhaps if they appeared even slightly enthused by trifling, clumsy plodders including ‘Eyes In The Back Of Your Head’ or ‘Wave Your Hands’.
The best Jones tunes, as ever, threaten to turn into Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ at any moment. Alas, they never quite make the leap. But chiming, roaringly romantic undulations like ‘Out Of Sight’ and ‘The Way You Are’ come close enough to winning over some of the Gloucester massive. Then it’s back to the faceless chuggerama. Yawn. Jones could be a serious adult-pop icon by now if he dropped the seedy bingo-caller schtick and learned a new chord or two.
At the moment he seems to be caught between two musical poles without really mastering either. He’s a literate, articulate lyricist with a fine voice, but he needs much more grace and subtlety before he can touch the Cave or McCulloch league. And he is clearly drawn to the unshaven lout-funk of Shaun Ryder, but he’s way too polite and self-conscious to rock like a rehab disco scuzzlord. So here he is, stuck in the middle with his One Great Song and its dozen pale copycat variants. Middlebrow and proud, the Lightning Seeds it’s OK to not have homicidal hate fantasies about. But we still go home bored and dissatisfied, and we’re willing to bet Jones does too.