There comes a time in every upwardly mobile popster's career when he / she is faced with the almost inevitable prospect of playing the London Lyceum. The Edwardian baroque of its decor is the only feature which mitigates against its cavernous acoustics, remote stage, understaffed bars and tendency to pack in twice as many people as fire regulations permit. If you're a band like Twisted Sister, large as life and even uglier, sheer gun-craziness will get you through. But if finesse is your forte, you're liable to get lost like a child in the crowd, your plaintive voice failing to register above the din. So how did our troubadors do tonight ?
First off were Orange Juice's one-time Postcard label-mates, The Go Betweens. The introduction of Robert Vickers on bass has allowed Grant McLennan to add a second guitar to the line-up.
They now have a much more ringing, detailed sound than before, and do full justice live to their vinyl masterpieces. Lindy Morrison's whiplash drumming powers the Australian quartet's attack as they briskly run through most of the brilliant new LP 'Before Hollywood' plus a couple of oldies. A growing audience response indicates that familiarity will breed content, and nobody deserves it more.
After the demise last year of the excellent Haircut 100 (stupidly maligned by the sheep in wolves clothing of the critical mafia), Orange Juice are natural successors. Behind the Haircut's Young Conservatives on their hols image, there lurked an outfit sharing many of OJ's influences and aspirations. And Orange Juice have found the stability and polish at just the right time to fill the corner of the British heart that is forever blue-eyed soul-pop.
Two old Postcard singles, 'Lovesick' and 'Poor Old Soul', open the set, and find both band and sound-mixer trying to cope with the Lyceum's barn like ambience. Only as the show progresses does it all come together in a joyful rush that carries all before it.
Edwyn's voice is slowly improving. Whilst it's no longer the glottal bleat of an aged Scottish bishop, he could still take a few tips from Elvis Costello. Zeke Manyika's intelligent, dynamic drumming combines with David McClymont's pumping bass lines to put iron in OJ's soul. Edwyn and Malcolm Ross draw on the fretboard treasury of Roger McGuinn, Lou Reed and even Marv Tarplin to produce a glorious chiming cascade, spiced with angularities and runs of stellar bliss, such as graced the beautiful lament 'In A Nutshell'.
And, just as on TOTP, guesting on the Big Hit Single was none other than London's greatest underground genius, Frank Want / Jim Thirwell / Foetus. Edwyn introduced him with his customary pixie charm :
"He's f***king useless, but he's such a nice guy we had to have him play."
'Rip It Up' possesses the most sublimely addictive chorus of the year, but Orange Juice opt for the scenic route rather than a comfy ride. Jim's bizzare sax is part of that strategy and it works. Never too quirky to capsize the emotive glory of their pop instincts, Orange Juice know how to mix the rough with the smooth. Greatness beckons.