At one of the most prolific stages of his career, Neil Arthur is also on an artistic high with the new BLANCMANGE long player ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ easily surpassing the lame 2017 effort by another act who were also showcased on the influential ‘Some Bizarre Album’ in 1981.
Playing host to the second date of the ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ tour was London’s 229, a spacious new venue with an unusually high stage opposite Great Portland Street tube station.
However, blink and you can miss it or end up in an underground club next door also confusingly called 229!
The evening’s opening act saw the welcome return of CURXES, now comprising of just Roberta Fidora and a mysterious multi-tasking bear who veered between bass, keyboards. glockenspiel and string bow. There was an image overhaul for Fidora too, with her previously smouldering brunette look of an extra in BBC2’s ‘The Hour’ now replaced by the aura of a blonde island earth mother.
Easing the crowd in with two oldies, ‘Spectre’ and the more synthly reworked ‘Creatures’, the latter was a reminder of the blitzy electronic tension that CURXES possessed before live drums entered the fray and kind of spoiled everything on their slightly disappointing debut album ‘Verxes’… does that sound familiar?
But from it was the punky rave of ‘What You Want’ which saw the bear join Fidora for a rather surreal dance routine.
Songs from the upcoming album ‘Gilded Cage’ like ‘Let Me Down’ and ‘Misery Mass’ saw Fidora deliver the lyrical anguish to her magnificent booming vocal presence, while closing tune ‘In Your Neighbourhood’ had plenty of synth and sample action recalling the rigid but melodic template with which gained CURXES their initial acclaim when they first emerged in 2011.
When BLANCMANGE took to the stage, Neil Arthur spring a surprise with a stripped down version of ‘The Day Before You Came’. Rearranged as piano ballad accompanied by keyboardist Ogoo Maia, the ABBA song attained a film noir quality thanks to Arthur’s forlorn delivery.
From the old to the brand new, long-time friend and guitarist David Rhodes took to the stage to add his expansive fret work to the excellent Linn driven ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ title track. However, the performance was beset with microphone connection difficulties and when they continued at the start of ‘We Are The Chemicals’, Arthur was the consummate professional and quickly moved over to Maia’s keyboard rig to use his backing vocal mic.
‘Game Above My Head’ instigated the first crowd dancing of the night while ‘Last Night (I Dreamt I Had A Job)’ from ‘Commuter 23’ exerted an esoteric but powerful minimalism. Meanwhile, the aggressively punky ‘Gratitude’ and the more synth laden sedateness of ‘Anna Dine’ showcased the diverse and almost schizophrenic nature of the new album.
The John Peel session evergreen ‘Running Thin’ received a welcome airing while ‘Waves’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ and of course ‘Living On A Ceiling’, all from the ‘Happy Families’ debut, provided moments of familiarity as a reminder of how the majority of the audience got into BLANCMANGE in the first place.
“FEEL ME NOW” someone had shouted out earlier on, to which Arthur wittily responded with a dry “no thanks”… but ‘Feel Me’ eventually did get its turn with the percussive cult classic sounding very much like the hit it never actually was.
And to add to the fun during the song’s breakdown, ad-libs of ‘Everyone’s A Winner’, ‘Pop Muzik’ and ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ were charmingly dropped in.
Another burst of crowd dancing accompanied a passionate rendition of ‘Blind Vision’ to finish the main set complete with Maia’s spacey swirls on a Roland Jupiter 80, before the trio returned to encore with the 1984 hit single ‘Don’t Tell Me’.
With smiles all round from himself, his sidemen and his enthused followers, a brilliant balance of the more recent material combined with the best of the earlier songs resulted in one of BLANCMANGE’s most spirited and entertaining concerts since their return in 2011. It’s interesting to note that the current incarnation of BLANCMANGE has now made more albums than in the initial London Records phase.
As a result of his freer hand, the creative spurt that in 2017 has produced albums as BLANCMANGE and FADER in partnership with Benge (plus another on the way with NEAR FUTURE in 2018) has kept Neil Arthur as a relevant creative force, more than well deserving of the recent patronage by key artists such as John Grant and Moby.
With thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management
‘Unfurnished Rooms’ is released by Blanc Check, available from http://blancmange.tmstor.es/
BLANCMANGE 2017 live dates include:
Southend Chinnery’s (19th October), Southampton 1965 (20th October), Darwen Library (25th October), Newcastle Boiler Shop (26th October), Edinburgh La Belle (27th October), Glasgow Audio (28th October), Bristol The Fleece (2nd November), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (4th November)
BLANCMANGE also play ‘The Tour of Synthetic Delights 2’ with HEAVEN 17, dates include:
Sheffield Foundry (10th November), Liverpool Hangar34 (11th November), Hull Welly (17th November), Manchester Academy2 (18th November), Coventry Copper Rooms (24th November), Norwich Waterfront (25th November)
CURXES open for BLANCMANGE on the Southampton and Bristol dates with the new album ‘Gilded Cage’ released digitally on 20th October 2017, pre-order from https://curxes.bandcamp.com/
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
9th October 2017