Billed as the band "who calm things a little with music for Arizona skylines" wouldn't be so hard to fathom, but Arizona can have some pretty ferocious storms sometimes. I'll explain myself. When the Vertical Smile started their set with the monstrously loud "Luke's Tune" and closed it with an intense wig-out, the calm was the three songs inbetween, and the sound of mellow jazz trip hop that followed their stage exit. All the guitarists shared vocal duties tonight which switched the centre of attention around for each song, while the Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo's (and maybe the Telstar Ponies too) more famous jam-noise moments seemed to have influenced the tremendous calamity of noise, feedback and self indulgent onstage behaviour for their raucous instrumental closer "If You Don't Smile, I'll Make You Cry." From where I was standing, the only object visible to me was the top of the drummer's head, who refused to acknowledge that he was performing to an audience at all, and smashed his cymbals and drum kit around with an energy that could only possibly be accomplished by either illicit substances or a substantial amount of natural adrenalin. All I can say is that either way, that must have been one hell of a comedown afterwards! For the record, the songs inbetween the storm were slow, thoughtful and docile in comparison, and with regard to the subject matter in the lyrics, a view of pessimism, cheated emotion and alienation seemed to be on the minds of the writers. At the end of the night it seemed as if "If You Don't Smile..." was a kind of cathartic experience for everyone at The Red Eye. I like that.
Sometimes you get put in situations where you can only perform better...this gig at the Hope and Anchor was on an acoustic night. (!!!???) Don't understand? Well, the Vertical Smile ) are far from acoustic! They all love the Gene Clark, Alex Chilton, Gram...Bob Dylan.....acoustic tunes, don't get them wrong, but did you ever see Mercury Rev or Spaceman 3 play acoustic? Neither have I! Luckily, the set was mellow, so it fit right in regardless. Sandwiched between an acoustic bluesy performance by Lebo Gang, and the spoken word/video art of Ronnie Fraser Monroe, came the sounds of lazy Sunday rain in an Arizona desert. "Nothing Lasts That Long", the first performance of a dreamy instrumental, kinda set the scene. Lots of sounds, lots of...surround sound...you could only be surrounded. "One Big Comedown" this time around had a new ending, a bit more length, giving you your chance to wig out. "A Return To Satisfy" bridged the gap between two vocal performances. From the humming sound came "Dreaming Neon", another virgin song, which Paul debuted his softly spoken voice on. Built around his vocals is a guitar lullaby that Elvis could feel comfortable with (probably), unless you're bringing the house down in Las Vegas...or something. And finally : "Luke's Tune" could only bring the house down in North London as this was loud! Louder than it's ever been, but better than it's ever been. Mischievous was what the band had become, opting to play this tune rather than substitute it for a quieter one. The Vertical Smile ) acoustic night had drawn to a close. The best gig yet!
"ONCE MORE! THIS TIME WITH FEELING!" is something Daniel Johnson once sang (at least he does on that Shimmy Disc II Video Collection). So the Vertical Smile returned to the Bull & Gate to play with like-minded souls this time...Ovahead and Slot Jockey. The curtain raiser once again was "Lemon Hart Fun," the drummer enjoying the experience this time as his snare drum wasn't broken, but we were all waiting for the premier of "One Big Comedown", a tune that starts of quite simple, with a consistent beat, gentle rhythm guitar and smooth bass. Suddenly in the middle, the song explodes into a Reni style manoeuvre, the tempo is upped and the guitars start to purr, when just as soon as you've acknowleged this change, you're being slowed down into submission and the song has taken you on a small Alton Towers rollercoaster - enough to make you want more....we wanted more! "Luke's Tune", which seems to be a crowd pleaser at the moment, brought that quieter moment to an end, and if this is a song that the Vertical Smile want people to lose their minds to, then they have chosen correctly. Once again, they follow up a riot of instruments with a soft song, "A Return To Satisfy." Loose yourself while you can cos that jamming intro to "You Only Jam Twice" starts just as the last chords of "A Return To Satisfy" are strummed by Paul, and finally, through walls of feedback and crashing cymbals you're left once again, stunned by the Vertical Smile.
Appearing somewhat anonymously after three indie-punk bands that couldn't have made the Vertical Smile stand out anymore than they did, the band began. David drew back the curtains of feedback for the start of "Lemon Hart Fun." Steve chipped in with a stair climbing chord sequence to which Paul added a spice of bass which Amos lightly sprinkled with a flavour of ride and crash percussion. The song gathered momentum and much like a black hole, swallowed you in, well, to those who were pure. After a blissful crescendo, "A Return To Satisfy" surfaced from the ashes of feedback, creating an intimate bond with the soft verses and stop-start choruses. As the last verse pulled in, a harmonica drowned in reverb sent out a blues-folky message of comfort, reassuring you that you are never alone. There are two sides to every coin, and the Vertical Smile flipped sides for "Luke's Tune," which could have easily been a part of a Spaceman 3 set with it's mysterious echoes and calamity of fuzz/noise. They were flying so high at this point, how would they get down? Good enough for any comedown is "Sad Slide." Relaxed, lazy, peaceful, guitar chill out......back to Earth, and into "You Only Jam Twice," which is pretty much a free for all as it lacks a concrete structure and length. A rocking way to end a gig, even though it's half a world away from being a 'rock song' but good enough for a finale which captures the essence of the Vertical Smile. The Vertical Smile ) were playing at the Bull & Gate, Kentish Town, London. The band would like to thank the soundman that night.....