Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dexys: What are they like?

I travelled up to Cambridge the other night to see Dexys showcase their recent LP. Declaring an interest here, this is the only band I've over-played to the point of having to replace the vinyl albums.

But that was a long time ago, and dealing with that short-noise-long-silence gap made the gig a particularly unknown quantity from the outset. Recent interviews with Kevin Rowland have shown us a more equivocal soul than the smash-and-grab merchant behind Burn It Down - but surely the whole point of Dexys was the emotional incontinence and the fanatical self-assurance of one man who Knew He Was Right?

Outgrowing certainty is surely a sign of a welcome maturity in most. But will it really work for Kevin?

This was reflected in the current sound. The tightness and purposefulness of the popular stomping recordings was missing and the 'difficult' 'Don't Stand Me Down' sound dominated - a choice that would have suited the more dedicated fanbase in the hall.

Gone was the punch or the conviction that the three-piece brass section gave the first LP. Gone, also was the twinkling pantomime Celtic pixie-ness or the passionate Caledonian soul of their Too-Rye-Aye phase. Now there's no 'Emerald Express' - just a sole fiddle.

But the new LP is a fine original piece of work. It has the feel of a bunch of musicians, some of whom had been in the same band at different times around thirty years ago, who have recruited some other journeymen to put together a bit of musical theatre, reviving some of their old idioms on the way. In itself, it's funny, and at points, poignant. And this is also true of the song-cycle of unwelcome maturity, infatuation, commitment-phobia and lonely old age.

The first hour of the gig was a track-by-track performance of 'One Day I'm Going to Soar'. And very good it was too. The second hour was more flaky and thin though. I won't spoil it for anyone who has tickets for this tour (I'm going again on Sunday!) by naming most of the chosen tracks, but in that hour we got only a handful of tunes including a painfully protracted 'Come On Eileen'.

A lot of it was glued together with a stilted conversation between Kevin and Pete Williams dressed as a policeman which stretched the audiences willingness to suspend normal expectations to the limit. It was a thin hour.

All in all, it was one last wild waltz and the new LP's showcase was worth the entrance fee alone. But if this show is to run and run, rather than provide us with one final cameo appearance, they need to decide: Either keep this line-up and lean heavily on Don't Stand Me Down for the back catalogue next time, or hire a driving brass section and more Celtic Soul Brothers and The Strong Devoted and tighten the whole set up.

Those of us with almost a tribal loyalty to Don't Stand Me Down often forget what fine LPs the others were.

It's a gamble. Personally, I think that the breadth of Dexys 1980s output is a largely unacknowledged jewel that would grab new audiences by the nuts. It would need a lot of conviction to pull it off, and maybe the new, introspective Mr Rowland would say that he's grown out of that now?

We may never know.