The Smyths

Bush Hall, London on Fri 28th Mar 2008

I have this theory about tribute bands. It's quite a simple theory really and is basically summed up by the notion that they seem to work best if the group has now broken up or even better, have died. This means that the comparison with the original band is not overshadowed by the fact that you could be out seeing the real thing rather than a second best copy. To be fair it's more of an opinion than a theory as any rigorous testing would find holes as big as Morrissey’s ego.

Which brings me to The Smyths at the Bush Hall. This seems to be quite an upgrade in terms of the size of venue the band normally plays. I saw them at the Kings Arms in Acton about 3 years ago and that environment suited them well. At first the step up to a rather larger establishment looks like it might count against the band as the place is only about a third full. The band takes the stage and mimic the 5-man line up of latter day Smiths which to most listeners indicated a beefed up sound in comparison the previous vegetarian 4-piece version.

However, once the guys take the stage there is a slight frisson of energy and the opening 'Stop Me' reclaims its soul back from Mark Ronson. It's a clever gambit opening with a song that has been firmly re-established in the modern age and is an effortlessly smart start. The band are tight and the vocals pass the 'close your eyes and you won't know the difference' test with more than enough to spare.

There’s a nice mixture of songs from all Smiths eras – 'Handsome Devil', 'Cemetery Gates' through to 'Girlfriend in a Coma' as well as a smattering of solo Morrissey stuff like 'Irish Blood, English Heart' and a rather sprightly 'Suedehead' with the latter's sparkling guitar replicated fondly. It's announced that it's Will the guitar players birthday but there's no version of 'Unhappy Birthday' to celebrate which is a shame as the original band had that perverse sense of occasion that would have made this a fitting inclusion.

'Still Ill', a song covered by the Arcade Fire at their Ally Pally gigs, generates enthusiastic dancing at the front and it's now clear that this is going to be a joyous fun packed occasion with little concern about what anyone else thinks. The first set ends with a robust 'Barbarism Begins at Home' where Simon Hudson's bass takes centre stage and that hidden funky side of the group is showcased fully.

After a short break we're back into another 18 songs and the triple whammy start of 'You've Got Everything Now', 'What Difference Does It Make' and 'This Charming Man' transforms you back to that time when this group really did deserve their position as number one indie band bar none. Even today listening to the latter with its, "I would go out tonight but I haven't got a stitch to wear" refrain I'm reminded how humorous their lyrics were and also how they summed up a whole generation of guys who really didn't have any stitching ability or any matching fashion sense. The band really do capture the original sound and Graham 'Morrissey' Sampson has a presence that bears up favourably to Mozzers unique demeanour.

The loyal following of Smiths disciples also allows the band to play a selection of less known b sides and album tracks, such as 'Jeanne', 'Is it really so strange?' and 'Some Girls are Bigger than Others'. The Smiths were never just about the singles and any self-respecting fan would own the essential albums rather than be satisfied by any greatest hits disc (great though these are). The fantastic 'There is a Light' engenders the biggest sing along of the night which always makes me smile as hearing a room (half) full of people singing "..And if a ten tonne truck crashes into die by your side, the pleasure the privilege is mine" seems the most unlikeliest one to unite a crowd. Hopefully everyone avoided the pleasure and privilege of a ten tonne truck on their way home. That would spoil the night really.

Before long 'How Soon is Now' is helping to recreate a baggy-dancing vibe and then they’re off. A quick and slightly disappointing 'Interesting Drug' (the song that is) and their is a light on and it's time to call it a day.

In the tribute band league The Smyths would be comfortably in the UEFA cup places and maybe just short of Champions League. They fulfil a much-needed function by allowing a recreation of a legendary band. Whilst Morrissey continues to try to re-boot a certain credibility and relevance in today's market The Smyths have saved the prototype to their own hard drive and can open up an amazing selection of songs for a welcoming generation. There's always room for that.

article by: Simon Soukal

published: 01/04/2008 14:46

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