I recently saw a post from Kenny Harris, saying his favourite gig was October ’85 at The Marquee in London. And mine, as I take great pains to repeat!, is the Mean Fiddler in September ’88.
So this post is an invitation to hear other GOAT Gig stories or memories.
I’ll kick it off by saying I believe a Messiahs gig was and wasn’t a performance.
It was a performance in the sense of a stage play, in that they never broke the ‘fourth wall’ to interact with the audience. The Messiahs didn't play for us, they played at us! Tony Moon’s film clip backdrops of race car smashes and dive-bombing fighter planes gave us the visual clues. The band have shaken off their fins and crawled up from the orchestra pit to take over the stage with absolute authority. They blasted out the numbers with a few beats between and not relenting till the last song when they’d suddenly vacate the stage. There was no room, or need, for ‘banter’.
At the same time, the Messiahs live were anything but a performance. We may have been in the same room as them, but on different planets. Or indifferent at times, when Bill would turn and stare at the movie behind Kenny, his back to the audience, and completely zone out for a whole song. I could too during certain epic numbers. It could be truly mesmerising. Any band can play loud, but very few are electric. And it’s gotta be real to spark electricity. The Messiahs pushed real up to 11.
So – my recollections on the Mean Fiddler. Great intimate little venue in north London. Nice wooden balcony upstairs, where I watched them from the previous night. This time I’d gone with flatmates and several ciders and ended up in the mosh pit in front of the stage, mic gingerly in hand right in front of some screaming monitors. All we could hear was the wail of Bill’s guitars at first but the ears adjust and just about stood up to the onslaught. My tape deck didn’t. During ‘Twin Cadillac’ I must have spilt cider onto the heads and it rendered the whole song a muffled mess. It came right for the rest of the gig so most of it stands on record still.
I remember before the show a mum bouncing in with her daughter, in Flintstones T-shirts, yabba dabba babbling away excitedly before the band came on. A couple of ear shattering chords of ‘You’re Gonna Change’ and I turned and never saw them again! The films on the backdrop could transfix you during long epic songs, and Bill would get that thousand yard stare at times and gaze out over the heads of the audience to somewhere yonder. I have no idea how Kenny’s arms stayed attached after a gig – the man beat seven shades out of his kit. Chris underlined the whole thing with mean moody basslines and backing vocals, and the three of them were tight as a drum yet loose enough to jam when the mood hit them. There was also the intrigue of hearing a new number, ‘Watusi Wedding’. I never knew what it was till Totally Religious came out. In the show it featured some amazing wig-out fuzz guitar and trademark hand-cupped-ear, free-style vocals. Another nice bit was a slow, lilting version of ‘President Kennedy’s Mile’. Even though they looked like they REALLY meant business, they could still play around with their tunes. They frequently threw chords and lyrics in from other songs, played with the tempo, and Bill was forever finding new sounds.
In typical style the show ended with an earth-shattering crash to finish the encore of ‘Happy Home’, Bill muttering “Last song…” or something, and they just walked off stage.