Monday, 30 August 2010

It's hard to be engaging when the things you love keep changing

THE WEDDING PRESENT - Holmfirth Picturedrome

It may be a coincidence, but The Wedding Present are playing in Holmfirth in the same week that the final episode of "Last Of The Summer Wine" (which is filmed here) is being broadcast. I can't imagine many Wedding Present followers, or David Gedge himself, being fans of the show, but it is possible to draw comparisons between the band and your grandma's favourite sitcom. Both have been around for an impressive length of time with roughly the same fanbase for their entire existence, both have lost nearly all of their original members and even hardcore fans would probably admit that neither are as good as they used to be.

This is the first time I've visited Holmfirth and you may be surprised to hear that despite the sleepy image depicted on TV, it has a decent-sized music venue with a variety of punk and indie bands playing every week. The Picturedrome, as the name suggests, is a beautiful old cinema. As it was designed for showing films, the view of the stage is good wherever you stand in the venue. However, perhaps the best aspect of the Picturedrome is the unlimited supply of meat pies given away free at the bar.

Before The Wedding Present take to the stage, we are treated to the support band, which is none other than… Cinerama, David Gedge's other project. I'm not certain of the regular line-up of Cinerama, but for tonight at least, it contains exactly the same people as The Wedding Present, although a couple of them swap positions between the support and headline slots. This suggests that Gedge was either trying to save money by not paying a second act, or it got to the day of the gig and he realised he'd forgotten to book a support band at all. I've not really listened to Cinerama beyond their first album, but I suppose what they play tonight could be classed as "Wedding Present lite". It's pleasant enough to get us in the mood for the main act, without any of the songs sticking in my head after they've finished.

The Wedding Present are here to mark the 20th anniversary of their "Bizarro" album by playing it in its entirety, just as they did with "George Best" three years ago. "Bizarro" was the band's major label debut, but despite this, contained some of their noisiest moments, and there has always been a close battle between this and "George Best" to qualify as the fans' favourite.

As with the "George Best" tour, the featured album is left until the end of the show, with a handful of (slightly) newer numbers first. The set opens with "Corduroy" and "Dare", both from the following album "Seamonsters". The next two or three songs make little impression on me. One of them, I'm fairly certain, was the mid-1990s song "Go Man Go" and I'm guessing the others were either new or from the last two albums, which I have but never listen to.

The contrast between new and old Wedding Present is apparent as soon as they kick into "Brassneck", the opening number from "Bizarro". The band were always known for Gedge's trademark 100mph guitar thrashing, but there has been little scope for that on the last three or four albums. Tonight, he shows he still has it in him and at times, he seems to be playing even faster than on the original record. The highlights for me are the songs that are perhaps my favourites from that album anyway; "Brassneck", "Take Me", where his guitar playing makes up about 90% of the song, and "Bewitched", where he shows that he can play a slow song and make it interesting.

The set ends, as expected, with "Be Honest" and then Gedge informs those who didn't know already that "we don't do encores." I have no problem with this; I prefer it if the band get to the point and then go, rather than keeping us hanging around wondering if they're coming back for the third time. I also feel tonight that any other songs played after the "Bizarro" material would be a bit of an anti-climax.

So instead, I'm left to reflect on The Wedding Present's role in my life. While the last 40 minutes of tonight's show were excellent, I've also been reminded how I don't really need any Wedding Present material from the past 10 years or so. While I would obviously not expect Gedge to have remained in the same place since 1990, the problem from my point of view is that he has mellowed just a bit too much. This is apparent in both his writing and his delivery. The early Wedding Present releases were filled with anger and bitterness, and provided the soundtrack to every failed relationship I've had. It seemed that Gedge wrote most of these songs about his own experiences. Now that he's older and happily married with a house in California, it's probably not reasonable to expect him to continue writing about betrayal and teenage angst. Unfortunately, many of his newer songs don't seem to be about much at all. It's as if he has picked words that sound nice together without worrying about how the listener will relate to them. Thankfully there are not many of those songs tonight, but I'm reminded that I have three Wedding Present albums too many at home.

This is always something of a dilemma for me: just what should I expect from long-running bands? As always, I'd welcome any readers' thoughts on this. Would you prefer your favourite band to make one or two classic albums then disappear and leave you with the memories? Or to continue turning out a constant stream of releases that never come up to the standard of the first few? Perhaps some of the people in Holmfirth tonight have matured with Gedge and are at a similar place in their lives, so they can relate to his newer songs more easily than I can. I'm aware that I have a tendency to cling on to an artist's early material, which I guess they're not especially keen for me to do or they wouldn't bother writing the new songs. As Gedge says himself in "Brassneck", "it was different then and that's all in the past."

If they keep to their recent touring pattern, I expect The Wedding Present to be back in 2011 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "Seamonsters". That may well be the last time I ever see them live.

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