- Event date: 18th September 2003
- Venue: Heaven, Charing Cross, London
I sat near the entrance to start with, positive that someone I knew would have made it to this gig. Those friends who didn’t get tickets before it sold out and said they’d "try to get in" seemed a little beyond hope as soon as I was approached outside Heaven by punters looking for tickets before the touts got to me. Then someone who looked uncannily like a friend/girlfriend-in-passing from way back in Leeds came in—the same eyes, but much slimmer and dark instead of blonde hair. I was wavering on my decision that it wasn’t her when she caught my eye and instantly recognised me. So, drinks all round and some hasty catching up on 6 or 7 years…
I mention this by way of explaining that I totally missed supports Rory Phillips, Cobra Killer, and Johnny Slut‘s interspersed DJ sets. I was tucked away in a room talking house prices, having kids, resource depletion and mobile phone photos of old friends. The occasional, ever-drunker wanders through to the toilets were pleasant, exciting trips through crowds of stunning-looking, excited people, but none of the music—whether caught in snatches on the way to piss, or piped through to the bar where we were ensconced—grabbed me enough to make me think about relocating.
But, at some hazy point, we decided to get down there for Peaches. She comes on with a long blonde wig, red box guitar and a deep bass pulse, over which she grinds a persistent, buzzing riff. It arcs around us as the pink and blue lights swirl and Peaches sticks the guitar out from her crotch, mocking and glorifying standard male cock-rock into something new. Her new album, Fatherfucker, she describes as "70% more ‘herm’" (her/him/hermaphrodite) than her last. It seems to me like a great thing to do, to drag (no pun intended) this masculinised female stuff so far out of lesbian subculture into public consciousness that there’s now posters just down the road from me on Blackhorse Road showing Peaches in her lingerie-and-beard pose. Women have rocked as hard as men before, but no one else comes to mind as having so explicitly brought the underlying issues to the surface. In a 1997 interview, Phil Hine remarked on how our culture’s "very limited in what we accept as androgynous. I mean, Ziggy Stardust is an acceptable androgyne. Is a woman with a beard an acceptable androgyne?" Maybe a little more so thanks to Peaches…
Things explode into ‘I Don’t Give A ….’, and soon some female cohorts join her on stage, sporting big pink strap-ons for the jokey ‘Shake Yer Dix’. I’m very slightly crestfallen by this point, because what totally bowled me over about the other time I saw Peaches, last year at 93ft East on Brick Lane, was how her presence, energy and raw noise very organically galvanised the crowd into a thing unto itself, a seething mass that seemed to writhe and pulse to rhythms that no individual had much of a bearing on. Here, I felt the burden of accumulated hype that seems to paralyse London crowds. Acts have to be here at just the right time to tap into the London beast. Too early, not enough exposure, and you’re nothing, worth some applause, but why waste the energy if there’s no projected media vibe to feed off? Too late, too much exposure, and you’re confronted with a "Come on, then, impress me!" attitude that kills spontaneity.
Peaches takes to the crowd, climbing up the elevated walkway down the side of the venue and balancing precariously from the railings, and only me and a few others a lost enough in the music to not turn dutifully to gaze at the spectacle. I guess her new album had only just come out, so not many people were familiar with the tracks—and the majority of her set was new stuff. A friend told me he wasn’t coming to see her because even though he really enjoyed the vibrancy of the time he did see her, he thought she was a "one-trick pony". In a way I agree. But this woman has some trick: to whip a crowd into a frenzied riot of fun, benevolent aggression and forceful lust for life. Anyone coming along to hear their favourite song is surely missing the point.
So anyway, things kick off here and there. I lose my glasses, as at the last Peaches gig and the last time I saw Alec Empire. It was less of a miracle than in those mad mosh-pits that I managed to find them on the floor straight away, but I shoved them in my pocket nonetheless. Mostly, when a bit of moshing kicked off, a space was quickly cleared to make room for the nutters like me who actually wanted to throw their bodies around, like a timid, too-cool-for-that anti-vortex. It seemed natural that the only other people down there really letting rip, in a state that’s open to injury (like Peaches, whose legs were covered in bruises at the start of the night) but lacking any will to injure, were mostly women. Here’s to you!
What really got me was the screen that was brought onstage. Suddenly there’s a life-size projection of Iggy Pop there, for Peaches to do their duet ‘Kick It’ with. Everyone went mad. This, together with the by now familiar phalanx of digital photographers at the front, who always seemed to feed more deeply from the show than the crowd, cemented a perception that’s been slowly mounting of late. The image really is gaining ground on the flesh. We should be worried, especially if we don’t fully see what this observation means. For myself, I decided to ban photos from my gig reviews.
The blinding, white-hot barbarism of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ burned this away for me. Then Peaches tried to get a karaoke thing going for the track that everyone seems to love—’Fuck The Pain Away’. (I doesn’t seem to be anywhere near her best to me. Maybe it makes more sense when you’ve someone to fuck the pain away with—cue mournful violins). Well, I couldn’t have sung any better than the people who tried, but Peaches’ reaction was instant: "They were a lot better in Glasgow." I didn’t doubt it for a second.
To cap it all, both of her dives into the audience to crowd-surf ended quickly with everyone under her collapsing down before she’d been carried even 5 feet from the stage. "I’m glad I’m not down there!" she said when was was back onstage, and for someone at the back they might have imagined she was relieved to have emerged in one piece from chaos. It was easy to see from the front that she was just being tactful about how limp we all were.