Where: Carling Academy, N1 Centre, Islington (London)
Support band: yes
There is an old adage that says that if you can't say anything nice, it's better to say nothing at all -- and I've thought about keeping schtumm; but then, too many of you knew I was going...
How best to describe the experience that was James Marsters in concert last Friday? I can be brief and capture my review in two words exactly, and those words would be: entirely forgettable. But that would perhaps be too brief and unbalanced.
Technically, I suppose JM is well able to play the guitar and sing a bit (and since I can't do either, I have to give him credit for this at least); but his musical offerings lack the elusive quality that makes me prick up my ears and recognise a true musician. His songs are okay-ish (I'm sure he'd agree he's not the greatest lyricist in the world), but kind of formulaic and none of them sound particularly inspired or engaging or even the slightest bit interesting...'bland and unremarkable' is how I would describe them.
He drew a good crowd, though -- the Carling Academy was filled to capacity with an uncritical audience of mainly squealing fangirls (and their mothers and grandmothers!), who unfortunately kept screaming for him to take his shirt off; a request he declined by joking it was half-off already -- but the fact that it was made, vociferously and repeatedly, shows that whatever they may have let themselves be overheard as saying while queueing to get into the venue, few were actually serious about supporting him in his musical aspirations.
And if I'm totally honest, I'd have to say that neither was I -- having already had a taste of what he was like in Ghost of the Robot last year (twice!), and having heard downloads of his Civilized Man-album prior to going to England, I must admit my expectations weren't high; and I viewed the gig mainly as an opportunity for a night out with calove and bogwitch -- which ensured that I enjoyed myself nonetheless, although mainly through playing I Spy while waiting for the support band to go on stage. Which they did, eventually. They weren't bad, either -- nothing out of the ordinary, but solid in their genre and endeavour. The singer admitted they had never played to such a large audience before and would we mind if they took a photograph to show to her mum? That ensured her the audience's goodwill and for most of their time on stage, the fangirls behaved, only losing their patience after having had to sit/stand through an interminable song about a man called Frank who refused treatment after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, happy to be reunited with his wife of 52 years who'd died before him (in real life, the singer explained, she was a doctor in a hospital).
JM came on after another long-ish wait, in a shirt open to the navel, and opened with -I think it was- Every Man Thinks That God Is On His Side...although it might have been For What I Need, all his songs sound a bit same-y to me. He talked about breaking the E-string on his guitar earlier and how that's not supposed to happen ever, and said it was good to be in London again, wished someone a happy birthday when they asked for it, and seemed comfortable enough on stage to fluff his way through a song he'd just written without too much embarrassment or apology. I was at the back, propping up the bar, catching glances of his performance in the mirror; but frankly, much more interested in and amused by the antics of the young bartender whose first ever night at the Carling it was, and who needed my help remembering the prices of drinks and where to find the bottle opener.
The gig lasted some 40-45 minutes, after which we wasted no time hanging about: bogwitch had to get back to her place and calove and I to our respective hotels. It wasn't the worst gig I've ever been, but I've seen and heard enough now to know that I will never ever go to a JM musical extravaganza again. The theatrical thing at Hallow'een, though? Most likely.