Friday, 27 March 2009

The blacks of their eyes: Joe Gideon & The Shark

The Borderline feels eerie as we enter out of the dark rain. There's water in my shoes, and some kind of sludgy blues riffing oozing up the stairwell. Down in the room, there's a large empty semi circle of floor in front of the stage, despite the fact that it's packed; that'll be the toxic vibes of one Duke Garwood, frowning into the mic through his wispy dead man's hair. His drummer is rigor mortis stiff, like a reanimated stick man from the Addams Family band. The guitar lines tangle and stretch out, not quite at home under the bright lights of London, in search of a vast sandy expanse and an evil red sky. We watch them on a TV screen, grainy and smudged, and it feels like we're in some purgatorial waiting room foot-tapping to the house band, bedeviled with confusion and peace after flatlining in A&E.

Joe Gideon hits the stage to a huge roar from the packed out room, grinning from behind his whiskers as he straps on his guitar. It starts slowly, fearlessly, with some spoken word set to scuttling cymbal touches and echoing chords. There's no pretense here, no need to hit it hard from the start, no shock and awe tactics. Joe Gideon & The Shark don't need that shit. They have enough magic coursing through them to hypnotize the room at their own pace.

There's deceptively casual musicianship here, and dark poetry; knowingly corny one-liners and stool pigeon profundity; tall tales and sad stories set to grinding blues and sweet piano reverb. Gideon speaks and sings in an affected mid-Atlantic drawl that should be bothersome but somehow isn't, staring into the middle distance with clear blue eyes and a serious, handsome face. "Kathy Ray" is introduced as a true story, and builds slowly in a dramatic arc to a joyful gospel choir infused finale. "DOL" is dark and insistent, reminiscent of the Bad Seeds in the good old days.

The Shark (aka Viva) drums like a ballerina, raising a sound like thunder, whirling, posing, striking purposefully with glee spilling out across her face at each crash of a cymbal. She never slips into a holding pattern, wriggling inside the rhythm, every song brightened by a new trick or sliver of ingenuity - whether looping vocals into a mighty wall of harmony, battering out ringing piano crescendos between songs, deftly hammering away at both drums and xylophone, or simultaneously playing guitar with her hands and knocking out a tight bass-drum-hi-hat beat with her feet. And these acrobatic feats look so easy in her hands - Viva visibly thrives on playing music, swatting it around like a plaything, a many-limbed Shiva injecting jolts of performative poise and physical drama throughout.

The teeming, adoring crowd groans loudly when Gideon announces the last song, 'Anything You Love That Much, You Will See Again'. It's a power-ballad tearjerker addressed directly to the heartbroken that should be cheesy, but instead comes off as spine tinglingly beautiful. Tonight, this band play with smiles on their faces, and they don't put a foot wrong. The reason is pretty simple. Joe Gideon & The Shark are the real thing.

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