Saturday, November 04, 2006

Calling all enthusiasts.

Radio 4 @ The Roadhouse, Manchester (2.11.06)

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. I saw Radio 4 at this very venue almost four years ago, alongside Schneider TM and The Faint and had a rip-snortingly good night out. Since then, however, Radio 4 and I have grown apart. They've released two decidedly pale albums since then, lost a guitarist and I've gained a few grey hairs. Around that time, I was loving the Gotham! album intensely, but I don't think that they've done anything as good as that since.

So it was with pretty low expectations that I approached this gig, with my mantra being, "Well, they were really good live". If that comes across as a bit of a backhanded compliment, that's because it is. I just don't think that you can get worked up about a Radio 4 gig in 2006, especially now that the punk-funk scene that was so prevalent four years ago has become so anachronistic these days, with most of the major players expanding their palette in the intervening years (see Pieces Of The People We Love for example). Radio 4, despite being admirably true to their initial blueprint, have kind of become accidental dinosaurs.

But are they still "really good live"? Well, I'm happy to report that this statement, while not 100% true, still definitely rings that way. R4 work their socks off to get the (political) party rocking. Sweating profusely and throwing slightly mannered, stuttery shapes as if their amps are sending volts through their bodies, they put on a tight show for the main part, with the odd sag and disappointing troughs between the peaks, mostly coming in the shape of songs from the last two records.

The Gotham!-era tracks that they rattle off remind me why I liked them so much in the first place. Buzzing with manic energy, the likes of 'Save Your City', 'Calling All Enthusiasts', 'Struggle' and 'Our Town' (which was dedicated to "the three guys who were here last time" after a quick show of hands) get the most out of both crowd and band, with Anthony Roman and co. barely hiding their joy at playing songs that they've been playing for the last five years.

The newer stuff fares less well, which means that the pace drops whenever these are aired. Watching a band who are often quite efficient at demanding the audience's attention in an aggressive way struggle manfully through the likes of 'This Is Not A Test' or 'Dismiss The Sound' is quite disheartening. Doubly so when 'Dance To The Underground' still sounds as fresh and vital as it did in 2002.

The overall impression you get of the Radio 4 live experience in 2006 is a mixed one. As I said earlier, they sure do work to get you moving, but oftentimes, it feels like a harder task than it should be. There's only so far you can go with wiry, taut, firebrand dance-punk though and the songs that do stray from the well-travelled path suggest that, despite all the perspiration, it's the inspiration that's lacking. Below-par facsimiles of 'Dance To The Underground' may be a bad idea, but no-one should ever have to listen to bad cod-dub. If their next record is as colourless as the last two, there may be no redeeming Radio 4, but at least their affable, often exciting live show (minus the occasional bum notes) should see that they keep trucking on, even if fewer and fewer people care.


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