Babes In Toyland, Gallon Drunk, Leatherface: Astoria, London

THOUGH FRANKIE Stubbs later said he found the football field-sized stage spaces “too tiring”, Leatherface appeared to thrive on this bigger platform. Guitarist Richie Hammond’s face contortions touched new levels of pained expression, particularly when attempting to hold on to his tab and play a solo, while Frankie went shuffle crazy. From the opening knuckle sandwich of ‘I Want The Moon’ onwards, this was a sterling pre-Chrimbo Leatherface workout in a year that had seen a good few of those. The Babes’ Lori Barbero, dreads flailing wildly down the front, certainly approved.

For their dissolute stabs into life’s murkier areas to really spook, Gallon Drunk require ace sound quality, and that’s just what Santa delivered. Wheezing and spitting like a rudely awakened viper, James Johnson is compulsive viewing, not least for his ability to sing and play guitar and keyboards simultaneously, all with the aid of a well-positioned left boot. A sure sign of this band’s star quality is their ability to tap alarming resources of intensity and apparently not even break sweat.

The other star tonight for whom perspiration seemed an alien concept was Babes In Toyland’s Kat Bjelland: an hour’s worth of rabid guitar grappling and primal screams, and at the end she still looks ready to sit down to tea and scones. Scary stuff, especially since this was the Babes as highly strung as never before. Even during some great shows this year, there’s come a point in the set when even the band look a little flattened by their own savagery and the tension is momentarily lost. Hell, not tonight. Three new songs served as a strong mid-set kick for familiar freakouts like ‘Ripe’ and ‘Mad Pilot’, as well as confirming that the Babes’ brutal way with emotion just continues to improve.

Of the debutantes, Lori’s ‘Magic Flute’ stood out, the nagging refrain pinned around the drummer’s tom-tom travels, while merely in its title Kat’s ‘Bruised Violet’ encapsulates much of what makes this band tick — perhaps only Nirvana toy with delicacy and violence more emphatically. For sure, 1991 was a good year for Babes In Toyland, but this one performance suggested that, in ’92, the world could be theirs for the taking.

© Keith CameronNew Musical Express, 4 January 1992

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