As Derry’s unrelentingly perky pop darlings The Wonder Villains take to the Limelight stage an already giddy crowd are on their side from the get-go. Driven by Eimear’s spirited performance the enthusiasm of the band is more than a little infectious, the audience reciprocating with a response rarely afforded to a support act. Certainly the whimsical vigour of the band might not be everybody’s cup of tea but tonight the audience laps it up, high-octane guitar and crunchy synth beds providing an appropriate aperitif for what is to come.
Although slated to play seminal album Fire in its entirety, Electric Six open their set with a frenetic synth-driven cover of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses. Good. While the 2003 release may be a ferociously underrated classic in the annals of party rock, it is a relief that the Detroit disco-rock weirdoes don’t plan on sticking religiously to their own rules – a move that would betray the unpredictable nature of the band’s quasi-legendary live shows.
There is no denying that the outfit on stage tonight is a different one than the gang of misfits that graced the Empire almost a decade prior. Not only do few original members remain save for synth maestro Tait Nucleus and driving force Dick Valentine but there have been some aesthetic transformations also. Valentine’s trademark slicked back hair has long since been replaced with an altogether shaggier mop and there are unlikely to be any mid-song one-handed push-ups in sight – a staple of earlier gigs.
That’s not to say the changes aren’t welcome or warranted – the original wildbunch have evolved into an altogether weirder affair, now coming across like a Vegas-style house-band from Hell. Perhaps my suspicions are confirmed when three tracks in (and still not one off Fire), Valentine announces that ‘the next song is about accepting Satan as your master’.
Asides like this pepper the performance and are the icing on an already very tasty cake. Valentine introduces himself as composer John Williams, repeatedly refers to the Limelight audience as ‘California’ and goes on a foulmouthed rant about the Scottish, all delivered in the singer’s deadpan throaty drawl. When he bellows that Electric Six are ‘still Northern Ireland’s premier band, still involved in politics’ I’m surely not the only one who rather wishes the latter was true.
By the time the ‘Six launch into ‘Dance Commander’ a crowd who are old enough to know better have been worked into a frenzy with the band faring similarly, sharp suits dripping in sweat. Thankfully revisiting Fire seems to be as much of a joy for Valentine et al as it is for the audience, Mexican waves accompanying break-out single ‘Danger! High Voltage!’ and a purple lothario glow illuminating the singer’s visage on ‘I Invented The Night’. As synths squeal on this particular jam, Valentine’s 40-a-day rasp approaches a full on metal growl – appropriate enough as guitarist Johnny Na$hinal wails on a spikey BC Rich.
Some retrospective Tom Waits inspired keys wind down proceedings before the good-time college rock of fan favourite ‘I Buy The Drugs’ rounds off the set good and proper. However, after a Sid James-worthy chant of ‘we want Dick!’ the band return for a double-encore of self-confessed deep cuts ‘Clusterfuck’ and ‘Germans in Mexico’.
‘We can change the world!’ shouts Valentine before the band leaves the stage. While this tongue-in-cheek cry might not be any more believable coming from the frontman than Bono, there’s no smoke without fire. Peter McCaughan