Live Review: Joe Gideon + Sterling Roswell at Pin Ups, Islington

It’s Friday 31st January 2020, a day that will undoubtedly go down in British history, but as we make our way to Islington the trains and streets seem thankfully clear of gloating leavers and despondent remainers – everything appears to be very much business as usual. However on a day like this it’s difficult to keep national events off of your mind.

First to attempt to do so on the velvet draped stage of the newly rebranded Pin-Ups (making me feel a little mean for joking about the lack of imagination behind previous moniker The Islington the last time I reviewed a show here) is Sterling Roswell.  Clad in a fetching hat and PVC trousers so tight it’s a miracle that he’s able to stamp his Cuban-heeled foot to keep time to his surrealist antifolk tunes.  Accompanied on hand percussion and a sparingly used giant gong (which sparks the night’s only direct Brexit reference) the former Spacemen 3 drummer throws in some bluesy slide guitar, a country song about The Incredible Hulk and a tribute to Cramps singer Lux Interior in a set that draws us all in to his slightly off-kilter otherworld for half an hour – it’s just a shame that we have to return to reality after the final chord is struck.

Stirling Roswell Pin Ups (2) (Medium)

Through his various musical incarnations, with post-rock explorers Bikini Atoll, in sibling duo Joe Gideon and The Shark and now as a solo artist, Joe Gideon has always been a consummate storyteller.  And it’s difficult with today’s events not to read meaning into the apocalyptic tales of new LP Armagideon.  What with ‘The Gaping Yawn’s warning of “primordial bliss upon the cliff where you stand before you fall,” the comeuppance of ‘Rule Roost’s self-serving, power hungry protagonist who tells his progeny “Not for you to be stranded on a boat out at sea,” or the seemingly Cameron-esque subject of ‘Scaredy Cat’ – but perhaps it’s just the 24 hour news coverage playing tricks on the mind.

Gideon has put together a quite astonishing band for the album and live dates with multi-instrumentalist Gris-de-Lin on keys and backing vocals and Bad Seeds drummer Jim Sclavunos behind the kit joining Gideon’s guitar in weaving an unsettling backdrop to these lyrical journeys.  Thankfully Gideon’s rich, sonorous vocal is there to guide us through the dramatic crashes of ‘Comet Coming Down’ and the mechanical grind of ‘Expandible Mandible’, reassuring us that “Storm’s a’coming, lay low, for it will pass.”

They finish on a breathtaking rendition of a track from his Joe Gideon & The Shark days – Gideon’s songs from Bikini Atoll’s ‘Desolation Highway’ right through to his latest works have always been able to bring a tear to my eye, and as the minimal keys twinkle, the drums whisper in the background and Gideon’s resonant baritone consoles us with the chorus refrain of ‘Everything You Love That Much You Will See Again’, the tissues are out once more and after a lengthy ovation we leave the venue, walking bleary eyed into whatever the future holds for us all, feeling just a little bit lighter.

Review and Photography by Paul Maps
Hear Joe Gideon’s appearance on The Joyzine Radio Show

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