November 3rd, 2007


The music that nobody likes

Carter USM + The Sultans of Ping
Brixton Academy, November 2nd

Carter USM split up in 1998. The Sultans of Ping split up in 1996. So you might be forgiven, on seeing the above billing, for having a moment's confusion over what decade we're actually in these days. (You might have been similarly confused if you'd seen me on my way to the gig, in faded black jeans, stripy tights showing through at the ripped knees, black DMs with rainbow laces... only the Dieselsweeties t-shirt ("I liked you better before you sold out") would have given me away as a time-traveller.

The thing is, those of us who were teens and twentysomethings in the nineties are now twentysomethingelses and thirtysomethings with nearly as much money as nostalgia. It's no longer the music that nobody likes; it's the music that everybody with a disposable income liked, and still likes, whether genuinely or just because it's forever associated with the hair they're sorry to be losing. A cynic might claim that it's all just a big cash-in... the fans, fortunately, don't care. There are those who would argue that it's somehow cheating to go to the reunion gig; a certain type of rockism would claim that if you weren't really there, then, well, you weren't really there...

Well, I wasn't 'really there' in the 1990s. I was a spotty teenager with very little money who wasn't allowed to go out very much; there's certainly no way I'd've been allowed to go to Brixton to see a band. (Loughborough Students' Union, Nottingham Poly -- those were just about within reach.) My main experience of most of the bands I liked -- Carter and the Sultans among them -- was home-copied cassettes of tapes from the library or tapes that my cooler friends already had. (Just as well, or I might have been disappointed by the sound quality at the Academy.) So I'm inordinately grateful to the bands who are giving me a chance to see them now. Particularly when -- as both last night's bands did -- they give the audience what they want: all hits, all the time.

And Jim Bob (still cute) and Fruitbat (still not) really did provide all the hits, the full-on Carter experience: complete with videos, strobes, terrifying moshpit of death (which I watched in part-fear and part-envy from the safety of the circle), a brief appearance in shorts and baseball cap from Fruitbat, and even some opening and closing words from the legendary Jon "Fat" Beast. A cheerful (and beerful) crowd chanted "YOU FAT BASTARD" at every available opportunity, and shouted along with every shoutable chorus (and there were lots of them -- if you can remember it, they played it).

I wonder how it feels to sum up your band's entire career in 2 hours of hits before calling it quits for ever. Jim Bob looked sad to be leaving, but to their credit, the band didn't milk the closing moments: one last song, one last storming standing ovation, and then it was left to the Beast to come back onstage and tell us "now fuck off". The video screen showed the closing scene from "The Life of Brian" as the audience filed out. That combination of shoutiness and sentimentalism, blokeyness and bounciness, obscenity and optimism: that's Carter USM.

All in all? It was fun. Silly, bouncy, shouty, fun. I'd've loved it as a teenager; I could still love it as a -- nearly -- 30 Something.