Highbury Garage, 18th March 2006
You know how it goes: I bought "Casual Sex in the Cineplex" as a teenager (on vinyl, of course), and was faintly embarrassed by the jokey smuttiness of the title, and yet somehow proud of being grown-up enough to know about casual sex, to know what "one night of mischeva in a yellow Vauxhall Viva" implied, to know the lyrics to songs about leather boots. Sure, on the outside I was a fat kid with acne and oversized glasses, but inside I was a Teenage Punk From Planet Sexylove.
So fa so good (as fellow 90s novelty punk act Carter USM said, before they got embarrassed by their "Unstoppable Sex Machine" epithet and swept it under the acronym). But it wasn't just the image: it was the songs. They were funny, and you could jump up and down to them, and imagine shouting the chorus out really loudly, and dream of the day when some floppy-haired indie kid would be impressed that you knew all the words to the shouty bit at the beginning of "Where's Me Jumper?", even the 'Latin' bit that didn't make any sense.
[looks at addedentry shyly from under an imaginary fringe]
So Saturday night was, at least in part, an exercise in time travel. It was going back home and picking up my teenaged self, giving her a gig ticket and a train ticket and enough cash to buy alcopops, and promising to tell her parents that she was sleeping over at my house if they called. And, for the full-on fairy gothmother effect, transforming her 8-hole Doc Martens into 6-inch-platform New Rocks. Cinderella, you shall go to the gig.
And it could have been purely an exercise in ironic nostalgia; it could have been a sing-a-long from the sidelines, with archly self-deprecating dance-moves. It could have been all that, until Niall strode on stage through the dry ice. White vinyl trousers, shiny black boots, white fur jacket, black tshirt, a string of pearls, a curl of the lip ... and the crowd surged forwards, and before I knew it I was shouting all the words and screaming myself hoarse in the gaps between. Oh, there was still plenty of irony; but it was kitsch, it was camp, it was laughing with Niall as he pretended to tease and we pretended to swoon as our fingertips finally managed to brush his fur coat, his pointed boots.
You've been away a long time. ... Good to see you're laughing, baby.
They played all their hits, a non-stop barrage of three-minute punk/pop songs that kept the temporarily-teenaged twenty- and thirty-somethings pogoing, and kept the stagedivers diving for dear life. It was all every bit as good as I'd remembered or imagined: the token harmonica solo was hammed up, the shoutalong choruses were shouted, and jumpers may well have been lost in the melée of the moshpit. After sustaining a degree of bruising from the barrier that I hadn't managed for a good 6 years, and after my glasses got knocked off for the second time (though remaining miraculously intact), I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and ducked out for a breather... but soon handed my glasses to an indulgently grinning addedentry and launched myself back into the fray again.
Dancing at the disco! Go go go!
Standing at the front and seeing the setlist spoils some of the surprises, but we all knew they were going to end with "Where's Me Jumper"; what we didn't know is that they'd then play another few songs, shouting their defiance of the curfew in between. "We're going to play ALL NIGHT!" ... "They're telling us it's time to stop. But I don't believe in time! Do you believe in time? I NEVER BELIEVED IN TIME!!" I don't think most of us realised until afterwards that Niall had claimed it was curfew-time fifteen minutes early just for the pantomime of playing on in spite of it: that's showmanship. At the end, he threw his string of beads into the crowd at the end. I was too far back to catch them, but when I rejoined lnr at the front as the crowd started to disperse, I picked up a handful of loose beads from the floor, diving between people's boots, diving for pearls.
We bounced back to Highbury and Islington, and caught the tube to King's Cross, and then ran all the way from the entrance of King's Cross to the front four coaches of the furthest platform just in time for the 11:11 train, and I don't think any of us turned into pumpkins (though the crowded train was a bit of a squash).
All in all, the 1990s are proving so much more fun this time round.
[see also: lnr's review.]