Love Minus Zero
Live at Harrods (The Roslins)
‘Good evening, Selfridges!’ At least Jamie Perrett, bless his cheeky chops, is unfazed by the deeply unusual audience demographic. It could be stranger, for instance, if Damien Hirst bisected a Sloane Ranger and entitled the results ‘The Impossibility of Punk in the Mind of Someone from Kensington’
As it is, excited indie kids and even more excitable veteran punks and new wavers bob around, utterly outnumbered by lots of people who look like they might know Kate Middleton and are probably discussing the fact. Love Minus Zero take this in with just the right mix of disdain and attitude and launch into one of their tasteful cover versions.
Rewind half an hour: The Roslins have the look, the poses, the timing. The bassist hits her backing vocals spot on. If you went to the police to report a mind-blowing punk-pop quartet and knocked up a photofit, they might get pulled in for questioning, but it’d be a bum rap. Lara Smiles seems awfully bashful for an aspirant diva, and the songs are rather apologetic.
‘Derivative,’ says the dandyish gent on my right; ‘Donnas,’ says the Polish girl on my left, by way of comparison, and I go in search of the luxury washrooms before I miss something interesting. Their last song follows me down the hall sheepishly.
Is that a version of ‘Sway’, that jolly rat-pack number about marimba rhythms, coming to save us? Yes, it is, and LMZ (Jamie in particular) are performing it in the style of a Nick Cave brawl circa 1983. They will later close the show with a similar romp through 50 Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P.’, just before Environmental Health rules shut the evening down, followed by the cancellation of the remaining Harrods Rocks gigs following noise complaints, disappearing Dom Perignon, and whispered rumours of shenanigans. It’s just as well; Towers of London would have trashed the joint and thought it clever. This is far better.
Possibly available for weddings (they also crash through ‘Wolfman’, Pete Doherty’s shout-out to his sometime music and drug buddy), LMZ aren’t just a bloodthirsty tribute act. ‘Girl from the West Country’ and ‘Keep it Hid’ are ska-influenced frolics that don’t build to rousing choruses so much as collapse into them. They have no right to hold together, but they do – just – in the tumbledown way that makes the greatest live rock ‘n’ roll.
‘Psychobaby’, the single transparently is aimed at former employer Doherty. The Perrett brothers were original members of Babyshambles. It ended badly. The song, though, is as instant as ever, and more than usually bilious.
They’ve brought dad along as well, which is quite an event when dad is Peter Perrett, a figure of near-myth for twenty-five years. His elusiveness, largely down to drugs and illness, occasionally turning up like Halley’s Comet with something brilliant (1994 was the last occasion) is part of the story, though not all of it. The Only Ones were always the most literate and romantic band of what, for brevity, we’ll call the punk era, whose vision went far deeper, emotionally and spiritually, than ‘smash the system’ or ‘fuck the Queen’. While they didn’t reach the commercial heights, those who loved them did so fiercely. There was and is no one like them. Stir in the injustice that they never, ever made it while so many brazen lumps did, and you have a sturdy cult.
You do know one of their songs, oh yes, you do – ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ has had a dozen inexplicably failed tilts at the chart and is currently tilting again courtesy of a phone ad. Peter and LMZ play it, naturally. At the sound of the thrilling four-note intro, a ring of camera phones goes up, like some sort of tech henge, a portal into that parallel world where people did buy the damn thing after all.
It is, of course, unarguably great, a pop song for the centuries, and to hear Perrett play it live is an uncanny treat. There’s also a fierce run through ‘The Beast’, perhaps the darkest of Perrett’s visions, written before he succumbed in full to heroin addiction, but grim with foresight.
That’s not all; there are two new songs. Whether he’s written five or a hundred of these in his seclusion is something only Peter and those close to him know. What anyone here can tell is this; while physically frail, he’s still got it. The lyrical acuity, melodic ear and minor miracles of rhythm and scansion are all intact. Both display the tenderness often overlooked in Perrett’s songs by those who saw only the dark poet.
The set-up, with Peter making two separate appearances in LMZ’s set, works to everyone’s advantage. He can have a breather, and it highlights the band’s versatility. They don’t sound much like the Only Ones, though Jamie gives great venom, but they give life to ‘Planet’, ‘Beast’ and the rest, comfortably switching back and forth from their own stylings.
Don’t be fooled by their raucous aspect. These boys are serious musicians; Jamie and Eliot Vernon trade rhythm and lead roles fluidly, and Peter Jr is a stylish and skilled bass player, forming a solid rhythm section with Oskar Starski.
As this goes to press, the Only Ones are reforming after twenty-six years; maybe the dark fairytale will have a happy ending after all. Catch them, and catch LMZ, who are far more than just ‘sons of’.
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