Kicking Against the Pricks

, 26 May 2011

Like it or not, Ian Svenonius pretty much has only one act. In his over two decades of anti-authoritarian rabble-rousing, you could have seen him flinging his slight frame about the stage, from his hazardous days with the legendary Nation of Ulysses right up to the ‘Gospel yeh-yeh’ of The Make Up. Now, with his latest outfit Chain & the Gang he continues his personal crusade of Marxist Evangelism-via-garage/funk fusion at The Dome in London’s North.

In celebrating his quest “to create a space of liberation where anything’s possible”, San Francisco’s Grass Widow were welcomed to the stage to support their mythologising punk comrade with a comparatively moderate take on musical escapism. Guitarist Raven Mahon (whose day job involves ‘sustainable carpentry’) carries the rhythm and dazzling timing, along with drummer Lillian Maring and bassist Hannah Lew, all within the idiosyncratic instrumentation and complex vocal harmonies shared by all three.

The difference between Grass Widow and the headliner Chain & the Gang is of course, theatricality, as punk king, performer and musical satirist, Ian Svenonius did his stretches in the hallway in a crisp orange suit, with matching handkerchief, unmolested by his doubtless hardcore following. Appearing on stage to the track of what sounded like The Supreme’s cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’, his four-strong backing band was appropriately dressed in black and white-striped convict uniform –save a vivacious red-head who played Svenonius’ partner-in-crime in funk-inspired call and response play.

Ian @ Space Gallery

The most spirited member of the Grass Widow trio, drummer Maring, had the honour of an extravagant introduction to the man himself over soulful rhythms, while he made a conscience effort in thanking her for the kind opening. It’s easy to see where his Chain & the Gang’s conscious political heart lies, as Svenonius sardonically referred to the latest eruption and disruption from Iceland announcing, ‘When the volcano blew up, we realised that we’re stuck together… and you know what? That’s cool”. He even made a point of checking the time and cutting his set short so his adoring audience could make it in time for the last trains but that didn’t stop them demanding an encore.

In wading through the parody and cynicism of songs like ‘Trash Talk’ and ‘(I’ve Got) Privilege’ no one and nothing is safe from Svenonius’ sharp tongue. The Queen, Barack Obama and even ‘that volcano’ got it, while eerie parallels with the state of the world today were made as the band chanted, “Kill the pig, spill his blood” over a discordantly grooving rhythm between songs. There were overt references to an unjust war throughout songs like ‘It’s A Hard, Hard Job (Keeping Everybody High)’ and further blows leveled at the powers that be in ‘Reparations’. There are obvious comparisons with the presence and drama of one Nick Cave, minus the macho posturing. However, Svenonius is not so much preoccupied with throwing around his testosterone but spreading a brazen message of love and anarchy –even if he is preaching to the converted.

(Ian played last Tuesday @ The Dome, Tufnell Park, London)