Gay For Johnny DeppEdit this event
If hair alone won an audience, Frank Turner would be playing Enormo-Domes on both sides of the Atlantic. The singer’s is wild – knotted, shaggy, incredibly long – and, appropriately, so is his performance: ‘livewire’ is an overused noun in such circumstances, but here it’s entirely accurate. Guitars – six-string and its four-string bass brother – are throttled either side of his wiry frame; behind, drums are beaten like they want to die. In 24 hours, they may as well do just that.
Million Dead’s penultimate show always promised fireworks; when they came, retinas were scarred in seconds and ears popped like crisp packets.
At the time of writing the London quartet are yet to deliver the final chapter in their too-brief history, a parting soiree at Southampton’s Joiners Arms public house. Such unglamorous surroundings suit the band – they are compositionally primal, they do sweat and swear, and your mother most certainly wouldn’t like them – yet one can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. Disappointment in the people here, tonight – those that have sold out the band’s final hometown show – for not sticking up for the band sooner, for not propelling them into that higher tier of commercial success (and critical admiration, if we’re being honest) that they so deserved. The songs are all here, violent on the surface but housing hearts of melody and passionate lyrical outpourings; the singer possibly isn’t one hundred per cent with us such is his thrasing, but pauses to thank those that have helped them go this far with genuine sincerity.
Tonight’s wall-to-wall crowd is split, though, as a great many have come out of pure curiosity: Gay For Johnny Depp, four New Yorkers with a penchant for pro-OTT punk-rock tomfoolery, warm the stage up for the departing Dead with no little impact. Front man (M)Arty ‘Leopard’ is soon stripped to his ‘nad gravy-freckled crusties, leaning into the crowd of intrigued eyes and ears with reckless abandonment. He’s screaming something about wanting his Johnny; please, please, just let him have it so he’ll put his trousers back on.
Essentially a one-man affair on record, GFJD are a tight and glaringly talented live act: Arty’s antics aside, the musicians are restrained in concentration, their toss-away punk spaffed out with surprising conviction. Yes, there’s some crotch-rubbing front-of-stage fumbling, but strip the aesthetic impact from the equation and GFJD are still worthy of one’s dollars and cents. They’re gone almost as quickly as they arrived, though; few songs stretch to attention-wandering lengths.
The chants for Million Dead begin as soon as the Americans slip from the crowd’s collective field of vision; when they arrive, the cheer nearly strips the ceiling of its plaster. In the ever-intensifying heat, the band stamp their feet down from the start and refuse to let up – it’s fifth gear all the way ‘til close of play. Sweat pours but smiles remain, and even the elbow-throwing mosh monkeys seem happier than usual, the sound of bone against bone met with hugs rather than hostility. While Million Dead’s songs are largely formulaic in their structure – their cues are widespread throughout contemporary punk outfits -–the delivery is frighteningly forceful. Rarely has the Underworld seen such a display of savage power; indeed, rarely have these eyes seen Million Dead on such stunning form. The feeling echoes that of witnessing them for the very first time: the skin is awash with tingles and the feet stomp incessantly. It’s too much: yours truly and DiS cohort Raz have to get into the ever-shifting mosh soup, and then we have to get over it and onto the stage, and then…
…It’s a blur. There’s some hobbling, some embracing, a lot of cheering, and then it’s lights out, “goodnight London”, and the street. I’ve a bruise on my hip that I expected; what I didn’t foresee was this hole in my chest, left by the as-good-as-defunct Million Dead. I didn’t expect to give a shit come their demise – better bands have bitten the dust in 2005 – but, somehow, this hurts. To say they’ll be missed is an understatement (and a whopping cliché), but fuck: they will, and are already. Just be grateful that the hair will still be on show in the immediate future, albeit going solo.
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- Former Million Dead folk seek out vocal talent
- 2005's Grand Stakes: those that fell aren't forgotten
- Million Dead, Gay For Johnny Depp at Camden Underworld, Camden Town, Thu 22 Sep