There was a crackling buzz at Rough Trade East on Monday night: dressed predominantly in black and grey (yes, even me), we gravitated to the back of the shop where the stage was set up with gleaming microphones and an array of interesting equipment (no, please don't fnurr fnurr at this point!).
Almost bang on seven, Viv took to the stage with her musicians and launched into the first song of the evening, the get-real song I don't believe in love which has developed into a powerful and memorable track. The group were well-rehearsed: a violinist/vocalist called Millie (Viv chose her for her fantastic hat: a good choice, since she's a fantastic player too), a synth player called Andrew Robertson who not only invented a syncher for Ableton Live (http://www.b-keeper.org/) but has also been in a film called The Cement Garden, and a cahon player called Ollie.
Next up was a song called It's Love (I texted Martin to tell him this as at the first Club Artyfartle there was a variety of love and non-love songs played by the assembled company and this caused a degree of mirth) which was a new one.
In Vitro followed, with a stark introduction from Viv about its origins in heroin and hormone injections at different points of her life. The words of the song are complex and sinister as in many of her songs; the dark poetry of her lyrics set her apart as a songsmith, and the good thing about the band was the fact that their arrangements didn't crowd out the aural space- there was still space to hear everything: the lovely layered backing vocals in places, the hard sound of her guitar and Viv's tough-talking, tough-singing vocals.
In spite of the almost aggressive delivery there was still something girl-groupish about the sound- the way girl-groups would have been if they were made of tomboys, perhaps; but Viv in appearance is a million miles from a tomboy, for last night she wore the sparkliest dress I have seen for a long time and... those amazing legs! God, why didn't you give me legs like that?
I Should Have Known was another corker, somehow conjuring up both early Bowie and the Kinks with the guitar's lonely reverb, before building to a Velvets- style heavy thrashy ending. 'It's like New York in here', commented a friend, partly about the style of the shop (definite East-end urban gritty) but I thought, 'The sound too'.
For I Want More Viv declared that she wanted a horrible guitar sound; it was truly horrible, in the best way. The song sounded punky, with techno shadows grumbling underneath it. Ollie pulled a rhythm from the cahon that reminded me of the original Daniel Miller version of Warm Leatherette, and the song ended with squeals of feedback that would have made Hendrix wince. Viv sounded a trillion times more mean than Madonna and could teach her a thing or two about dramatizing womanhood. In fact I believe she did, when Madonna used to secretly attend Slits concerts in New York in the late 1970s and stand in the front row: not something she's known to mention in interviews, eh?
Another song with a wry and sarcastic lyrical approach was Confessions of a Milf. why does this song remind me of a perverse Heidi? Is it the clucking, that sounds like a cuckoo clock?
It's a threatening song. I closed my eyes to listen... in my mind a Babycham deer skipped across a rubbish dump strewn with broken bottles and folded, tattered carpets, a happy ending twisted and skewed and discarded as reality exploded its myths.
At the end of the show a hippy leaned forward and casually helped himself to the set list.
This was a brilliant set, short and punchy; I found it cathartic because I find it so hard to express anger. What a relief to see such feistiness and defiance, and to hear it expressed in rock music by a skilful female performer at the top of her game when many men performers are nursing their habits and regretting their pasts.
Rock on Viv and here's to the next gig!