SPANK GOLD: Make A Cup Of Tea, Put A Record On: Pick Of The Year 1995
SPANK GOLD: We Are The Kids And We're Out Of Our Heads: Pick Of The Year 1996

Carter & Clinton The Unstoppable Sex Machines

この太っているやつ! この太っているやつ! What with all the old Pick Of The Year posts, the Music section on this site has been getting a bit bogged down in blatant nostalgia recently. But hell, it was The Belated Birthday Girl’s birthday last weekend: and if you can’t do blatant nostalgia on birthdays, when can you do it?

So after the now-traditional visit to St Pancras station (this year for champagne breakfast at the Grand), we headed into darkest Brixton for the main event of her birthday: a reunion gig at the Academy by Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, performing their first two albums 101 Damnations and 30 Something. But that wasn’t all. At a time when sensible people of our age should have been thinking about going home to bed, we instead went to Jamm down the road for the official after-show party, with an absolutely unmissable act on the bill: Clinton USM, the Japanese Carter USM tribute band.

Four observations. One: the album is more or less dead as an artform nowadays, as people would rather listen to individual iPodshufflable songs than a considered sequence of work. Two: with the value of recorded music dropping through the floor, artists are coming to realise that live performance is where the real money is nowadays. Three: one of the most popular types of gigs in recent years is when a band comes on stage and plays one of their old albums from start to finish. Four: on the two occasions where I’ve attended gigs of that sort – Carter USM last weekend, and Gang Of Four a couple of years ago – there’s been a roaring trade in the lobby afterwards from people wanting to buy freshly-burned CDs of the gig they’ve just attended. How do those four sentences reconcile with each other, exactly?

And, to be honest, what’s the point of a Carter USM live album? Jim Bob and Fruitbat have always done gigs in exactly the same way – live guitars and singing over a pre-recorded electronic background. The backing tapes haven’t changed in the twenty or so years since they were originally recorded: all that would be different would be that the vocals would be a first take, and there’d be a constant undercurrent of five thousand people chanting “you fat bastard” all the way through. I’m really not convinced that it’d work as a CD.

But it still works surprisingly well as a live event, even nearly two decades after their heyday. I saw Carter a few times in the early 90s, and always had a hell of a time. Amusingly, the one time The BBG had the chance to catch them live, she decided against it because the only available tickets were for seats in the circle. It’s amusing because for this 2009 reunion, the circle is exactly where we ended up, sitting behind what we suspect might have been Mrs Jim Bob and their two kids. Like her, we were too old for the scrum on the dancefloor, and were happy to leave it to the lagered-up kids and the South London men trying to pretend they’re 30 Something rather than 50 Something.

Carter gigs always gave you value for money with a couple of decent support acts, and this one was no exception – the Carter-like punning karaoke of Tim Ten Yen, and the excellent Hackney dance stylings of the King Blues. (The latter’s singer claimed he’d worshipped Carter since ‘back in the day’, which was a laugh considering he appeared to be twelve years old.) And, as ever, we had their regular cheerleader Jon Fat Beast introducing the headliners to those traditional chants of ‘you fat bastard’. In a surprisingly emotional speech, he hinted that this might be the last ever Carter gig, and insisted that it was the sheer niceness of their audience that made them such a great band.

Fat Beast also tellingly described this show as ‘my era’, distinguishing it from the previous night’s performance of Carter’s third and fourth albums, and more or less saying that the band peaked after their first two. And I suspect you’d find very few people who’d disagree with him, even those who’d been at the earlier gig. This was the era where the hits, such as they were, came from – the likes of Sheriff Fatman and Bloodsport For All, the latter quoting Gary Glitter before it became too creepy to do so. Carter played through the albums in reverse chronological order, which kind of makes sense. 30 Something’s Surfin’ USM makes for a great show opener: 101 Damnations’ closer GI Blues is a perfect finale, especially with the “I wish I was in Brixton” rewrite of the final verse: and for the transition between the two albums, a boys’ choir was wheeled on for a lovely rendition of The Road To Domestos.

Very little has changed from when I saw them back in the 90s, though. Fruitbat’s a little chunkier and a little croakier in the voice: Jim Bob’s tidied himself up and lost his wonky haircut. (“Where’s your fringe?” asks someone in the audience. “My fridge?” replies Jim Bob.) And the songs haven’t changed at all, bar a shoehorned reference to Barack Obama at the end of GI Blues. The whole show is merely an excuse for everyone – band and audience alike - to party like it’s 1991. But on that level, it works just fine.

Nevertheless, the strangest bit of the evening was still to come, at the aftershow party at Jamm. After a nifty opening set by Witches from Oxford, we got to see Masato Saito and Taro Takei, the internet sensation better known as Clinton USM. They’ve been all over YouTube for the last few months, and were sporting t-shirts proclaiming ‘Thank You Tube’ to celebrate the first time they’ve ever played outside Japan. But something I’ve suspected from their internet appearances was confirmed as their set progressed: they only know songs from Carter’s third LP, 1992: The Love Album. It made for a nice thematic followup to the main event, but it meant I ended up thinking of them as less of a tribute act and more of a performance art piece.

Still, it was fun as performance art goes. With an audience of no more than a couple of hundred, the whole show played out like a Carter gig in miniature, to a generally restrained crowd apart from the usual couple of twats elbowing their way to the front. Even if Clinton screwed up the odd guitar line or two, their mistakes were covered up by their overall enthusiasm, and the novelty value of hearing a Japanese man singing lines like “does the Pope wear a funny hat?” without apparently understanding what they mean. They even managed to get a tubby mate on stage for their final number, so he could take his shirt off and we could chant the obvious at him. (Our plan to lead a rival chant of “kono futotteiru yatsu” didn’t really work out.) And when Fruitbat popped on stage right at the end to say hello to Clinton, my performance art theory went straight out the window – it was obvious they were genuine fans, and delighted to meet him.

There were at least three other acts on the bill after Clinton USM, but by then it was gone 2am and we had to get back to bed on the other side of the river. Besides, we were satisfied enough with the proceedings: how many times do you get to see a band and their tribute act playing on the same night? We left Brixton on a reasonable high, and apparently missed a pissed Fruitbat attempting to perform at 5am and breaking a tooth on his microphone. I guess none of us are as unstoppable as we used to be.

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