Black Grape, Dust Junkys

Nottingham Rock City, UK, 3rd December 1997

It's a tribute to Rock City's versatility that it can play host to so many different kinds of show. Whereas the Tura Satana gig on the lower stage gave me the feeling of a pub gig, with the rapport between crowd and band that mere centimetres' proximity can provide, tonight in the main part of the venue - which even so is filled to capacity - Rock City plays host to a vastly bigger band, though not necessarily to greater effect.

The gig kicks off with a live d.j. set from Ganiyu Pierre Gaspars of the Dust Junkys, playing an eclectic mix of jazz, funk hip-hop and indie music. It segues well into the band themselves. It's the first time I've seen them live, and I have to say I'm impressed. Born out of the ashes of the Stereo MC's, the Dust Junkys come across as sort of Mancunian Fun Lovin' Criminals (indeed the Fun Lovin' Criminals remixed their "Living in the Pocket of a Drug Queen" single). On vinyl, the Junkys sometimes strike me as a bit leaden, but this live performance blows all these doubts away. The Dust Junkys are as tight as a mosquito's Y-fronts, and they enjoy what they do. Lead vocalist Nicky Lockett (The Artist Formerly Known As MC Tunes) is a whirlwind in a flak jacket, leaping like a loon the hip-hop beats provided by Gaspars and drummer Mykey Wilson. The rest of the band is less animated; I'm reminded of seeing Dub War and wondering whether Benji got all his energy at the expense of that of his band-mates. What's most interesting about the show is the lack of movement in the crowd. Granted, hardly anybody here's heard of the Dust Junkys: it's Ryder and co that they've come to see. Perhaps that's why Lockett keeps saying that they'll play their music and have fun whether the crowd are into it or not. You'd expect Black Grape fans to be open-minded enough to pick up on a band like this, though. By the end, it has to be admitted, there are a few nodding heads in the crowd, and the Junkys leave to a respectable wave of applause. Support slots on a high profile tour like this can only be a good thing for the Dust Junkys. I wonder if they have an American tour planned: their sound has a lot of US airplay potential. Barring calamity, on the strength of live showings like this one the Dust Junkys' star can only ascend further.

Black Grape, by contrast, seems to be on a downward path. [Sure enough, Shaun Ryder sacked the rest of the band after the tour.] There's something lazy about the show, and not in a good way. I know: Black Grape isn't exactly the original high-energy band. But I can't help feeling that BG don't put their heart and soul into this performance. That's not to say the audience doesn't respond to the music: most of the songs from the previous album, especially the singles, have the crowd bobbing and at some points there's some crowd-surfing. The new material, however, is received more coolly.

Ryder himself looks more and more haggard year on year, and his one man quest to become the Keith Richards for the Millenium looks like it may stop just short of his target. A case in point is the encore: after the usual cheering and shouting from the crowd, Black Grape returns to the stage to perform a lounge-style jazz number. It's quite good, and I suppose it illustrates the humour and cheekiness that Ryder and co. are famous for. Halfway through, however, and seemingly at the prompting of a roadie/tour manager, Ryder leaves the stage and the band continue without them. In many ways, the gig falls on its arse. Maybe Ryder left to receive immediate medical aid and detox, but when the frontman can't be bothered to stick with a gig to the end, what sort of impressions do they expect us to receive?

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