Words by Steve Crawford / Pics by Denise Wilson
Thursday 19th January saw the return of The Blue Aeroplanes to a sold-out Hare & Hounds, promoting their 14th studio album Welcome, Stranger! Last seen at this venue in December 2013 it appears to be the exact same line-up tonight. Famous for their ever-changing crew (47, including today’s line up) is this period of stability something of a record for the band?
The roar of aircraft engines fill the room and the stage lights go into search-light mode as all seven members of The Blue Aeroplanes take to the stage. Head aeroplane, Gerard Langley, in check suit and ever present wayfarer shades, clutches a folder of full of lyrics giving him the air of a cool college tutor. (In keeping with the hero-teacher role, and as way of introducing a couple of songs, he later gives a mini-lecture on the superstition associated with walking under ladders and pose a philosophical conundrum on the existence, or non-existence, of the future.)
‘Dead Tree! Dead Tree!’ from Welcome, Stranger! opens the set, followed by ‘Yr Own World’ from the 1991 album Beatsongs. “So far 50-50″, declares Gerard Langley, “but this is not a nostalgia exercise” he warns, alluding to the fact that over half the set will be comprised of new material with all ten tracks from Welcome, Stranger! being played tonight. Or possibly referring to the rumour that this album is something of a departure for the band sound wise? In a recent interview with Marc Riley, Langley said Welcome, Stranger! is “less of the leftfield, arty, poetry stuff and more of the riff-y, chorus-y stuff’.
This ‘riff-y, chorus-y stuff’ is evident in the songs ‘Looking for the X’s On A Map’ and ‘Here Is The Heart of All Wild Things’ – the latter including a My Bloody Valentine ‘You Made Me Realise’ extended aural assault section, as guitars and drums repeatedly pound away in the closing minutes. ‘Skin’ sees guitarist Bec Jevons adeptly fronting the band, taking on lead vocals whilst still rocking out foot on monitor style with her Fender Stratocaster. Played live this proves to be an absolute tank buster of a song.
So not an exercise in nostalgia. But tonight isn’t just about the new stuff and there’s room for some more much-loved old familiars. ‘What It Is‘, slows things down and the crowd sway along. Gerard Langley is relieved of vocal duties for two numbers as first guitarist, Gerard Starkie, and then bassist, Chris Sharp, take on ‘Missy Lane’ and ‘Fun’ respectively. But it’s two of the big hitters from Swagger, ‘…And Stones’ and ‘Jacket Hangs’ (playing cards thrown into the crowd in unison with the opening lines), that are met with the biggest cheers of the night; pockets of the audience are dancing, throwing their arms around and generally swanning about.
Talking of dancing… it’s about time The Blue Aeroplanes’ long-standing dancer, Wojtek Dmochowski, was mentioned. He seems to have decided that middle-age isn’t for him; it’s just not his thing. In constant motion (and a sweat drenched red ‘#keepcorbyn’ t-shirt) he bends, leaps, weaves and free dances his way around fellow band members, pushing himself off the walls, eventually ending up in the audience for a dance along. Earlier Langley had joked that Wojtek Dmochowski was only here to flog his new fitness DVD.
But Gerard Langley has some fine stage moves himself: dodge, step aside, swing, take cover manoeuvres that look a lot more manageable than a ‘full Wojtek’. The rest of The Blue Aeroplanes engage in semi-choreographed mayhem as they joust, thrust, charge and entangle each other with guitar cables and, like Dmochowski, eventually spill out into the audience during one of the encores.
The first of which (we get two tonight) includes a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘Poetland, the last song played from Welcome Stranger! The second encore begins with a lone Bec Jevons on stage, starting up the riff for traditional set closer: Tom Verlaine’s ‘Breaking in My Heart’. Soon joined by the rest of The Blue Aeroplanes, plus support act – Leicester’s Michael Vickers, more cavorting ensues from both tonight’s musicians and audience.
As the final few bars are thrashed out, Gerard Langley collects his notes, walks to the side of the stage, and causally puts on his jacket. Lecture over.
For more on The Blue Aeroplanes, visit www.theblueaeroplanes.com
For more from the Hare & Hounds, including full events listings and online tickets sales, visit www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk