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Culture Reviews
Lydia Lunch
B2 Club 
By Robert Lees
Last Thursday, the controversial American feminist punk singer, writer and poetess, Lydia Lunch, played a low-key gig at B2 as part of her tour to celebrate her 25 years in the music business. In what was one of the most hyped ‘underground’ concerts in recent times, the gritty New Yorker who has in the past worked with such musicians such as Nick Cave and German anarchists, Einsturzende Neubauten, gave Moscow a brief taste of her confrontational brand of vocal hooliganism.

She was joined on stage by her long time friends and fellow musicians Terry Edwards, Ian White and James Johnson. The small cramped smoky stage was the perfect setting for Lunch’s dark and tortured persona. The small crowd that had gathered in the pit directly below the stage seemed to slowly grow impatient as the 11 p.m. start time came and went. The relatively expensive ticket prices had seemed to put few people off as more and more fans pushed their way to the front. All around the balcony a mainly Russian crowd struggled to balance pints of freshly poured Nevskoye whilst trying to jostle their way to the best position. Then the lights came on. The dark arena was filled with an incredibly eerie green glow. The three male musicians made their way to their instruments before the rotund Lydia Lunch dressed provocatively in a revealing black top with a black top hat, appeared on stage.

She said few words to the crowd, preferring to let the music do the talking. The backing group played their first chords confidently. Lunch swaggered from side to side glaring at the crowd as if a wild animal ready to pounce on its prey. She then let fly with her first song.

Her strong American accent was as overpowering as it was tuneless. Her voice, gritty after years of touring and heavy smoking, seemed to swallow the words that came from her mouth. It was difficult to determine whether she was actually singing in English. There contrast of the band’s superb sound and the weakness of the lead was disappointing. The crowd was left confused. Lydia Lunch was too; rather oddly she had to read the lyrics of her songs from a song sheet. All but the die-hard fans struggled with her stream of incomprehensible noise. They did not know how to react. Some moved in time to the music, others nodded their heads backwards and forwards. They were at a loss to understand this music. Lunch’s sexually explicit and confrontational lyrics lost their edge in a mist of wheezy screams and missed notes.

Her singing style would have embarrassed even the entrants of down market karaoke contests. It certainly was painful to listen to. The spoken tracks, where Lunch voiced her thoughts to an accompaniment of heavy guitar chords and drumbeats, were more successful. Her monotone delivery, radical ideas and the moody backing music were well suited to the intimate, slightly seedy atmosphere of the club. However this was most certainly lost on the Russian audience.

Obviously Lydia Lunch has got talent; her career would not have spanned decades nor continents if it were otherwise. Unfortunately her concert in Moscow last week was not up to the hype that preceded it. I was tempted to buy one of her CDs that were on sale around B2 but was scared off by the horrible thought that her Moscow performance may be typical.

So is Lydia Lunch really one of the top ten most influential musicians of 1990s as has been claimed by some elements of the American music press? Well, thankfully she probably is not; otherwise 1970s punk rock (where lack of singing talent was no obstacle to success) would still be popular today.

Robert Lees

18.03.04
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