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Culture Reviews
Momus
By Robert Lees
Berlin-based Scottish musician, Nick Currie, aka Momus, played one of the year’s most entertaining concerts last Friday night at Art Garbage/Zapasnik. But it nearly didn’t happen. The previous day he had been turned back at Sheremetyevo airport for a visa irregularity. He missed his Friday press conference and only made it to the club with a few hours to spare.

His mesmerising performance was quite unpredicted. What can really be expected from a man who writes about female emancipation, describes his music as electronic folk, is interested in cartoon characters and wears a dodgy eye patch?

Reviews on his website describe him as ‘subversive’ and ‘a spoken word artist’ – both of which start the alarm bells ringing. Usually a ‘spoken word artist’ speaks because they cannot sing and are ‘subversive’ because it is the only way they can legitimately attract attention to their music. However Momus was different. His voice was a clear as any of today's best pop singers. His spoken word pieces weren’t the mindless incomprehensible drivel that alternative artists like to produce. Instead his were melodious in a Noel Coward-sequel way: softly spoken rhyming ditties that disguised viciously biting lyrics.

It was his first visit to Russia, and Momus was scheduled to play two concerts, the first in Moscow and then a second in the Siberian city of Izhevsk. This rather peculiar choice of destinations, along with his obsession for the soviet cartoon character, Cheburashka, seemed to be typical of Momus. He is a performer who likes to do things differently but who has a genuinely nice side. The ‘scruffy, cool, I don’t give a damn’ attitude he gave out as he was sitting at the bar before the concert was a complete fa?ade. Both his manner and music is likable and he even wears the eye-patch because he is blind in one eye and not for any trashy fashion reasons.

Despite the fact that Momus himself had never been to Russia nor knew much about it, the word of his music had obviously got out to the wider reaches of the Moscow concert-going public. The venue was jammed full, with long lines stretching out of the doors and into the courtyard. Long before Momus took the stage, the dance floor and surrounding terrace were heaving. Getting to the bar was difficult and working through the crowd to the toilet was simply impossible. However the mood was friendly even amongst the poor people being slowly squashed and asphyxiated by BO at the front.

At least those people had the best view in the club. They really could appreciate what they were seeing. His performance was as much cabaret as it was concert. Many of his songs were accompanied by strange hand movements and robot style manoeuvres, which Momus described as dances. This quirky stage manner and his subtle sense of humour helped him quickly establish a witty repartee with the crowd.

The identifiable influences in his music were numerous; ranging from traditionally classical in “I hear a Little Schubert” to the Japanese bubblegum pop of “Monroe” to the obvious references to his Scottish background with the highland sounds of “The Laird of Inversecchie”.

The success of his music was even more impressive when taking into account his lack of backing musicians. His affection for Japan and its culture had obviously rubbed off on him as well as his music. He had all his backing tracks stored on his PC. When his set had come to an end, he opened it up to the crowd for requests. With a quick press of a mouse button he was able to bring up any of any song from his impressive discography. It served to further highlight the talent of this very able and entertaining performer. He was able to sing from memory even the songs that were composed nearly twenty years ago at the very beginning of his career.

The cheer that accompanied the end of his concert was fitting appreciation from a knowledgeable crowd. They understood that the hype surrounding Momus was justified and that hoped that maybe one day he might return to Russia to continue his search for the Cheburashka that he was so fond of.

23.03.04
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