This was a twice-rescheduled London gig, initially designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of On-U Sound Records.
And what a line-up was brought together to celebrate mixmaster general (and birthday boy) Adrian Sherwood’s iconic dub/funk/post-punk/industrial indie label (motto: ‘disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed’): Creation Rebel, African Head Charge, Tackhead and Mark Stewart & The Maffia.
And what a pleasure to hear this music in a big hall, in front of a near-sell-out crowd. There were no half-measures here – this was an ageless performance from all the artists, and, refreshingly, also bone-crunchingly loud. Club gigs are all well and good but sometimes you need to hear this stuff in full effect.
Augmented by a striking set of projected visuals, taking in everything from Malcolm X to 1980s CND marches (On-U always championed agents of protest), Creation Rebel and Head Charge fused slow dubs and occasional bursts of metal guitar.
But the real draw was the return of Tackhead, their first London date for 14 years, and they didn’t disappoint – drummer Keith LeBlanc always swings even when tied to drum machines and loops, playing with dynamics and a killer right foot.
If there’s a greater contemporary rhythm section than him, bassist Doug Wimbish and guitarist Skip McDonald, I haven’t heard it – and these guys are not young any more. Joined by sermonising vocalist Bernard Fowler, they unleashed tracks taken mainly from their 1989 Friendly As A Hand Grenade album, excellent versions of ‘Stealing’, ‘Tell Me The Hurt’, ‘Mind At The End Of The Tether’, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’, and a brilliant take on ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’.
Mark Stewart, skulking around at the back of the stage for most of the Tackhead set, then took the mic, seriously pissed off with the state of the world – and who can blame him? He laid into ‘Hysteria’, ‘Liberty City’, ‘Passcivecation Program’ and ‘Resistance Of The Cell’ with the intensity of a man who knows everything he predicted 40 years ago has come to pass, but also found time to lead the crowd in a verse of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Sherwood.
Then, gig over and job done, Stewart was soon spotted in the stalls, chinwagging with fellow travellers. As he once said, the On-U audience is just as interesting as those on stage. Great gig.