A Michael Head gig in Liverpool is always going to be special but tonight’s mass gathering at Invisible Wind Factory surpassed all expectations.
With Psycho Comedy rocking around the IWF Christmas tree, it couldn’t have started better. On proper form, a million miles away from the beautifully shambolic performance we saw at Strange Collective’s all-dayer in the autumn, tonight saw a much tighter set. Shaun Powell looking resplendent in a Capt Sensible red beret and Yankees bomber, behaved and delivered with a set that echoed the true spirit of The Stooges, The Cramps and The Sonics in equal measure. Pounding, thrumming freak-outs with manic poetic interludes.
As Psycho Comedy plied their trade the room filled and by the break there was hardly an inch of breathing space. Mick’s album, Adios Senor Pussycat, having recently topped the indie chart and brought on much long overdue fresh praise has attracted a whole new sea of followers. Anyone who’s anyone knows that Mick’s been round the block a few times, fronting The Pale Fountains, Shack and The Strands, but it seems that his current guise as leader of the Red Elastic Band has hit some sort of magical zeitgeist. Generations of Head-heads filled the room with love tonight for one of our most precious of local heroes.
The stage was full too, five guitars, a piano, strings and backing singers may have felt busy at times but was inspired, there were moments believe me, real moments…
Starting off with Sgt Major, the opener from Shack’s benchmark Waterpistol album was also a benchmark in how to open a show. Mick looks and sounds amazing. Gone are the thrown-on t-shirts of old, he’s looking smart in a suit jacket, everything about this gig tonight is slicker than usual.
Working through selected album tracks, often sounding as crisp as the actual recordings, its clear that Mick is proud of his latest offerings and he’s been working hard to get this show right. He’s got a grip on his nerves and there’s a new-found confidence in that unmistakeable voice.
Making himself vulnerable in front of this massive audience, Mick dismisses all but the pianist to deliver the delicate “Winter turns to Spring”. Its one of many highlights tonight and his voice has never sounded better. It’s strange to see him not touching his guitar, just letting it hang round his neck he reminds me of Bowie’s Baal.
Playing so many of the new songs, including the blinding “Rumer”, “Picklock” and Mick’s take on “Wild Mountain Thyme” means that he only gets to play the absolute cream of his back catalogue, so we get a perfect Head-set tonight.
Vintage gems, “Byrds Turn to Stone”, “Mr Appointment” and “Something Like You” are delivered from the heart, along with “Meant to Be“, clearly one of his own favourites, often played twice in one gig but there’s no time for such folly tonight.
Looking around at the vast crowd it’s hard not to compare this to the gig Mick played at Leaf back in 2012, when some of these new songs were in their infancy, such a small audience witnessing the genesis of what would be potentially his most celebrated work yet. Tonight this work gets the accolade it deserves.
As the night draws to a close the highlights come thick and fast. Sister Joanne once again takes the mic for the much-loved “Daniella”, Mick delivers “Adios Amigo” and a mass sing-a-long ensues with the jubilant “Newby Street” and “Comedy”.
An encore opens with the backing singers breathing the heavenly lullaby from Waterpistol’s “Walter’s Song” but Mick joins in with the 1990 evergreen, “I Know You Well” and finishes off with a lengthy “Black and White” giving the band one final chance to flex their muscles.
A shimmering performance and the best Christmas present any Michael Head fan could wish for, celebrating a brilliant and much deserved year for the man himself. Faultless and fabulous.
Words by Del Pike, photography courtesy of John Johnson.