Here Comes That Day: Siouxsie Goes Solo
Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, from The Jam, weren’t the only members of Britain’s Class of ’77 playing New York City last Saturday night. Less than half a mile away, at Irving Plaza, Siouxsie (of the Banshees) was holding court on the second night of a brief American tour. Fortunately, I had the chance to catch her opening show – indeed, her first ever American solo show – the previous evening.
The differences between the two events proved stark, even before considering the actual music. Unlike Bruce and Rick with the Jam, Siouxsie was very much the leader of her group: there could be no Siouxsie & The Banshees without her. Yet unlike the Jam, the Banshees were riddled by line-up changes throughout, most especially in the guitar-playing department. Though some among the restless British media may have expected (and even hoped for) Siouxsie to break up the Banshees along the way, she steadfastly stuck with her musical vision, resulting in steadily increasing – and fanatical – American popularity that peaked in the 1990s, yet she also found room for the occasional musical side-journey with the Creatures, the duo she formed with her drummer and, from 1991, husband Budgie. (All of which is interesting in comparison to Weller’s abrupt break-up of the Jam before they reached an American peak, over his understandable need to spread his musical wings.) And then, in a fit of admirable artistic contrariness, when the Sex Pistols reformed in 1996, she broke up the Banshees rather than have them rendered a part of the whole punk nostalgia trip. The last ten years sped by with the occasional Creatures tour and album maintaining her profile, until she and Budgie divorced in ’06, provoking her to finally bite the bullet and record under her own name, releasing an album, Mantaray, late last year.
All of this puts Siouxsie in a difficult position onstage. She has over fifteen albums of original material to her name, but only the one, forty-minute solo album. Either the set was going to draw extensively from her catalogue, somewhat belying the point of going solo, or it would be embarrassingly short. She took the latter route, playing barely an hour, including encores. I’m not one for over-indulgent or lengthy concerts, but considering that there was no support act and that tickets were a hefty $45 (the From the Jam show was $28, by comparison, with Hugh Cornwall in support), the fans had reason to feel like they were being taken for granted.
Certainly, their devotion has never yet been called into question. When she took the stage Friday night they very nearly roared the roof off with enthusiasm; at the end of the first song, “About To Happen,” several people came to the front to hand her flowers. She justified her iconic status by wearing a one-piece checkered harlequin leotard cat suit that would have looked plain daft on anyone else turning fifty this summer, but which stuck to her well-toned body like she’d been born in it. I’ve always loved Siouxsie for her remarkably idiosyncratic identity, as well as her willingness to buck the trends, stick with her beliefs, and follow her musical muse. But the obvious singles aside, I’ve never been quite so fanatical about her music, and Mantaray doesn’t sway me either way. It’s a solid record, with some interesting electronic textures, and a handful of what we call “growers,” but it’s so much less a break from the past than we may have hoped for from someone finally free of long-term collaborators.
Her backing band on Friday – bass, guitar, drums and the inevitable all-rounder at the back – were similarly competent but unspectacular; they delivered a wall of noise that truly hurt my ears, but there were no obvious moments of individual brilliance. The show was therefore all about Siouxsie, her captivating voice with its occasional shrieks and frequent growls, her patented pirouettes, and that remarkable cat suit. She’s truly one of a kind.
I was pleasantly surprised when she offered up “Spellbound” early in the night, but best as I could tell, the rest of the set drew exclusively from Mantaray, with “Loveless” and Into A Swan” receiving particularly rapturous receptions: this audience, mostly over thirty, and not so visibly goth as you might imagine, were more than familiar with the album. For encores, she finally broke loose, delivering a regal “Israel,” a frenetic “Hong Kong Garden,” and a furious “Cish Cash,” her excellent collaboration with Basement Jaxx from their 2003 album of almost the same name. (On Saturday night, she threw in “Dear Prudence,” too.) And then she was gone, more than a few fans checking their watches in visible frustration.
In a perfect world, Siouxsie will continue forging her solo path with some truly innovative musical adventures: an acoustic album perhaps, a covers album, maybe some specific collaborations. In the process, hopefully she’ll build up a sufficient solo catalogue – and a stronger relationship with whatever musicians she decides to hold on to – that her audience will want to keep throwing flowers at her. Because as Friday night revealed in both the right way and the wrong way, she’s too unique to sell them short.