Outside of his songs, David Gedge doesn’t seem to be much for nostalgia or sentimentality (his strict no requests, no encores policy and occasionally foreboding stage presence both speak of a guy who’s been doing this touring thing for too long to want to put up with any crap). But this tour he and the rest of the current Wedding Present lineup (firing on all cylinders just as effectively as the last time they came to Toronto) were performing all of second album Bizarro in its entirety. It’s not the sort of thing you’d necessarily expect Gedge to do, and having never attended any sort of Don’t Look Back-styled concert before I was nearly as eager to find out what hearing a beloved album in full and in order would be like, and how the Wedding Present would approach the task, as I was just to see the band again.
The sheer number of drunk, raucous middle-aged gentlemen in the audience suggested I wasn’t the only one keen to return to the halcyon days of 1989. I would have been eight at the time, but much of the crowd near the front of the Horseshoe gave the unavoidable impression that this was an evening for people to recapture their youth, minus the alcohol tolerance of their salad days. If the band wasn’t quite as overtly friendly and ingratiating as last time, it was hard to blame them; when a shirtless man is swinging his shirt in a circle above his head in one hand and trying to hand you the dregs of his beer with the other while you’re playing, you don’t necessarily want to encourage him.
A little sloppiness aside, which the rest of the crowd took with good grace, the overenthusiastic didn’t put much of a damper on the night (except for the guy directly behind me for the first half of the night, who howled every thirty seconds or so without pause or deviation loudly enough that even his equally-trashed buddy was asking him to shut up). The band begun with a brief set mixing new, recent, and even non-Bizarro older material to great effect; everyone was justifiably enthused for “Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft” and “Corduroy”, but new songs “I Wake Up Screaming” and “Deer Caught in Headlights” were just as effective.
But it wasn’t until a cavalcade of pre-recorded John Peel called out the band’s name and they launched into a fierce rendition of “Brassneck” that the crowd really went nuts. If one of the glories of hearing a band play a full album, especially one that celebrated its 20th anniversary already, is anticipating what’s to come, it’s equally exciting to have the live performance transform your understanding of the songs and the album they form. This live version of Bizarro was flawless, and while I already knew I especially loved “Kennedy” and “Bewitched”, the blistering versions of “Crushed” and “Granadaland” were revelatory.
But the real highlight, and what I had basically been waiting to hear since they announced the tour, was the penultimate “Take Me!” Not only is it a sterling example of a relatively innocent Weddoes song - full of longing, sure, but the only real problem here is that Gedge’s narrator is enough of a wuss that he’s reduced to silently pleading “Oh please just put that down and take me / I’m yours.” Other than that it’s basically business as usual; the band thrumming like a jet engine under Gedge’s fierce singing. The whole thing wraps up in about two and a half minutes. And yet it’s maybe the most audacious thing the Wedding Present has ever done (yes, even more so than the album of Ukrainian folk songs), because the song is actually over nine minutes long. What happens after Gedge stops singing? Well, the band just keeps going.
It’s the same turbocharged, almost brutal jangle that’s the hallmark of the early years of the Wedding Present, but it goes on, and on, and on. While it might get marginally faster or longer as it goes, it’s basically the same thing they were doing before. It’s like the platonic ideal of all of the band’s cathartic instrumental surges, like a friendlier version of the “holocaust section” of My Bloody Valentine’s “You Made Me Realize”. Gedge had to swap guitars twice thanks to broken strings, and it might just be the apotheosis of Gedge’s eternal struggle to just get across the intensity of the feelings he sings about. As good as the conventional first part of “Take Me!” is, it wouldn’t be half as good as the seemingly endless, exhausting, riveting coda, and at times it can feel like those seven minutes express perfectly every frustrated ounce of lust, hurt, pride, longing, and regret that courses through the Wedding Present’s music.
The live version didn’t disappoint. They didn’t fool around with it, or any of the Bizarro material. Everything was played with faithful fire and verve. Just as on record, all that could follow up the mammoth, cathartic “Take Me!” is the brief, gentle “Be Honest”, and it was pretty much all the crowd had energy left to hear. Just as always there were no encores, and there wasn’t a need for any. Like every other report I’ve read of this tour, the overwhelming impression left in the heads of the crowd as we wandered into the night was just “Wow, I really hope they do this for Seamonsters next year.”