[20 April 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The soul of dance-punk darlings Gossip is said to have sprung forth in Searcy, Arkansas, and the sound was later distilled in the artesian springs of Olympia, Washington. The band members then planted their feet firmly in Portland, Oregon, but if the last couple of years is any indication, it’s clear they’ve left their hearts (as well as singer Beth Ditto’s lip prints, and, apparently, a great deal of her clothing) deep in the heart of England.
Gossip grabbed so many headlines and magazine covers in the UK, some started to wonder if the hype hadn’t overshadowed the music, if Beth Ditto’s in-your-face, out-and-proud looks, lifestyle, and loud opinions were the only real reason for the band’s success. After all, the British press loves larger-than-life theatricality, and Beth Ditto is certainly controversial, not to mention camp, enough to cause a commotion by tabloid standards. However, Britain also has a long history of being among the first to identify—and idolize—brilliant artists; the country seems chock full of musical tastemakers particularly willing to embrace acts that tend to fly a bit under the mainstream radar in the US, especially if they put on a good show. Of course, having toured with the likes of Sleater-Kinney and the White Stripes, it’s a given that the Gossip can hold its own on stage.
Live in Liverpool was recorded July 9, 2007, not long after the band closed the Glastonbury Festival with a bang. The recording was available exclusively at shows when the band toured Australia. Its subsequent sell-out and instant collectors’ item status led to the wide release of this special deluxe package, which not only includes the live CD, but also a DVD of the concert shot by documentary filmmaker Lance Bangs (Bangs has directed videos for R.E.M., Death Cab for Cutie, and Sonic Youth, among others.). With the majority of the set drawn from 2006’s Standing in the Way of Control, the CD and DVD track listings contain all of the same songs, but each in a slightly different sequence. It’s unclear why that is, but it doesn’t really matter, as either way this live set delivers the goods and proves the Gossip has the talent to back up all the tall talk.
Most of the songs are short, sharp blasts of loud fast fun. “Eyes Open” stomps in at just two minutes. Fan favorite “Yr Mangled Heart” has Ditto at her best as disco-diva-soul-sister meets revival-tent-sermonizer. “This is for the faggots. The G-A-Y” she shouts in introduction, and then the whole crowd is caught on the hook of the chorus. Ditto next announces “Swing Low” from That’s Not What I Heard by yelling, “This is for the dykes!”
A soulful cover of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” doesn’t seem at all out of place coming out of Ditto’s mouth once she sings the lines “Sometimes I’m goody-goody / Right now I’m naughty-naughty”. Hannah Blilie’s tense tattoo on drums and Brace Paine’s rapid-fire stutter on the guitar add accelerant to “Fire/Sign” and bring the audience back to a boil. “Coal to Diamonds” takes the energy to that soulful spot of which Ditto is so clearly fond. Part girl group rhythm and part whiskey and wailing blues, it allows Ditto to unleash her inner Etta.
“Jealous Girls” is a pounding howler that prompts the crowd to chant en masse, right into “Keeping You Alive”, which may be the highlight of the show with its dark, pulsing rhythms, shotgun bursts of guitar, and Ditto’s tightly controlled, but still slightly unhinged vocals. At this point in the set, the Gossip has become well-oiled, perpetual music machine that just keeps gathering momentum.“Don’t Make Waves” and “Yesterday’s News” feed the furnace and push the audience toward an audibly impending frenzy.
Ditto further fires them up when she begins her incantation of “Ain’t no power like the power of the people / Cos the power of the people don’t stop”, and the Gossip launches into the hit single “Standing in the Way of Control” (which reached #1 on the UK Indie charts). But the power doesn’t stop there, as Ditto again incites the people by winding her way through the crowd for some one-on-one call-and-response in the chorus. It’s exciting enough to hear this exchange on CD, but it’s downright compelling to watch on the DVD. The band returns for an encore of “Listen Up”, a propulsive mover that would be the perfect end to this collection, except that there’s more.
Live in Liverpool ends with a track that starts out sounding like a bass-heavy Bauhaus tune, but turns into a singularly impressive and entirely original version of Wham’s “Careless Whisper”. Unusual? Yes. Attention-grabbing? Of course. Campy? Obviously. But it’s not a gimmick. Never mind the tattle in the press, the live show proves that the rumors are true. The music speaks for itself. The Gossip is the real deal.