It’s been 20 odd years since the last outing of Jah Wobble’s Invaders, with tonight being one of a mere handful of gigs. Originally planned to coincide with a new album of covers and the forthcoming Redux Box Set (now expected in the New Year) they now serve as something of a live prelude to both. Not surprising then, that the smallish, much-acclaimed Trades Club venue is heaving.
Lesser men would let the palpable buzz of crowd excitement go to their head, but John `Jah Wobble’ Wardle is as earthed, yet charismatic, as his low-end bass-lines. So the band start up with little by the way of introduction, allowing the music to speak for itself as they warm us up with a couple of instrumental numbers, including a reflective rendition of the `Midnight Cowboy’ theme.
An inspired cover of `Get Carter’ starts with an apt sample of dialogue from the same, warning about the perils of going up North: “They’re hard nuts up there Jack, they won’t take kindly to someone from London poking his bugle in… Remember, they’re killers, just like you.” Marc Layton-Bennett starts some hypnotic up-tempo tabla-style drumming, Wardle’s resonant bass snakes in to caress the vertebrae of your spine, before an exquisite free-form jazz keyboard from George King, matched by the intricate guitar work of Martin Chung both enter, taking solo turns to complete the collage of scintillating soundscape. It turns into something of an extended jam session, a mesmerising treat.
They move fluidly into a sublime reggaed-up Sweeney theme, chased by the classic Ska number `Liquidator’, both of which have everyone skanking enthusiastically. `The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac (better known as the F1 theme) is next to be given a uproarious working over.
The Invaders tonight are a slimmed-down version of the new incarnation, but they prove a powerful tour-de-force nontheless, incorporating some well-respected names via other works and collaborations including Jamie Crossley from Marconi Union and Aziz Ibrahim of Stone Roses fame. Wobble shares some jokes inbetween songs with the audience and band. The laidback joviality makes this collaboration appear almost effortless live, though the skills required to successfully cross-hatch and time such a complex auditory canvas would suggest otherwise.
Wardle’s sonorous bass and an Asian-influenced trance-beat introduces `Visions of You’, a crowd-favorite greeted with rapture. Aziz Ibrahim has now taken to the stage. Whereas Chung’s dexterous guitar work is almost modestly understated, Ibrahim performs with the panache and confidence of a full-on rock legend with a pimped up guitar (including flashing frets!) and searing sound to match. Having the ability to make his instrument speak in raw, gut-wrenching emotion, he pulls off this comedic knowing wink without being at all Spinal Tap about it.
On `Becoming More Like God’ Ibrahim again uses the low-end spacey backline as an effective backdrop, this time with a more traditionally South-Asian sound to his strings. Wardle’s vocals are a rhyming spoken word poetry on top, floating inbetween sequenced snatches of soaring female backing. It flows beautifully, pinned together by the sequencing and sampling wizardry of Crossley.
Outstandingly original, this fusion of styles, originals and re-worked covers can only possibly work with musicians who have honed their art masterfully and a maestro who instinctively knows how to direct this outpouring into fluid, compelling creations.
The stamping of feet thundering against the floor, demand an encore which is satisfied by an outstanding version of `Public Image’, done in what the Slits Ari Up would have termed a `Punky-Reggae Stylee’. John snarls out his vocals with surprisingly forceful emotion, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a certain other John he has in mind. It would be something of a bitter-sweet irony.
Finishing on another PiL classic,`Poptones’, to ecstatic applause, it seems over all too soon, but leaves me with a real sense of anticipation for the New Year’s new releases.
You killed them up North tonight John.
*Watch out for an exclusive interview with Jah Wobble to follow in the New Year.
Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart play the Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees on 14th November. Tickets via www.georgiantheatre.co.uk.
Jah Wobble website: http://www.30hertzrecords.com
Thanks to Martin (VamboMarbleEye) for video footage.