It’s Hallowe’en. Across Brixton, various young people are getting ready for spooky festivities. It probably means they’re off to the pub in their best Bride of Frankenstein and Corpse Bride finery before hitting the clubs later, but it seems fairly busy for a Tuesday night. There aren’t any skeletons or pumpkins adorning the Electric Brixton, but a cursory look at the merchandising stand still makes the occasion very clear. A massive poster advertising this show featuring power pop legends Redd Kross and sludgy art rock oddballs the Melvins very much resembles a promotional poster for an eighties slasher flick. As far as gig posters go, it’s incredibly smart, although no more of a spook-show concept should be looked for, especially as the night progresses.
At a timely 8pm, Redd Kross take the stage. It’s been about five years since they played the tiny Borderline in London and although Electric Brixton seems like little more than a glorified black box room, the larger space is perfectly suited to them. It’s great to see a reasonably well packed audience so early on a Tuesday night, too. They may not be the headliners, but for the fan with discerning tastes, Redd Kross are a big deal. Taking place on stage left, Steven McDonald can be seen donning a glittering golden jacket; just across from him, his older brother Jeff sports a great pair of drainpipe trousers – white with coloured patches. They’re not so far removed from the rose patterned trousers as seen on the front of the classic 90s album ‘Third Eye’ – and looking at Jeff some twenty years on, there’s a good chance those old trousers still fit. It’s a long time since those days, but the brothers clearly still love to glam things up a treat.
With guitars properly cranked, the venue’s sound levels are fairly distorted, but pretty soon and obvious melody creeps through and ‘Lady In The Front Row’ greets the audience with a suitable level of glammy cool. Rattling his bass between high kicks, Steven leads the charge and harmonising with Jeff on a cracking chorus, the Redd Kross machine announces its arrival in style. By the song’s end – with the refrain of a repeated “it’s showtime!” – Redd Kross have truly tapped into their own equivalent of Cheap Trick’s ‘Hello There’ and the refrain becomes more of a mission statement than a tossed off lyric. A diversion into something older, ‘Switchblade Sister’ allows more settling in time, but for power pop fans, its the intensity of the massive hook during ‘Stay Away From Downtown’ that really cements the feeling that this is a special occasion. The simplistic chorus comes into its own when played live and tapping into a great harmony, the McDonald brothers are a joy to watch; it’s not only obvious they’ve been doing this for years, but it’s also obvious they still get a kick from performing together. This is a reminder of how excellent the Redd Kross comeback record (2012’s ‘Researching The Blues’) really is. Taking over on lead vocals, Steven takes the reins for ‘Uglier’, a somewhat moodier tune allowing a first glimpse into the bredth of talents on the stage.
Between numbers, a solitary voice calls out to the band, congratulating them on a return to London after so long, before everyone takes another trip to the past. A frantic take on ‘Neurotica’ brings something a touch punkier before returning to the harmony driven pop of ‘Annie’s Gone’, a highlight from the mid-90s classic ‘Third Eye’. It is to be the only track representing that album on this occasion and the sound levels mask a few of the glammier harmonies, but visually the band are on fire, with both vocalists belting out their lungs and Steven lurching around looking for more high kicking opportunities. Similarly and classically pop-driven, ‘Jimmy’s Fantasies’ is at once tough and lean. As before, some of the finer harmonies are a touch lost, but the energy coming from the stage more than makes up for that. At the rear, Melvins drummer Dale Crover is also working up a sweat, absolutely nailing the groove – one that’s a total opposite to the arty structures he’ll drive with Melvins later this evening. [It’s barely the start of a long evening for the rhythm section. Crover is sitting in with Redd Kross; Steve McDonald is also the current Melvins bassist. It’s role he’s slid into seamlessly; he’s lent the band a funky edge with his effortless playing.]
For the second half of the set, the emphasis is rather more on fun, as the band trot through a series of classic covers. The Beatles’ ‘It Won’t Be Long’ is spirited, with the traded “yeahs” tailor made for Redd Kross, while a cracking take of the Kiss classic ‘Deuce’ (as featured on the notoriously hard to find ‘Teen Babes From Monsanto’), allows the whole band to rock out, with guitarist Jason Shapiro indulging in a couple of fiery solos. While some might find this errs a little too close to witnessing a fantastic bar band, it would take a hard heart not to be amused by the brothers replicating the old Gene and Paul dance, complete with wobbling head movements. Things aren’t quite as inspiring during the evening’s slow number, Boyce & Hart’s ‘I’ll Blow You A Kiss In The Wind’ (it’s a little lost on a UK audience; this feels distinctly American and period specific), but digging deeper, the band soon pull out another highlight as play tribute to the legendary David Bowie by offering a heavy and dark rendition of ‘Saviour Machine’. This appears to be recognised by about twelve audience members, most of whom have by now formed a small bouncing pocket within the audience. One man, who’s been punching the air for several numbers on his own by now, is surely hanging off every word. A lengthy jam incorporating bits of ‘Linda Blair’ and fierce bass runs finishes things with a sense of force, before a very sweaty Crover exits from stage left. He and Steven have less than half an hour now to recharge and prepare for some very complex grinding sounds.
Although short at just under the hour, this opportunity to catch Redd Kross live has been both a thrilling and brilliant experience. It’s perhaps even the closest some of us will ever get to understanding what it might have been like to see Cheap Trick in their ’78 heyday. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a half decade since the release of ‘Researching The Blues’. Let’s hope it isn’t as long until we see and hear the band again.