It’s the middle of December and there’s a conflicting mood in the air. People are gearing up for Christmas so there’s a bustling feel to the city, yet at the same time, it’s the night after a General Election so any excitement is contrasted by the dread of another five years with a Conservative government increasing austerity measures and generally widening an already massive divide between rich and poor.
Taking his place at the mic stand on a sparsely decorated stage, the legendary Jim Bob seems aware of this mood. “I feel like I should say something…profound” he tells the audience, before even playing a note. Quite how profound a man could be while wearing a gold sparkly jacket and sunglasses on loan from The Banana Splits is anyone’s guess. “…Or we could have a sing-song”, he beams, before launching into a stripped down version of Carter’s ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’, its opening lines greeted with a huge roar. It’s a great performance, but drawing more heavily from the whimsical than the energetic, its a less-than-obvious opener. Nevertheless, the front half of the audience is hugely receptive and even in the bar areas nearer to the back of the venue, bellowing voices are more than evident. Digging further into the Carter back catalogue, the fantastic Billy’s Smart Circus whips up the audience further into a shouting mass – this first dip into the fan favourite ’30 Something’ album boding well for the rest of the set.
Jim isn’t as talkative as usual – a support slot brings obvious time limitations – but he’s clearly thrilled to be on stage looking out at a venue that’s massively full for so early in the evening. Taking a detour into more recent material, he gives his all throughout ‘Mrs. Fucking MacMurphy’, a tale of a swearing domestic science teacher that combines spelling rude words with witty lyrics. In strong voice, Jim works through each line almost as if its the most important performance he’ll give all night. Fact is, the complex lyrics must make it a real b-a-s-t-a-r-d to sing. Unfortunately, although the hardcore faithful front rows hang off his every w-o-r-d as the performance deserves, the bar natterers quickly spot something they don’t recognise and jabber across the next three minutes.
The peak of the set brings frantic performances of the classic ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’ and ‘Midnight On The Murder Mile’ (the latter prefaced by a spoken verse from ‘A Perfect Day To Drop The Bomb’). As Mr. Bob thrashes at his acoustic in a way that could snap strings at any moment, the whole audience responds accordingly, lurching, shouting and properly cutting loose for the first time on this Friday night. “That was about being beaten up in South London”, Jim says, before announcing that “this next one’s also about being beaten up” and giving the crowd another taste of a lesser known solo track, ‘Victim’. As before, his performance has a flawless but unflinchingly honest quality and while the bar natterers take it as their cue to start rabbitting again, it does at least offer the evening’s finest and funniest stage banter. Apparently, the song was inspired by the time Jim Bob was out “with Liberace…and got mugged.” We quickly learn that Liberace was actually Carter USM’s very own Fruitbat and the fact that “he told the muggers to fuck off” probably aggravated an already tense situation.
It’s already been a great set, but as the opening notes of ‘Shopper’s Paradise’ ring out, the crowd knows it’ll get better. As with ‘Billy’s Smart Circus’, peoples’ love for the ’30 Something’ album is abundantly clear and the expected choir of shouting voices takes over. With another fantastic performance spurring nostalgic feelings in the best possible way, this has the potential to be a set highlight, but it doesn’t quite match the drunken waltz of ‘Prince In A Pauper’s Grave’, which tonight, is absolutely stunning. Sometimes responsible for bringing a downbeat element to the old Carter shows, in its new acoustic guise it’s actually stronger than ever and the audience more than shows their love for a track that’s been part of the fan consciousness for almost thirty years. Such a response for a support slot. Hammering through couple more Carter tunes – ‘Let’s Get Tattoos’ seems to remain a favourite for an achohol-influenced fan sing-along and’The Only Living Boy In New Cross’ is more than spirited – the greatness continues until the venue reaches peak frenzy with a cover of Inspiral Carpets’ ‘This Is How It Feels’ and Carter’s breakthrough hit ‘Sheriff Fatman’. The perfect set closer, Jim’s voice is even better than it had been half an hour previously and while some crowd members’ voices are undoubtedly on the verge of being destroyed at this point, there’s enough energy and volume left for the loudest voices to fill in the missing parts of the well-known melody. There aren’t any crowd surfers tonight, no broken bones or bruises, but the audience – at this point, swollen to an even bigger size – has had a blast…and Jim Bob knows it.
It’s been more than well documented that Carter USM often gave fans an amazing night out, but the fact that, armed only with an acoustic guitar and ineffectual table lamp, Jim is just as able to hold a large audience with the fraction of the volume and energy speaks volumes about the quality of his very best songs. A better warm up man than even Bobby Chariot, he’s warmed up the audience nicely for tonight’s headliners, The Wonder Stuff, soon to embark on an epic set of over two hours. It’s only been about forty minutes since he hit those opening notes of ‘Is Wrestling Fixed’ but in some ways, this truncated performance has been every bit as good as Jim Bob’s 2018 headliner at the same venue. He’s certainly given everything the same level of intensity, enthusiasm and love. A national treasure, indeed.
For a chunk of the enthusiastic audience, a great night out has already been guaranteed…whatever the next two and a half hours may bring.
Further reading: Goodbye to Carter USM