West Hill Hall, Brighton, Sat 5th Nov
“We're like those clothes they make inside out, we're showing all our seams”. After confessing to skipping a section from the last song, bassist Gina Birch seemingly ad libs the line. And it's about the most astute thing I've ever heard anyone say about this band.
I wrote a piece a while back about how the two great girl bands of the post-punk era (you can probably guess which two) worked in an opposite but complementary fashion. And indeed it rather marvellously seems that, while every boy band was formed in the wake of the Sex Pistols, it was seeing the Slits that first galvanised the Raincoats. Listen to a Slits record and it's like the local gang are inviting you to join them for a while, as they go on their shoplifting sprees or other wild adventures. While with the Raincoats it's like stumbling on the secret den where the outsider kids hang out.
In the post-punk history 'Rip It Up', Simon Reynolds commented on how “unrocked” their sound was. Undriven by the standard rhythm section, their music's sketchy and slightly tentative, as if feeling it's way into existence. This sense of music for misfits and outcasts made by misfits and outcasts, which probably couldn't follow a straight path if it wanted, makes the band idiosyncratic to the point of inimitable and yet at the very same time a herald of indie. Certainly the track 'In Love' might be the only song in that whole over-subscribed genre to accurately describe the hopeless topsy-turviness that situation instills, which can feel as much like being hit by an infection as it does anything else.
After Lennon and McCartney, many great bands comprise two separate, distinct characters writing in separate, distinct styles. And Birch has described herself and Ana da Silva, the only remaining original members, as “polar opposites”. Gawky but engaging, Birch best fits Kim Gordon's description of the band as “ordinary people playing extraordinary music”. While Da Silva, playing more of an older sister role, talks less and has a quiet assurance about her which radiates an anti-cool cool. Birch's songs can feature confused characters in a confusing world, sometimes barely convinced of their own existence. While Da Silva's are more mysterious and indefinable, akin to some of John Cale's stranger ballads.
Following their own rules as ever, their set is mostly comprised of post-reformation songs, with the classic tracks largely confined to the end. This meant most of the set I'd not heard before, but it didn't matter in the slightest. A friend exulted afterwards that they sound no better rehearsed now than they did back then, and I do know what he means. They've never polished or commodified their sound, they're still in touch with that initial impetus when they were rehearsing in a squat basement. The only weakness of the new songs is that they can stray slightly into the pedagogical. Feminism was always innate to the band, but in an instinctive rather than banner-waving sense.
Trash Kit supported, playing the skittering off-beat rhythms of post-punk mixed with Afro-beat. I'd previously seen them supporting the Ex a couple of years ago, where they sounded good. But they seem better now, as if their sound's maturing as they go.
I couldn't find anything contemporary for the compulsory YouTube clip, so here's two tracks from back in the day...