John Cooper Clarke in Toronto; 44 Years in An Open Neck Shirt

September 13, 2015 at 8:04 pm (Uncategorized)

The Garrison is a club pretty much without ambiance. Located just west of Ossington on Dundas, it’s a medium-sized room with a small bar at the back, a stage at the front, a few seats on the sides, and unfortunately given Toronto’s recent weather no air-conditioning to speak of. But maybe that’s an appropriate venue for John Cooper Clarke, the bard of Salford, who came to fame playing alongside punk’s legends. Nothing to distract; just the show.

I came early because of a review I’d read about openers Ronley Teper and the Lipliners. The eight-piece ambled on stage around nine and the band struck up a lazy jazz sound, settling quickly into a groove. So far so good, but when Teper began to sing I flinched. Imagine Gollum grabbing the mic, and you might have an idea of the affected vocals. And it continued, an easy background, and  manufactured distracting vocals. Applause was polite, but audience conversations dominated. You know those shows where you feel the band is having more fun that you? Three songs later, Teper had donned falsies to sing about breast implants, a song which seemed to boil down to her wading through the audience encouraging people to yell out alternative names for breasts. And the band played on.  But then came a surprise. The final number shed the pretentiousness of the rest of the set, and built slowly drawing the audience in. A great end to their set, so why wasn’t the rest like that?

John Cooper Clarke took the stage about fifteen minutes later, and held court for the next 75. When he wasn’t reading his poems, Dr. Clarke was cracking jokes or talking about his long career. Part stand-up comedian, full-time poet and entertainer. Clarke took the audience as he walked on stage, and never let go.

Clarke performed many of his greatest moments including “Beasley Street” (leaving out the great line: “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies in a box on Beasley Street”), and the gentrified “Beasley Boulevard”, “I Wanna Be Yours,” and “Chickentown,” at breakneck speed which had him coughing through sections. I know the rapid-fire delivery is a hallmark of his shows, but they had me wishing for the slower versions which appeared on the records with the Invisible Girls.

But one little complaint. In 2015, jokes about Alzheimer’s, necrophilia and misogynist comments about women don’t work. If he’d thrown in a few mother-in-law jokes, I could have imagined I had gone to a Les Dawson show by mistake.  Make no mistake, Clarke is a genius with an amazing gift for language, but these little points made it feel like something I thought we’d left behind.

On October 16, Clarke will be releasing a 3 CD/DVD book set called Anthologia.  Something every home should have.


1 Comment

  1. Goodbye 2015 | Notes from Underground said,

    […] John Cooper Clarke, the Sonics, the Rezillos. Bands I never thought I’d see, but they all played Toronto this […]

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