Concert Review by Mark Bayross
Camden Palace, London – Sunday 7 October 2001
It seems like ages since VNV Nation last played London, but Ronan and Mark make it quite clear how much they enjoy performing in their home town. The band have a new double-release single to promote, plus an eagerly-awaited new album in the wings, but their success and devoted following across Europe and the US practically guarantees a bigger hit with every release.
The evening’s proceedings get underway with a suitably grumpy performance from hotly-tipped Birmingham industrial rock band Sulpher. “Good evening no one” snarls frontman Rob Holliday as the band come onstage to the kind of first-on-the-bill empty venue scenes they will hopefully be putting behind them soon.
As the band crunch through latest single “You Ruined Everything” and thumping debut “One Of Us”, they start winning hearts and minds. Despite the increasing amount of appreciative moshing, Rob seems visibly irked, stomping around the stage and comprehensively trashing one of his guitars. The impressively intense mechanised guitar n’ samples assault may have been a bit too ‘rock’ for an audience of electro-darkwave fans.
Next up is Sheffield’s legendary In The Nursery. With a back catalogue that goes back to the Eighties, including a number of film scores, the band have acres of material to choose from. The Humberstone twins, hunched over keyboards and huge orchestral drums, create enormous, crashing waves of sound, while the addition of Q on military snare drum and Dolores Marguerite C on vocals makes for cinematic music that is by turns mesmerising and muscularly rhythmic.
It’s an enjoyable sound and offers stark contrast to the straight-up rock thrills of Sulpher, but In The Nursery are on stage for twice as long and an hour’s worth of crescendos does start to sound like the “1812 Overture” on loop after a while.
And so to the main event… As the cheekily compiled intro tape plays out (Apoptygma Bezerk, Barber’s “Adagio”, Joy Division and, er, Whitney Houston), anticipation reaches fever pitch and it is clear that the Anglo-Irish duo are just going to get even more popular as time goes on. Flanked by projection screens either side of Mark’s raised drum plinth, they emerge to a funky new intro and launch head-long into a storming “Kingdom”.
While VNV Nation’s ambition seems to have grown with their popularity – each song comes accompanied with very pretty retro-futurist graphics on-screen – the gremlins have unfortunately got into the system, buggering up the set-list and leaving the band guessing which song is coming next.
So, we get a bit of everything: beat-heavy faves like “Darkangel”, “Honour” and “Procession” alongside latest single “Genesis” and a superb, rousing new track from the forthcoming album called “Epicentre”. Plus, we also get a B-side (the haunting “Tempest”, together with stunning flashes of lightning on-screen) and an epic, what-should-have-been-set-closing “Solitary”. But, as I said, tonight VNV Nation had been paid a visit by Mr. Cock-up, or at least their backing minidisc had, so, much to the bemusement of the band, they finish with “Frika” (off debut album “Advance And Follow”) before disappearing backstage, no doubt for an extended bout of swearing.
They re-emerge to encore with a re-arranged “Legion” (fusing the orchestral “Anachron” version off “Burning Empires” to the original), Ronan taking time to point out that he’s still not happy with it, before a severely skipping “Standing” gets aborted and silence suddenly fills the room. Lesser performers would have shrivelled up and crawled offstage by now, but not VNV Nation. The duo are now consummate showmen and, while sound people frantically try to get things up and running again, Ronan indulges the crowd with a bit of flippant Irish banter.
Moments later, “Standing” re-starts, complete with improvised finale, and the band re-emerge to play a final song, a stunning piano-led piece from the new album, with Mark on keyboard…and then, having won the day, they are gone. Victory not vengeance, indeed.
There is something heart-warming about the way VNV Nation engage the crowd, particularly Ronan playing techno ringmaster during the heavy bits (“Let me see those hands”, “I want everybody dancing”, etc) and chatting to the front few rows between songs. Things get passed to him, as well (cigarettes, glow-sticks) and the adoration between band and fans seems mutual.
“It’s always a pleasure to play for you…” coos Ronan affectionately as the lights come up to deafening applause. The pleasure was all ours.