Wendy James – Live Review – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
By David Schuster, September 2021
The Wendy James Band are just building to the end of ‘Baby I Don’t Care’, ripping into the glam-rock style chords with evident enjoyment and hamming up the backing vocals. The crowd at the front are a mass of arm waving and pogoing humanity, looking to party after months of lockdown. This is the third of three encore tracks which nicely illustrate the range of music we’ve had tonight; ‘Bad Valentine’ with it’s quiet laid-back feel and ironically reflective lyrics, the full-on punk feedback and swearing fest of ‘Bitter Funny’ and, of course, this.
James introduces ‘Baby’ self-effacingly with the words, “This is what you’ve waited for all night.” She is doing herself a disservice there, she no 80s one-hit wonder. This is a musician with nine albums to her name, four of those as a solo artist, and the front person for the bands Transvision Vamp and Racine. I get the feeling a lot of the crowd agree with me: Despite the ecstatic reaction to the Vamp numbers, there’s equally good reception of the tracks from Queen High Straight, her latest double album. That acceptance of new and old material isn’t something all musicians get to enjoy; this is an artist that’s continued to evolve and improve throughout her career.
Ms James is a gift to music journalists, introducing each song and dropping interesting anecdotes about the inspiration behind several of them. ‘Chicken Street’, off 2020’s Queen High Straight, being a good case in point. “This is about my time in Paris”, she starts, “I was young and in love”, (pantomime “Awww!” from the audience), “and living in a flat on Rue du Poulet. It had the distinction of being lined with”, she screws up her face theatrically, “interesting cuts of meat”. She also takes time to introduce The Wendy James Band; Jordan Cook on drums, Leo Kurunis playing a Hofner bass, Andrew Saunders and Alex Ward on rhythm guitars and keyboards and Pip Stakem on lead guitar. These are all tall blokes, which only serves to highlight the singer’s petite form. Trademark peroxide hair blowing from the onstage fan, singing at full pelt she looks wild and fey, a force of nature.
The whole performance, start to finish, is backed by a video screening of scenes from Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 70’s pulp fiction, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The queasy, violent, misogynistic images making a powerful point about women in the entertainment industry, without the singer having to acknowledge it at all. She does touch on the subject though when introducing ‘You’re a Dirtbomb Lester’, an inditement of influential industry figures, epitomised by Lester Bangs, notoriously seedy New York music critic. The lyrics, “I traced my melancholy. I saw it was a trap. I just wanted to play music,” will sadly still resonate with many female artists.
“Changes of pace”
Tonight’s concert is number 24 of a grueling 28-night tour, but there’s no sign of that from the leading lady or band. In fact, they’ve used it to their advantage, rehearsing a full 30 tracks, so that they can choose a setlist pretty much on the spur of the moment, depending on crowd reaction. It keeps them interested as musicians, allowing them to play numbers that are being shouted for, which keeps the audience happy too. Win-win. The songs range across all the phases of James’ career, a few from Transvision Vamp including ‘If looks Could Kill’ (“This isn’t the Rolling Stones, but that’s where we stole it from.”) and the pop hit ‘I Want Your Love’. There’s a couple from the Racine years, ‘You’re a Good Man, Sister’ and ‘Stoned Ripped and Twisted’, an ode to gonzo journalist, Hunter S Thompson. There’s even space for the clever Bob Dylan cover, ‘Crawl Out of Your Window’.
Amongst the earlier tracks, those from Queen High Straight stand on their own merit and serve to show both musical range and writing talent. There’s the headbanging rhythm of ‘Impression of Normalcy’, where the guitarists took the opportunity to really rock out, ‘Here Comes the Beautiful One’ with its clever changes of pace and a personal favorite of mine, ‘Perilous Beauty’. These show an artist that’s still very much willing to learn and grow musically, and all respect to her for that. Early on in the evening the singer comments, “So, this is the famous Brudenell Social Club. I’ve wanted to play here for ages. All my friends have and say it’s a great venue. It is! Let’s hope I can come back soon.” Based on tonight’s performance, we hope so too Wendy.