…well of course it does, whatever Nick Ross has to say (and how embarrassing is it when us guys blunder into media debates on sex crime) and Cotton Ceilings be damned; but lets not get sidetracked, this is decidedly a post from the music, rather than the gender side…
I’ve been following ‘Canada’s finest power trio’ (suck it up, Rush fans) since their 0+2=1 album was voted an unlikely album of the month by Metal Hammer back in 1990, but last night marked my first live experience, aside from the excellent Live and Cuddly recording dating from the Wrong tour the previous year. Safe to say this was one of my most hotly-anticipated gig experiences ever – I was shaking with anticipation on the bus from work into town – and, heads up, I wasn’t disappointed.
Briefly, support was provided by UK band, The Domestics, whose generic, shouty hardcore merely served to counterpoint the headline act’s inventive, genre-defying brilliance. NMN, let’s not forget, are the band that turned out a 15-min, stripped-down cover of Miles Davis‘ seminal Bitches’ Brew, and had the audacity to add their own lyrics to the mix. In a way, it’s the most punk thing they’ve ever done, aside from their famously DIY approach to rock’n’roll and their unwavering commitment to – and outspoken relish in – touring the world club circuit.
They introduced their set with an unlikely ‘gone Techno’ version of The River (from 1993’s Why Do They Call Me Mr Happy?) which morphed into the full-on, mid-paced ear-shredder of a song familiar to fans. It took me a couple minutes to suss that drummer, John Wright was laying down the beats, such was his machine-like precision. It really can’t be emphasized enough, though, belying their punk cred, NMN have always been excellent musicians, not showy or indulgent in the manner of so many drug-addled, ego-driven ’60s and ’70s players, but never satisfied with restricting themselves to two minutes and three chords. That said, when they do that style, they do it well, as evidenced by Oh No! Bruno, a personal fave from 1989’s Wrong album. That album is frequently cited as the band’s finest – even, defining – hour, so perhaps surprisingly, Bruno and The Tower are the only inclusions in last night’s set. Mind you, with a catalog as embarrassed with riches as NMN‘s, surprise is perhaps a relative term. Many bands might claim to have never turned out a bad album; they’re one of few who might reasonably claim to have never committed to tape a bad song. The aforementioned 0+2=1 is better represented, with Everyday I Start To Ooze, a truncated version of Ghosts – sans the ‘ambient’ sections, John Wright‘s vocals instead overlaid onto the feisty, guitar-driven passages – and Joyful Reunion all making an appearance. For the latter song, singer, Rob Wright swaps his bass for de-tuned guitar. It’s another personal fave and I enjoy shouting along, even though I’m well to the periphery of the energetic mosh pit. Ghosts is followed by ‘A new song – sorta’ and an extended instrumental jam which once again showcase the band’s prowess without depleting energy levels. Maybe we’ll hear recorded versions on a future studio release: they’re overdue for one since All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt back in 2006. From that album, we only get In Her Eyes, but in four minutes it demonstrates beautifully the combination of punk directness and compositional richness that separates NMN from the rock plebiscite. In this respect, they have few peers, perhaps historically the likes of Cardiacs, XTC and early Police, the more accessible aspects of ’80s Crimson; today maybe Everything Everything in their gnarlier moments.
What’s especially gratifying is that age hasn’t dulled NMN‘s blade one whit. These are no grumpy old men going thru the motions: they’re clearly as enthused as any young band debuting on the club circuit today and giving it all to the performance moment. The final 20-odd minutes of their set consists of two encores – demarcated by the briefest, most perfunctory of departures from the stage – and mostly Ramones covers. Rob explains that for a recent home-town gig they rehearsed It’s Alive in its entirety as a tribute to their musical heroes. So we’re treated to note-perfect and heartfelt renditions of the likes of Sheena and Suzy, amongst others. It’s testament to the genre-defying quality of their music that these don’t sound remotely out of place in the same set as The Graveyard Shift and Jubilation. In a musical landscape in which punk has become all too frequently a superficial ‘identity’ NMN demonstrate that the spirit carries on.
In a way, NMN are the Cream of our generation, without the superstar baggage and attendant ego – and drug – issues. They play music that thrills both on a visceral level and in terms of realising musical accomplishment. John Wright‘s drumming in particular – his mastery of traditional grip and his synergy with brother and partner in rhythm, Rob – is jawdroppingly impressive, and hints at the influence of a school of Jazz/Rock influence that includes as disparate a bunch as Zappa, Phil Collins, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Everything Everything , Fair to Midland and The Mars Volta. Contrastingly, Rob Wright’s nonsense poetry vs social realism lyrical style adds an intriguing opacity which can be read both in concert and at odds with the music. In short, it’s a strange brew, but rarely a boring one.
Annoyingly, my malfunctioning phone’s low battery prevented me from capturing footage, so here’s some links to the band’s recent output from other venues, plus some studio footage. Enjoy: