The Departure sound, and look, like your typical nu-new-nu-wave band. Skinny boys with slightly stupid haircuts and straight clothes. Most of the songs sound the same, with verses about “you” and “I” and maybe a gap for some foppish posing. The songs churn past you, with the occasionally inspired elastic band riff to mark a bridge, or, if they’re feeling adventurous, a bit of feedback. “Graham Coxon is in the room next to us”, says the singer. “I’ve not been brave enough to go say hello yet.” That, you limp wristed mockery of masculinity, is because you realise that you are before a great man. Go away with your over-polished, under-mixed, asexual pop.
Graham Coxon is 35, going on 16. Despite flirting with the genre, in and around the ‘Modern Life’ era, he never really got on with the new wave, snappy kind of pop. It lacked room for chaos. Graham Coxon is a man who likes chaos. It may have been produced and EQ’d away on the albums, but live, you always knew Coxon had a penchant for destructive sound forms that bordered on the unhealthy, perhaps even, the maniacal. Despite having as many guitars, and even smaller amps, than the previous bands, Coxon’s group is twice as loud, several times heavier, and a lot more focused than the preceding acts.
Opener ‘Spectacular’ was always going to be exactly that. Just shy of two minutes into the set and already Telecasters are in the air, strings are being bent to the point of snapping, picks are bludgeoned into strings, and amps are dragged, kicking and screaming, into feedback. The ears, too, are already ringing – Coxon has his own brand of tinnitus. No posturing here. He wears his guitars at a workman-like height; no low slung guitar thrusting. And if he needs to stick his leg into the air and hop until he falls over, then that’s just what he’ll do.
Perhaps he’s aware that his newer album really wasn’t what it could have been. Signalling that he’s fallen out of love already with his over-polished and professionally produced recent work, the majority of tonight consists of punky B-sides. Tellingly, only one other album is really featured: his quasi-metal horror movie, ‘The Golden D’, the very antithesis of the anaemic ‘Happiness In Magazines’. So bored with it, in fact, that the encore consists of just two songs – only one from the new album (the first closer being ‘The Sky Is Too High’s alarming ‘Who The Fuck?’) – and the very final one is the eight minute, planet-shaking instrumental, ‘Lake’. He walks off stage, without saying word, but leaving his guitar to feedback on it’s stand.
“I can’t believe he played Lake,” said a fan on the tube home. “It’s a typically Coxon “fuck you” to the fans.” What? He doesn’t understand. That was Coxon’s little gift to the people who go to see him, who want to hear him turn bad noise into good noise.
Rebeckah Pearce and Matt Clark are veteran UK-based music journalists who have been published in numerous rock and roll mags like Kerrang! and Q.