Live: Curve Stage A Fiery Comeback

Gothic-Industrial band's return to the concert stage hot enough to set off false alarm.

LONDON -- As Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia constructed a wall of

sound Tuesday night here, their stage heated up with a raw energy that itself

seemed to create a friction of bodies and sound.

If you studied the situation closely, an invisible smoke seemed almost to billow

across the room, enveloping the more than 600 gathered.

That might explain the fire alarm.

The Kings College Student Union headquarters was almost too hot Tuesday

night for some veteran rockers to handle even. At the first live Curve gig in a

dog's age, members of bands as disparate as Placebo (Brian Molko),

Echobelly (former Curve guitarist Debbie Smith), Bananarama and even Led

Zeppelin (the mighty Robert Plant) turned up to witness the return to the stage

of the gothic-industrial duo of Halliday and Garcia at a special one-off gig.

In the course of a memorable night of music and colorful lighting that at times

turned the Student Union into a disco, the crowd got more than they had

bargained for.

Luckily, the only heat circulating through the room that night came from the

stage, however, as a false fire alarm interrupted the hour-long concert for 45

minutes. Evacuating fans was no easy task considering the gig took place on

the fourth floor of the college building located in the heart of London's West

End. Still, the crowd took the alarm in good humor. It was even suggested that

someone who couldn't get into the gig set the alarm off so they could waltz in

with the crowd after receiving the all clear.

As firefighters scoped the scene to make sure there really wasn't a fire, the

crowd waited patiently at a safe distance, not far from the Thames

River. And while the disturbance only seemed to lighten up the audience, it

apparently threw what had been a red hot Curve for a loop, extinguishing some

of their enthusiasm on stage.

Still Halliday and Garcia, who formed Curve in 1991, returned to form

displaying the trademark guitars-in-a-wind tunnel effects that had established

their musical voice years ago. Halliday took the stage, like a queen bee ruling

over her drones. As she sang she stalked the crowd and lunged like a cat to

emphasize her phrasing. Dressed in a black leather jacket with a T-shirt saying

"Bitch," dyed black hair piled high and heavy eye makeup, she looked like a

cross between Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the

Banshees). She even sounded like a strange mixture of Liz Fraser and Sioux,

while managing still to project a style all her own.

Bolstered by supporting roles from muscular guitarist Rob Holliday and tight

time keeping from Springy, Curve started their set with the slow-building

"Sweetback." The tune left the crowd transfixed, mesmerized by music and

dazzled by light, lulled into an almost catatonic state. The men screamed for

Halliday, while the girls mimicked her.

It had been years since the band basked in the adoration of fans, having taken

time off after the release of its 1993 LP Cuckoo to recuperate from tour

burnout. Yet even while they've been gone Curve's mesmerizing mix of goth

and industrial sounds has continued to influence numerous bands. The duo was among the first to earn a reputation as "shoegazers," due to their

penchant for staring down at their effects pedals during performances.

Shoegazing and all, the band was back this time with a mixture of old and new

tunes. Surprisingly, their best-sounding song was the latest single, "Chinese

Burn," from their new album, Come Clean, due out in January. The song,

accompanied by a blaze of criss-crossing white light, opened the second set.

The other new songs included "Something Familiar" and "Coming Up Roses,"

which helped to prove to many in the crowd that Curve is still a viable musical

force. Fans reacted as if they were hearing an old favorite.

But while "Chinese Burn" gave the audience a shot of sonic adrenaline

following the fire alarm, the show never fully recovered. Two more songs, the

title track to the new album and the feedback-soaked encore of "Dirty High,"

featuring Halliday on guitar, followed.

Then the lights flashed on, washing out the blue, purple, pink and orange colors

which had transformed this small, cramped space into a theater. The wall of

sound had been torn down and the invisible smoke dissipated.

But Curve had made a triumphant return. Fire alarm and all.

[Fri., Nov. 21, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]