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
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]