Sleep No More for a week or two…
All good things come to those who wait…
It’s Sunday 26 April, Sheffield, O2 Academy. This is the big day. Today the Comsat Angels play their first gig in 14 years. No one in the whole wide world believed it was possible. But, the miracle has happened, and over 600 people (from all over that same wide world) are here to cheer the band on, to meet old and new friends and to have the best night of 2009.
It’s a very special gig. Not just because the band play only songs from their first three albums – the ones that most fans agree contain their very best work – they play them in the original line-up, too. It’s the four men who recorded these original three albums that we see on stage here tonight, giving their all, making the moody magic of Waiting for a Miracle, Sleep No More and Fiction come to life.
At any Comsat gig in the past there was a fan base present. And then there were people who just dropped by, not quite knowing what to expect, any excuse to drink beer. Well, this lot seem to be absent now. This time only the real fans, the appreciative ones are here. This creates an enormous sense of elation, with the audience almost shivering with anticipation.
The atmosphere inside the O2 Academy is fantastic. The whole place seems to be sizzling. Everyone’s waiting, hoping, expecting to be amazed, and silently anxious that it may therefore be a bit of a disappointment. It’s my first Comsats live experience in 15 years. I am one of these people who were sadly convinced they would never see this Great Band in action ever again. I haven’t been able to sleep for all of last week. My over-excited imagination just wouldn’t shut up.
Mark Kermode comes on. He’s a well-known British TV personality and he was an important catalyst for this concert to take place. He introduces the band and professes to be an enormous fan. By telling us how the band has strictly forbidden him to use superlatives when saying how great he thinks they are, he is able to make some wild statements and raise anticipation further. Then he asks ‘the greatest band in the world’ to come on stage. A synthesizer drone is heard and they walk on. They settle behind their respective instruments and wait. And wait, and keep waiting. Oh no! Something seems to be wrong with Steve Fellows’ guitar. Please no, please let it be alright… Deep sigh… it is, and they kick off.
The band play – they are careful, conscious, shy – and the music that is Sleep No More sounds through the Academy. People smile at their neighbours in recognition. Their eyes light up. And not just their eyes. Their voices are heard. I hear the words to the song coming not only from the stage, but from all around me. There’s a deep booming choir standing behind me. Everyone knows the lyrics, is word perfect and eager to sing along. This continues for the entire 90 minutes. The audience know every song by heart and they sometimes sing so loud that Steve is difficult to hear. What a party this is.
I listen, I drink it all in, I smile from ear to ear, I am happy. Oh Lord, it’s Pictures, it’s Our Secret, it’s Baby, it’s Eye Dance! And I am not at home, listening to my stereo, no, I can see them here in front of me. Steve Fellows, Mik Glaisher, Andy Peake, Kevin Bacon – they’re just a few feet away and they play and they sing… and they seem even better than before. Someone please pinch me!
It’s hard to believe so many years have passed. How come they seem to play better than ever before? Is this my imagination, have I missed them for so long that I have forgotten how great they used to be and am I now so overwhelmed that I exaggerate what I hear? No, I overhear comments all around me: “They sound just stunning, don’t they?” and “Last time I saw them they were already very good, but they seem to have grown”.
Total War begins and I rejoice. Then I feel tears rolling down my cheeks. As I wipe my eyes (because I don’t want to cry, I want to be smiling and singing and dancing), I happen to look beside me and see many people make the same wiping movement as I am. I am not the only one crying. And many of the weepers are men. Wow! This is praise for the Comsats indeed. Being able to move people like this.
The entire evening turns out to be an emotional bonding thing. The people who have come here tonight really love the band and they are not afraid to show the world how important this music is to them. The reception they give the Comsats is 500% better than ever before. At first the band don’t know how to take this. They start out being nervous, but gradually they relax and find themselves soaking up all that happiness that drifts towards the stage. They grow. They glow. It’s almost as if a Happy Balloon is kicked from the audience onto the stage. The band blows a little more air into it and sends it back into the audience. And back to the stage it goes. Every time the balloon changes sides it is a little happier and climbs a little higher. All night it slowly zigzags up to the ceiling.
Shouts come from the audience: “You’re a legend!” and Steve retorts: “More like a leg-end”. It’s hard to be the centre of attention all of a sudden. It’s hard to believe you have always been so loved and never knew it.
As to the band themselves, Mik is playing the drums as if his life depends upon it. This man was born to drum. He obviously enjoys himself very much when playing. Kevin’s bass playing is tight, and meaty yet subtle, if there is such a thing. I have not seen him play since the eighties and am impressed with what he is doing. Together, Mik and Kevin bring the house down. Such power! Andy the keyboard wizard, who used to be more in the background, now sends in lots of surprising little sounds. He has become more prominent than before and gives the songs extra bits of sparkle. And Steve, who is very tense at the start, visibly relaxes and plays beautifully and sparingly as always. His voice is in fine shape and sometimes sounds better suited to the songs now than on the original records, I think. What a huge victory. Revenge of the Comsats!
A big Thank You to the band for having the courage to play again after such a long time, and playing so incredibly well. And Thank You to the amazing audience who helped them onwards and upwards to heights never reached before. What made this evening so special was not merely the band having returned with a vengeance after so many years. It was not just that they finally got the admiration and respect they should always have received. It was the combination of this fantastic band, playing awe inspiring emotional music, being surrounded by their most loyal devotees. The presence of so many people who understood and felt the same, that is what made the gig so memorable. If it didn’t sound so scarily American, I might almost use the term “soul mates”. We were.
This has become rather a raving review, hasn’t it? OK, I’ll tone it down with some criticism: how dare they not have played Do the Empty House? Boo-oo!
(And so I didn’t sleep for another week… my over-excited memories just wouldn’t shut up.)
Inge Kuijt, May 2009
01. Sleep no more
02. Be brave
03. On the beach
04. Total war
06. At sea
07. Real story
08. JuJu money
09. Dark parade
11. Missing in action
14. Waiting for a miracle
15. Independence day
16. Eye of the lens
17. After the rain
18. What else?!
19. Eye dance
20. Our secret