The Sexual Objects, Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, Thu 29 Jan
'Anyone who witnessed The Sexual Objects tonight should treasure every second of what might well have been the greatest show on earth'
‘This song is side one, track three of our new album in case anybody's not heard it yet,’ drawls Davy Henderson from behind Factory-issue shades introducing the wiggy wonders of his song, 'Kevin Ayers'. The in-joke being, of course, that unless the mystery bidder who paid £4,213 in an eBay auction for the sole vinyl copy of the Sexual Objects' second long-player, Marshmallow, is in the room, none of the hundred or so mixture of the faithful, the curious and the recently converted squeezed into Sneaky Pete's bijou confines are likely to have heard a note of it.
The punchline of this conceptual gag is made even better by Henderson's louche delivery and baroque phrasing. As with all his between-song asides, this makes him sound like a charisma-blessed distant relation of 1970s TV gangster Charles Endell Esq doing a Lou Reed stand-up routine. Which, even without the songs, is sheer performative joy.
This Thursday night triple bill for the UK-wide Independent Venue Week may have been the last of Sneaky's shows to sell out, but it was arguably the one that mattered most. Henderson, after all, is a key figure in the original Sound of Young Scotland, ever since his band The Fire Engines harnessed the energy and adrenaline rush of the new sound of now with a thrillingly primitive reinvention of pop-art post-punk.
Henderson went on to the high-production gloss of Win, before coming back down to earth with the dark noir of The Nectarine No 9. Throughout such adventures, snatches of genius inspired by Marc Bolan, Prince and Todd Rundgren could be heard in album-loads of parallel universe smash hits that forged the sunshine-dappled pre-punk swagger of The Sexual Objects in 2008.
Seven years on, a veritable rock and roll circus ensues. It's preceded by game support from electro-pop duo Miracle Strip and the punk-funk agit-pop of Snide Rhythms, with the night magnificently framed by a pre and post-show soundtrack of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
It creeps up on you quietly, as Henderson – sporting a t-shirt bearing the legend, 'Cream Split Up', which also gives the SOBs the title of their forthcoming 10” instrumental supplement to Marshmallow – hunches over his guitar eking out the fragile little guitar patterns that open 'Shadow of A Jet Plane.'
By the time his plaintive vocal creeps in, the room is pin-drop quiet, only to be blasted into orbit when the band kick in with a four-man vocal line that's part terrace chant, part call-and-response doo wop.
The following 'Cincinnati Blooms' and the aforementioned 'Kevin Ayers', both from Marshmallow, reveal a band on fire, the three guitar frontline twisting and turning their way through a set of complex arrangements, each texture given a fresh rawness in a live setting.
Henderson's own wig-outs, which he invariably delivers from a kneeling position or else punching the air with peace signs, are given depth and weight by Simon Smeeton's acoustic, while Graham Wann offers up some of the most tasteful lead playing since Malcolm Ross twanged his way from Josef K to Orange Juice and beyond. All this is given sass and verve by the throb and bounce of Douglas Macintyre's bass and Ian Holford's drumming.
While things slow down for the velveteen melancholy of Marshmallow's title track, this is a pick and mix set, with selections from the SOBs 2010 debut album, Cucumber, included, as well as two cuts from Cream Split Up. The latter allow full vent for guitar heroism on ‘Fenella Fudge’, while the tellingly named ‘Ron Asheton’, named after the late Stooges guitarist, provokes beer cans to be shaken and a brief burst of pogoing. The fact that such a response comes from former Fire Engines and Win drummer Russell Burn while watching out front gives things an even more visceral edge.
Despite the titles and lyrical reference points to Davy Graham and Judee Sill, the SOBs go beyond homage or hero worship to make such tropes their own, often blending several decades worth of glam-beat-punk-arama into the same song. In this way, the material from Marshmallow and Cream Split Up blends in seamlessly with the three Nectarine No 9 songs they play, effectively covering themselves with versions of 'Saint Jack', 'Walter Tevis' and a final 'This Arsehole's Been Burned Too Many Times Before'.
This is, was and ever shall be how rock and roll should be, and anyone who witnessed The Sexual Objects tonight should treasure every second of what might well have been the greatest show on earth. Because, unless the presumably proud new owner of Marshmallow chooses to release it into the wider world, they may never hear these awkward little masterpieces again. Over to you, mystery bidder.