The ZTT backlash has been touring the country for the last 10 days or so, drawing flak and faintheartedness from many quarters. They should count their blessings out there. It could have been Anne Pigalle.
Anyway, Propaganda is an exquisite thing, the modern dance with a fickle heart and a computer brain. Everybody turned up to see it in London, to analyse how well (if at all) it made the transition from memory disk to stage. When is a full house not a full house? When it’s 30 per cent hacks, I suppose.
They didn’t play long, but they were good. Claudia dominated, barking instructions into the microphone and occasionally sounding unpleasantly totalitarian as she strove to maintain a natural authority in the teeth of the band’s clashing layers of sound. They had a good deal of help from tapes and so forth, but there was still plenty of scope for Kevin Armstrong’s screeching, cartwheeling guitar insertions.
Running like a tough, supple spine through the very core of the set was the reunited team of Brian McGee and Derek Forbes, erstwhile drums-and-bass men from Simple Minds. While the latter have gone veering off into dumpling-like stadium rock, European Sons no longer, Propaganda have the benefit of the hard-bargaining logic which once made them great. McGee, headphones clamped across his skull, drove on remorselessly as Forbes ricocheted around him.
Propaganda were at their best when they acknowledged they were playing to an audience. The images that lingers are Suzanne, pounding archly at a kettle-drum slung round her neck with giant padded drumsticks, silhouetted like an image from an army recruiting film. Or the moment in “P-Machinery” when Forbes, Armstrong and the girls formed a line across the stage and marched resolutely back and forth, part Hollywood, part battle of the Kursk salient.
Suzanne’s indistinct role on disc expands considerably for live performance. Aloof and knowing, she’s an ideal foil for Claudia’s blunt authority. They introduce each other at the microphone in German accents laid on with a shovel, lest we forget that Propaganda’s broken English comes among us to dazzle and subvert but not to comfort. And Suzanne’s screaming, tuneless reprise of “Duel” (“Jewel”, in fragments) as shadowy forms smashed out metallic percussion behind her was the set’s most livid, vital portion.
“Secret Wish” has brightened ‘85, and Propaganda are already fine enough to make us worry about them. This show was a successful experiment, not much ventured and not much gained but a lot more in prospect.