Plague Songs, Barbican
"Hello. I'm Rufus Wainwright and I hope you're all having a suitably horrible time"
This live manifestation of the Plague Songs project comes a couple years down the line from the original work: a community led art event which combined Penny Woolcock's Exodus film project, ubiquitous "body artist" Antony Gormley, an album of songs based on the biblical plagues and the good folk of Margate (a rundown seaside town with aspirations of artistic renaissance via Tracey Emin running hand in hand across the wet sand with JMW Turner).
A few of the original artists performed their songs but this was more a reimagining of the material with songs and guests emerging from a constant musical pulse created by an eccentric house band that included Ralph Carney and Michael Blair (both having honked and clanked on some of Tom Waits' finest songs), Roger Eno and Kate St John. The music was under the direction of David Coulter who'd skippered a similarly cosmopolitan crew through the Disney night at Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown a few months ago.
So we were treated to frogs, flies, locusts and boils - the Handsome Family gave us lice via banjo and acoustic guitar. June Tabor sang a gorgeous acapella version of Laurie Anderson's Death of Livestock. Rufus Wainwright, almost incognito in jeans and a cinched black raincoat closed the first act with his Katonah. A song about the death of the firstborn, with backing from Imogen Heap. Wainwright's vocal showing the strain of his relentless touring with an aged, smoky crackle that suited the aching personal narrative.
Part two was memorable for both Patrick Wolf's extraordinary performance (fake blood, blue wig, plastic pistol and all) and Damon Albarn's surprise appearance leading two choirs through a piano-bashing mockney knees-up that was as musically infectious as it was lyrically indecipherable. A peculiar yet entirely fitting way to end the evening.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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