THE ADVERTS: LIVE AT THE ROXY CLUB (1977; 1990)
1) Safety In Numbers; 2) Newboys; 3) One Chord Wonders; 4) On The Roof; 5) New Day Dawning; 6) Great British Mistake; 7) Bombsite Boy; 8) No Time To Be 21; 9) Quick Step; 10) New Church; 11) Bored Teenagers; 12) Gary Gilmore's Eyes.
Given the legendary (cult) status of The Adverts, it is almost surprising that the number of postmortem releases on their part is so embarrassingly small — just this one live album, released on the Receiver label, and a bunch of radio performances or something. The Adverts were quite well known for the ferocity of their live shows, true to the core of the punk spirit and all, so it makes total sense to have them commemorated with this early and relatively intimate (but wild) club session that took place at the Roxy Club before the first album was even recorded. Fortunately, the sound quality, while far from perfect, is satisfactory enough to both enjoy the show in its «totality» and to pay attention to all the individual contributions.
Setlist-wise, you can predict that this is going to be Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts Live, and it is — they play 11 out of 13 songs live, adding the B-side ʽQuick Stepʼ and offering no particularly new melodic insights into the legend. However, you can also very easily see that they still share the old rock aesthetics of keeping it «dirtier» on stage and «cleaning it up» in the studio. The studio recordings, underneath all the heaviness, could have an acoustic underbelly, or at least some colorful electric «jangle» — live in 1977, everything is plastered with chainsaw buzz. Understandably, this undermines the songs' melodic potential, but adds tons of power, and if even subtle artists like The Who understood the payoffs, why shouldn't The Adverts? Howard Pickup, Gaye Black, and T. V. Smith are seen here as a simple, straightforward, and totally focused three-head beast who know exactly what they want — state that they do not know what they want in a laconic set of bash-your-head-over movements.
I do not really have much to say here except that this is one of the best live documents from the early punk era — raw, lo-fi (but listenable), replete with the idealism of 1977 when certain young people once again got the idea that they could somehow change the world, or at least shake it out of its general indifference and somnambulance. For all the notes that T. V. Smith flubs in this performance (compared to the much better rehearsed and engineered singing on the studio record), there is that spontaneous, taken-over-by-spirits yearning in his voice that convinces you even today — this whole enterprise may be futile, but it certainly is not fake. Nor is his reluctance to communicate with the audience, as all the songs are introduced with a brief "this is..." and sometimes concluded with an even briefer "yeah!" (not a single «thank you», I believe, even though the audience sounds quite enthusiastic throughout).
It does have to be remarked that, for a band that almost prided itself on knowing exactly one chord (figuratively speaking), The Adverts are remarkably tight live; the drummer may be their weakest spot on the whole (though he's at least competent enough not to let the rhythm slide), but the bass/guitar duo always keep up the tempos and are well coordinated with each other, leaving the singer free to roam on his own. Nothing exceptional, but once again, the legend of proper punk bands «not knowing how to play» is put to rest — restricting yourself to the bare musical minimum is certainly not the equivalent of not knowing how to play that minimum. Check out ʽNo Time To Be 21ʼ as proof — there's a relatively lengthy instrumental part there where Gaye and Howard are musically flirting with each other, she playing simple, but fun bass figures around his sea of distortion and he eventually leading his guitar towards a set of orgasmic screeches (okay, this reads sexier than it sounds, but now that I wrote it, I am beginning to feel that it is actually starting to sound sexier than it reads).
On the whole, a well-assured thumbs up here — if the studio albums convinced you that The Adverts were much more than a mere footnote in the early punk movement, Live At The Roxy is an essential addition to the legacy, rather than a footnote to a footnote. From what I read, its title may be an unfortunate lie (as the album is now said to have been recorded at Nottingham's Rock City), but everything else is the truth, and a good source of youthful inspiration even when you're listening to it at the age of 50.