It was of course the return of VNV Nation to the venue, and a big, big crowd – it can’t have been far from selling out – as there always seems to be whenever they come to ‘town.
It was impressive to note, actually, the large turnout early on, which even meant that Ayria were spared the usual first-band curse of playing to an empty room and instead had an appreciative crowd. Much of the set was based around material from recent album Hearts For Bullets, which no-one really seemed to mind, judging on the crowd reaction, and Jennifer Parkin’s enthusiasm and bounciness up on stage quickly rubbed off on the crowd. Highlights, fairly obviously, were the slower-paced The Gun Song and then the pounding closer My Revenge On The World – still Ayria’s best song by far. Six Seconds – the best track on Hearts For Bullets by a country mile – seemed a rather surprising omission, though…
Second support were Straftanz, who were a late addition to the tour after Frozen Plasma had to pull out. This worked fine for me, as I wasn’t a huge fan of FP at Infest the other year, whereas on the other hand I’ve had the Straftanz album Forward Ever, Backward Never for a few months and I like it a lot – so it was nice to get the chance to see them live. A bit of a spanner in the works was the announcement prior to the set that due to a back injury to the towering lead singer, he was going to be doing the whole set sat in a chair on stage. Happily, this didn’t appear to make a jot of different to the sheer energy radiating from the stage. Straftanz don’t deal in slow songs – their entire set was a torrent of bass-heavy, fast-paced industrial dance music that was enormous fun. Particular highlights were slightly-more-melodic opener Out of Time, a bruising rip through Tanzt Kaputt, Was Euch Kaputt Macht! and of course, closer Straftanz, which nigh-on raised the roof (no surprise seeing as it’s been a dancefloor filler in these parts for months).
So what about VNV Nation? Well, what else is there to say? Back-of-a-fag-packet-calculations last night suggested that this was the tenth time I’ve seen this band, not bad for a band I’ve never exactly been mad-keen on to listen to at home. The thing is, live they are always enormously entertaining, and the devotion that their fans show at every single show really is something else – and even seemed to overwhelm Ronan and Mark at the end, but more about that in a moment.
All the usual elements were there, then – the roof-raising classics, the new songs, a few album tracks, the extended banter with the crowd that, as always, suggests that Ronan has a career in stand-up comedy awaiting him when he finally gets bored of being the frontman in a band…and of course the mental crowd that seemed to drive VNV to push even harder. That linkage between band and crowd had me awestruck, particularly as I was certainly on the outside looking in of this last night – so few bands manage to inspire this level of devotion from their fans, and certainly none of their peers in this “scene” come even close, and perhaps it pushed some of the tracks last night to being more enjoyable than they otherwise would be.
There was one shining light in the set for me, though, and that was Chrome – the one truly outstanding, brilliant dancefloor track that in my eyes VNV have produced. For some reason older material – the stuff that always gets the crowd going insane, like Dark Angel and Standing in particular – I just never connected with. The encore, where they confirmed they were switching two songs each night so that each UK date a different pairing, was a clever move, too, although just my luck that they played Joy (a song that always reminds me of a past I’d perhaps like to forget), but the anthemic, elegant anti-war stance of Honour swept away the bitter taste quickly enough.
The close of Perpetual – as the music faded, and the crowd kept repeating, note-perfect, the refrain – appeared to leave the band speechless, and it was certainly an impressive sight to watch them soak up a quite extraordinary reaction. So the VNV machine rolls on, with no sign of the industrial/electro scene’s love-affair with the band abating anytime soon. Now folks, how about some of you coming to more gigs or clubs in the “scene” that might involve smaller bands, eh?