Current 93 – Antwerp 2006

c93_antwerp.gif Recently I had the privilege to attend two Current 93 concerts. Since they don’t often play nearby and because it was announced that this was their first and last European tour, I decided to visit both of their Belgian gigs. The location of both nights was the small cultural centre Luchtbal, situated in a somewhat remote suburb of Antwerp.

Friday May 19
This tour was organized to promote the new Current 93 album Black Ships Ate the Sky. So the first thing to do Friday night on arrival in the Luchtbal was to buy the new cd, as well as a special ‘Tour EP’ with three tracks, with unreadable titles because of the coptic writings used. Then we had to wait quite a while for the doors of the hall to open. We managed to obtain quite good seats, so we had a good overview of the stage.

First support act was Current 93 pianist Maja Elliott, who performed some tranquil pieces, partly instrumental piano compositions, partly songs with ethereal vocals. Nice, but probably a bit too soft for the waiting audience. She was followed by Simon Finn, who played his typical style of singer-songwriter folk, raw and passionate, often shouting out loud, especially during ‘Jerusalem’. If the people weren’t awake then already, they would certainly be so during the painstakingly long and very loud verion of the moog-classic ‘Popcorn’, played as a warming-up to Current 93’s concert.

There were loud cheers when the eight (!) musicians of Current 93 started playing ‘Judas as Black Moth’, and even more so when David Tibet came on stage, barefooted and with a funny hat. ‘Time of the Last Persecution’ directly sounded overwhelming. It soon became clear that this would be a special evening. Not only was the band in great shape, Tibet performed in a very intense manner, both in his exorcising vocal style and his vivid gestures. The general atmosphere was very dramatic and emotional.

As could be expected, the songs of ‘Black Ships Ate the Sky’ had a central position. It was my first acquaintance with them, but the material directly sounded convincing. The songs differed considerably in style, from folky ballads with piano, harp, violin and flute, to quite heavy pieces with rock guitars. Apart from the new material, also quite some music from ‘Soft black stars’ was played. Perhaps these songs benefit more from an intimate, minimal line-up than a full band setting, but I already experienced a minimal setting on a concert in London once, so I didn’t mind hearing them from another angle. Now and then an older song was on the menu, like ‘Good Morning Great Moloch’. ‘Bind your tortoise mouth’ formed a nice end to the regular set, when the musicians left the stage one by one, untill only Baby dee was left playing her harp.

The audience was extremely enthousiastic, so Current 93 returned for several encores. A nice moment was the childish duet of Tibet and Joolie Wood at the start of ‘A sadness song’. It was followed by the powerful classic ‘Oh coal black smith’. When they returned for the second time the very old song’ Black flowers, please’ was on the menu, followed by the moving ‘Whilst the night rejoices profound and still’. We had to deal with many impressions when we left the building, trying to figure out a manner to return to the city centre.

Saturday May 20
The next day we walked through rainy Antwerp, killing time with museums and record stores, untill it was time to return to the Luchtbal, which we certainly didn’t consider a punishment. The support acts were different the second night. The originally announced Pantaleimon wasn’t present. First Joolie Wood played some of her soft romantic songs (not too convincing), followed by the colourful character of Baby Dee, who proved once again that her music is strange, funny and beautiful at the same time.

Then we were deafened by the ‘Popcorn-ritual’ once again, before Current 93 played their second night in Belgium. Once again it was an impressive concert, but I didn’t find it as overwhelming as the previous night. Was it because the surprise effect was of course less the second night? In my experience the band played a bit less tight on Saturday, and the sound was somewhat better on Friday. Nevertheless I didn’t regret coming again at all. The setlist was in many aspects the same on both nights, but some of my favourite songs were only played during the encores on Saturday.

Especially ‘Sleep has his house’ was a highlight, drenched with emotion. David Tibet dedicated it to the late Jon Balance of Coil and his deceased cat Squiggy, who is also honoured on the ‘Black Ships Ate the Sky’ album. At the end of this song Tibet was in tears for several minutes, enhancing the shivers down everyone’s spines. It was followed by the lovely ‘A gothic lovesong’. After a second encore with ‘The bloodbells chime’ and again ‘Oh coal black smith’, the ceremony was over. Will there come a next time?