There are few occasions when an audience is aware that this gig is the last gig; that after tonight, a band will never perform these songs again. Most of the time such decisions take us by surprise – we realize we’ve not seen so-and-so play in a while, look them up, see that they have decided to ‘take a break’ and retrospectively realize that the last time we saw them, really was the last time.
Not so with Adorable, who earlier this year simultaneously announced that they would be reforming to play again, whilst being clear that these gigs – 25 years after they last performed – would not be heralding a new beginning but would instead denote a closure. These dates were not to signal a coat-tailing of the continuing popularity of the ‘90s revival movement which so many of Adorable’s peers have indulged in, but would mark a taking back of control, as singer Pete Fij remarked when first promoting these shows: ‘when we originally split up in 1994 it was because of dwindling sales, press indifference and a label that didn’t want us anymore. 25 years on, we’re planning on going out on a high – to play some shows that are a celebration of our time together, and exit this time on our own terms!’
After initially announcing just two dates – one at Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, the other in London – the band were overwhelmed by the response they received and quickly added three more nights between the two cities. This was to be a brief two-town tour before the four band members again split up and returned to their ‘normal lives’.
Adorable formed in 1990, on the back of Baggy and the rise of Shoegaze and a couple of years later signed to Creation where they released their two albums in quick succession. Whilst the band’s career in Britain did not take off as might have been expected, in part due to the destructive power wielded by the whimsical music press, the chance of a fresh start in the States beckoned with a signing to major label SBK and a 30-plus date tour. Here too however, Adorable were blighted – this time at the mercy of SBK’s laughably inappropriate/sadly ill-advised (take your pick) marketing campaign, which tipped them as ‘the band you love to hate’, a goading torment which still stalks Fij to this day. With the rise of Grunge and Britpop, the musical landscape within which Adorable had thrived was shifting and by 1994 it was – apparently – all over.
For those of us who identify with musical sub-genres of the early ‘90s and who can chart a lifetime’s memories of loves and losses to the records we bought and danced to, bands like Adorable have been deeply missed and remain they ones by which we choose to define ourselves: to use a hackneyed but apt phrase, they really do form the soundtrack to our lives. Whilst Fij went on to form Polak and more recently recorded two beautifully brittle and emotionally raw albums with Terry Bickers, Adorable’s songs and their ability to transport us back to those smoky dimly-lit venues have remained a powerful force and so with these dates being announced, the opportunity to be a part of it for a final time, was too important to pass by.
It is of course impossible to know how Pete Fij, Kevin Gritton, Robert Dillam and Stephen Williams must have felt in the run up to and duration of these gigs – buoyed on by the enthusiasm of the crowds, even before they stepped on stage but also aware that this would be a final chapter and that however powerful the reception, there would be no repeat. This is part of the paradox of course and one which serves to make these dates unique.
After two nights at the social cooperative which is Yorkshire’s Hebden Bridge Trades Club, the London venues provide a less austere comparison, with Friday and Saturday night’s sets coming from Bush Hall – a chandelier draped, mirror-bedecked Edwardian dance hall; and Sunday’s from The Scala, a majestic Deco ex-cinema, proudly standing amidst the squalid, messy hinterland of Kings Cross.
The stage lights are dim and fuzzy and there is something about the intimate, beautiful venues which don’t prepare us for the power of the wave of noise which pours through us as Adorable take to the stage and the ferocity with which they hurl through their back catalogue. With the passing of the years, it was easy for the music press to dismiss Shoegaze as an inconsequential, dated musical genre, overtaken as it was by the more bombastic sounds of the late ‘90s. But hearing these tracks again live and the wall of sound that these musicians produce, we can’t help but acknowledge how vital this connection between musician and audience is, recognize the talent of these performers and also, sadly, realize how brief their hold on fame really was – two years and two albums.
This does not sound like a band who have not played together for a quarter of a century, nor is the material outmoded; indeed the music they produce remains visceral and shocking in its intensity, an incredible world of feedback and shimmering distortion that catches the breath and holds the audience en-rapt. It is no surprise of course that Shoegaze has made a comeback and that a new generation is experiencing it for themselves and there is a bitter-sweet irony in knowing that were Adorable recording today, their story may well end rather differently.
The audience know what is coming of course – ‘Sunshine Smile’, ‘Homeboy’ and ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ all get their turn and the band lurch from track to track with barely a pause. As ever, the screaming beauty of ‘Submarine’ and ‘Road Movie’ are clear highlights for me and the only moment of respite is granted during Fij and Dillam’s gentle guitar and vocal duet of ‘Summerside’ a melancholic paean to broken love. On Sunday night, as Fij stands back from the mic to utter the track’s final words ‘killing the love from one another… one another.. .one another’, Dillam turns to him and spontaneously places a tender kiss on his cheek and I feel my chest constrict with the sad beauty of this movement. I feel like a voyeur, witnessing the connection between these two men, a moment so intimate and private, which seems to speak volumes about the journey which has led to this instant.
During his tours with Terry Bickers, Fij plays the garrulous and charming raconteur, spending as long setting up the story behind each song as he does performing them, whilst his ex-Creation colleague looks on with the taciturn restraint of a tolerant uncle. Here however, whilst equally in his element, we see a different character in the singer’s persona – controlling the stage with stern growls and gesticulations, wielding his mic stand and screaming out his words. If ever a front man epitomized the definition of a brooding stage presence, it is here (I am fully prepared for Pete to laugh); and it appears to me that he has found a cathartic outlet, an expression of anger and venom, perhaps a final laying to rest to the demons which blighted his band’s demise and which have haunted him to this day.
There are barely any phones on display on Sunday night, the audience is collectively enthralled throughout the set, united by an awareness of the fragility of this final moment in their beloved band’s history. The intensity is such that when the quartet return for the encore and announce that they need to re-play ‘Favourite Fallen Idol’, rather than finish on a mistake (third time lucky as it turns out), our laughter is a nervous release of the tension we hadn’t realized we were feeling.
The set ends with Fij reminding us that the intention of these dates has not been to make a fresh start but to ‘rewrite history’ and as ‘A To Fade In’ fills the room, the lyrics deeply resonate with those of us who have gathered, audience and musicians alike, to pay homage not just to a moment in time, but to the people we all were, to the hopes, dreams and stories of a generation and to remind us to grab that moment while we can, because we too may have another chance to re-write history:
I don’t want to be faded skin
I don’t want to fade out
I want to fade in
I want to fade in
Can you see me? I can’t see myself
Can you hear me? I can hardly hear myself
And I don’t want to be a faded memory
All I want is to be me.
Photo by Dave MacIntyre from Hebden Bridge, Night 2