New Musical Express
July 16th 1977

Photo credit: Walt Davidson

Music Machine

Only a few nights earlier there'd been a brawl in the Music Machine involving the Boom Town [sic] Rats, but in the cold atmosphere while XTC played it seemed impossible anybody could get carried away and start chucking beer mugs.

The place is like a mini-Lyceum Ballroom with 60s tack decor. Crafty fluorescent lights cause young ladies considerable embarrassment when their black bras clearly show up under their white blouses; an assortment of middle aged drinkers making the most of the Machine's late bar license mingle with the white haired punks; and dolls house tables and chairs are positioned around the now deserted dancefloor.

Somewhere in the rafters XTC peer down at the largely indifferent audience, some 20 feet below the stage.

They're a youthful quartet exhibiting characteristics of new wave music: singer-guitarist Andy Partridge has a monotone vocal style inspired by the Dylan-Bowie-Reed school, the numbers are short attacks on your rhythmic senses, and instrumental virtuosity is negligible.

In style they're curiously and indiscriminately eclectic, drawing from the MC5 and Stooges, and yet having more than a passing respect for 60s British Beat Music. Drummer Terry Chambers, bassist Colin Moulding and Partridge are visually reminiscent of the Mod genre, and yet their keyboard player, Barry Andrews would probably be in a Rock 'n' Roll revival band, had not punk rock come along.

Obviously the early 60s puppet show theme "Fireball XL5" when they sound like the Tornados and Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower", a pretty mediocre interpretation with harmonica, are songs they include to confuse an audience even further.

Musically they're fairly inexpert, but instead of this manifesting itself as raw energy, XTC choose to be careful, keeping the songs simple, unornamented and as a result generally unexciting. And due to Partridge's garbled vocal it's difficult to make out the lyrics, except on "She's So Square", which apparently refers to the bores of '67.

Moulding, an excellent bassist and probably the best musician of the group, sang one of his own songs, "Dance Band", and unfortunately has a clearer diction. Say unfortunately, because lyrics such as "One, two, three, I'm so happy and so is she" are hardly impressive.

They encored with a particular lethargic reading of "Route 66".

Tony Stewart

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[Thanks to Jonny Stephens]