This show was both part of Doug Aitken's Station To Station: A 30 Day Happening and also part of The Moog Concordance happening simultaneously at The Barbican. As it turned out, it coincided with the biggest Tube strike in years and the Great City Race which meant not only was it rather difficult getting to the Barbican but most of the car parks were shut as were the roads around the venue. All of which seemed strangely fitting for this event that will almost certainly be Suicide's last ever London show.
Because of the strike we got to the Barbican rather early and while we were eating in the restaurant, Martin Rev wandered in for his pre-gig meal of soup and salad and we then hung out by the lake and chatted to many of the people we knew and I have to say Sterling Roswell won the game of guess the special guest. I played with him as he took my Jason Pierce and trumped it with a Bobby Gillespie which turned out to be spot on!
We were in the front row of the circle which gave me a perfect view of the events. Opening were The Feral Singers directed by Phil Minton who I last saw with a very different line up at the Henry Cow show at the Barbican earlier in the year. This time, the line-up included most of Savages and Bo Ningen as well as Sharon Gal: no not the Israeli politician but the avant garde radio presenter and musician for a 5 minutes or so piece called Antiphon #1 that was a cross between Tuvan throat singing and sound poetry similar to Lawrence Upton's style.
That was followed by Henry Rollins' Liturgy Of the Word which was about 20 minutes of Henry telling us his Suicide stories from buying the debut album and hearing it for the first time to his initial meetings with both Alan Vega and Martin Rev and just what an influence the band's music and attitude has had on him as well as how proud he was to help re-issue some of their albums both together and solo in the USA.
It was great to hear Henry in full-on gushing fanboy mode helping us to know just what a special evening we were all experiencing together. He finished his liturgy by introducing the next act which was Stigmata featuring Martin Reverby as the programme has it with Finlay Shakespeare on the Moog and The Sense of Sound Singers.
As Martin strolled on, he was greeted as he should be by a massive cheer and he set his machines into motion; the sort of classical sample making a good undertow to what was being added on Moog by Finlay Shakepeare at the back of the stage. Then, as Whispering Bells got fully underway with the backing singers gently building the atmosphere as they sang with Marty about a dead man, he started to hit his keyboards with his fists and arms, but unlike the last sonic annihilation I saw him perform his keyboards. It added an undertow of fuzzy noise rather than the full on assault on the ears I might have expected from the way the keys were being attacked.
Laudamas seemed to build the emotional content with another good neo-classical sample that was built over with the feel of an epic poem being deconstructed in the vocal "dee dums" and the sound swirling through the sold out Barbican. I kept looking at what Martin was doing and the sound didn't quite match up but it didn't matter as the feeling and intensity was starting to rise anyway.
Jubilate had lyrics that told us "I Love You" over and over as the moog washes in the background interacted with Martin's sampler and his fuzzy noises with the vocal cadences to remarkable effect. Domine continued the pattern and by this point, every time Martin went off for one of his slow strolls he was greeted with cheers. He closed this part of the show with Sanctus. It could almost have been a goodbye but not quite as the keyboards died at the end and The Sense Of Sound Singers took a bow and they left us wanting more.
Next on was IT, or the Vega family band, being made up of Alan Vega on vocals and sampled vocals with Liz Lamere (his wife) playing a Kaos Pad Vox and playback in a flight case and his son Dante Vega also on vocals and some of the gadgets in his mum's flight case of equipment. And of course with Finlay still adding the moog to it all.
Alan was greeted with a huge roar when he gingerly emerged onto the stage; being led out by Henry Rollins and Dante looking rather old and frail with a large walking staff and a throne for him to sit on for some of the performance with the backdrop now showing fluttering American flags in distress as this monster sound erupted; full of squalling noise and distortions as Alan started to intone his Prayer that really hit home as to how screwed the politics of America and the world are right now. He seemed unable to sit still even though it was obviously hard for him to move about and he started stalking the stage slowly as the cavernous noise Liz was harnessing meshed into the Moog's sounds and a dystopian vision emerged for Dante to add the odd shout to.
Vision added to the tension they were building of a collapsing empire destroying itself with colossal hubris with Alan's yelps and words now both on playback and in real time as he yelped frenetically; almost arguing with his own sampled voice. It was intoxicating and stifling a miasma of sounds sonically stabbing at all of our ears as Alan intoned "No More No War" at us repeatedly.
Screaming Jesus had all the screams and yelps and pleas for forgiveness. Both the real and the disembodied Alan could give us over crushing beats and a wall of noise from Liz and Finlay with Dante's help as Alan still prowled the stage slowly - no longer able to stage dive as he did back when I first saw him in the 1980's. Despite his limitations, he still moved around more than many much younger singers manage to.
This set closed with Stars, with Alan telling us "It's Your Song" over and over as the beats and sounds crushed our minds and also got many of us moving. Unable to sit still in our seats, it was a great close to the first half of the evening and Alan slowly walked off; this time helped by Paul Smith from Blast First and Dante.
The second half started like the first with the Feral Singers performing Antiphon #2 and sounding like a cacophony of voices shouting into a void. It was unsettling and slightly bewildering as it almost always is with Phil Minton. When they finished they got a mixed reception of boos and applause as not everyone got it.
Then the place erupted as Martin Rev strolled slowly on and Alan Vega was once again led out by Henry Rollins. With Finley back at the Moog Suicide's Punk Mass lifted off with squalling noises and crushing beats. It made sure no one wanted to sit still and soon enough long time Suicide nut Horton Jupiter was leading the dancing from the front row of the stalls as Alan sang about the spotlight that was shining down on Suicide.
The joy of this performance seemed to spread by the minute as slowly more people started to get up and dance which is almost unheard of at the Barbican. The visuals then showed scenes from Coney Island as the sound engulfed us and Alan was encouraged to stand up by Martin who was singing while playing his keys as The Romance was rammed home by Alan.
I Surrender was like a beautiful anchor in the middle of the mass and I know this song had quite a few fans in tears at the sheer beauty and simplicity of it; helping to make the love being shared feel all the more real. I think the first stage invasion happened just afterwards as someone wanted to just touch the legends that are Rev and Vega. Just before this, Marty hit the sample button marked Woolly Bully and that familiar riff went round and round as the sounds were added onto it and Alan sang and yelped while the Astroland wheel thing was revolving on the screen above them and more and more of the crowd were dancing ecstatically in the hall.
Before they started the next bit of the mass, Marty hit the woolly Bully button again by mistake and got a huge roar of approval before switching to the next sample to be built around the Coney Island of the band's imaginations. It was pulsating and delicious and totally invigorating as they built this monster sound to bring this Mass to a conclusion and leave the packed hall wanting more.
During the chanting for an encore there were some more stage invasions. Now Suicide haven't always been a band interested in doing encores, but tonight they came back out and for the first encore Henry Rollins joined them to sing Ghostrider as a duet with Alan Vega. It was good to hear Rollins singing again for the first time In a good few years. At the end there was a huge roar of approval and then as Henry walked off on walked Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth as well as Liz Lamere and Dante Vega to help close out the night with an incredible version of Dream Baby Dream that seemed to be the perfect closing to an incredibly moving night's music.
As implied by the shows programme sheet, this is quite possibly the band's final show and a fitting tribute to one of the most uncompromising musical careers from the last 45 years. No matter how frail Alan Vega looked, his performance was still incredibly powerful and strong and I was very happy to have been at this show. Even the torturous journey home afterwards seemed somehow totally fitting. Long live Marty Rev and Alan Vega: forever musical heroes.