IMPERIAL WAX REVIEW – Troubadour, Earl’s Court, London, Live, 01-02-2019

Photo by Mark Elliott

Imperial Wax are the band of Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr and Pete Greenway, the longest serving and last line-up of The Fall, together with Sam Curran of the band Black Pudding, and in their first gig together at the tightly packed Troubadour club in Earl’s Court, London the groundswell of good will for them turned into a love-in of seismic proportions.

Imperial Wax have played it deftly so far. After his untimely death last year, Mark’s trusted lieutenants played their first gig as the backing band to Damo Suzuki of Can fame, and have taken their time regrouping, finding their way, honing a sound that’s both sympathetic to their well-oiled time as The Fall and looking to a hopeful future. Using the name Imperial Wax is a masterstroke, as a nod to their first Fall album together, and means they’ll always be subtly linked to a hard-worn, hard won legacy. They’ve signed to the left-field but impeccable Saustex label from San Antonio Texas, run by Jeff Smith after being put onto them by Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus, a new friend from recent run-ins with the Melvins.

Even the artwork that’s been filtering through is brutal yet funny and well-appointed, penned by Mow Skwoz (Gina Rutmanis, partner of Kevin Rutmanis of Amphetamine Reptile band Cows) and the prop heavy band photos are both cryptic and dry-witted.

Artwork for “Gastwerk Saboteurs” by Mow Skwoz

One recent pic featured Dave “Eagle” Spurr giving a sinister stare of seemingly evil intent to the addition to their clan, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Sam Curran. When I’d noted this on FB, Keiron sardonically and blackly replied, “We’re trying to get him used to the new guy haha”

Sam is a fully fledged, writing member of the band, and although his garage rock roots are sound, stepping on stage to deliver vocals with this tight-knit, well drilled trio, in front of a bunch of curious but diehard Fall fans, was always going to be daunting. Not that you’d know it. He is of course, a bit of a long-hair (in the nicest possible sense), and at least a decade younger than the rhythm section, but although the locks are good to hide behind, he didn’t go missing, making his presence felt by filling the sound with his additional guitar and giving a fully committed vocal performance on all-new material that he’s truly invested in.

The intrepid trio Spurr, Greenway and Melling, who’ve all brought out and set up their own gear, as habit dictates, are dressed in workmanlike shirts, honest and unflashy, and ready to put in a painstaking, full-blooded shift.

Built like a brick outhouse, standing as if wearing concrete boots, rooted centre stage Dave strikes a stoic, intimidating figure. His bass playing is immense, foundation shaking, glass in pane cracking. He will accept no shit, take no prisoners, and commands his ground in a way that I haven’t seen since David Wm. Sims of The Jesus Lizard. However that means that when he does glance in Sam’s direction and looks on with gritted admiration, it means a ton more. His playing responds to this new dynamic, heavier and more embattled. Of course, his psychic understanding with Keiron goes way back before the eleven years in Das Gruppe, in fact 19 years total including a previous band called Motherjohn. Keiron hits the drums like his life depends on it, head down, submerged below the crowd eyeline, mere inches from the skins, occasionally coming up for air, before the next merciless thwack. His arms are loose, his drumming is relentlessly tight. Pete is bent double over his guitar, although where his body ends and the guitar begins is moot, such is their symbiotic relationship and motion blurring whirl. Sometimes metallic, sometimes psychobilly freakout, always neurotically fastidious Greenway makes things sing and infinitesimally soar.

Photo by Mark Elliott

I’ve been lucky enough to hear the album “Gastwerk Saboteurs” (out in May), but it’s fair to say that the partisan crowd took to it instantly such is it immediacy.

Opener “Art of Projection” reminds me of “Action Time Vision” by Alternative TV as if played by Touch & Go band Mule. Obviously the vocals are higher in the mix than Mark E Smith, and the lyrics are more perceptible, but the music is still street tough, hard and heavy. But if this were just a continuance of The Fall what would be the point, there are new fields to furrow, new lands to conquer and tectonic plates to quake. Although this is more traditional song-writing, the lyrics of the likes of “Turncoat” with its erudite phrasing like “true defenestration of a worthless crown” and defiant refrain “you go snitching to the enemy your filthy plans”, means that it’s still cerebral and meaningful. No empty platitudes, it’s still punk in snarl and spirit. Structurally there is start and stop nuance, things come down to a stall and kick back off with squalling acceleration, and in “Barely Getting By”, just as Sam gets caught in a part-screamed loop, the cyclic Birthday Party-esque rhythm cranks into another even higher gear that feels barely possible yet undeniably primordial.

“Plant The Seed” is infectious and rambunctious rockabilly, like The Cramps meets “White Line Fever” and Greenway is in his element. Meanwhile, a ten minute plus epic about a nutty cab driver in Ramsbottom and his conspiracist theories, “Rammy Taxi Illuminati”, with its numerous breakdowns, its squelching and frankly rude bass and rabid vocal interjections from Dave is the most noticeable heir to the likes of “”Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s” from “New Facts Emerge” and is sure to become an out and out Imperial Wax favourite. The Fall fans at the Troubadour (some of whom had come from far and wide including Dusseldorf and Sweden) certainly appeared to lap it up.

Imperial Wax ended the set proper with the instrumental workout “Night Of The Meek” and the first single “No Man’s Land” (due out on 22nd February) which starts like a cyclone and ends like Satan’s own marching band heading up the Pennines to look at the wreck of his dark mills below.

Due to a late heavy flurry of snow out in the burbs and the late running due to an irritatingly overrunning support act, I had to cut and run before an encore, but as a trusted confidant described, they came out, Dave understatedly announced “This is for our mate” and kicked into the rumbling intensity of “Auto Chip 2014” from “Sub-Lingual Tablet”.

They went off and came back out with Keiron announcing “We’ve got no more songs of our own so we’ll have to do another Fall song” much to the crowd’s palpable delight, and then it was headlong into another live Fall favourite “Wolf Kidult Man” from “Imperial Wax”. It was respectful but full of righteous fury, with Dave and Pete singing initially but the mic being passed around the crowd to sing lyrics which seemed like the spot-on thing to do.

It was an honour to watch Imperial Wax draw first blood in their opening skirmish of a long and hopefully valorous campaign. There’s plenty more opportunities to see them soon, so I implore you to do so, up tight and sweaty as God/science intended.

Here’s a taster of “No Man’s Land”


March 2nd:  The Tin, Coventry
(ticket link below)

Imperial Wax

March 8th: The Brudenell, Leeds
Get tickets

March 9th: Eagle Inn, Salford (supporting Mugstar)
Ticket info

June 1st: The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham

(more June dates to follow in time for release of “Gastwerk Saboteurs”)