This year marks the twentieth anniversary of The Wedding Present’s seminal, break-up album, “Bizarro“; and to celebrate, band founder David Gedge is touring the U.S. playing the album in full. On Friday night The Wedding Present stopped in at The Black Cat to play a handful of non-”Bizarro” tracks and then the album proper from beginning to end. While the current Wedding Present line-up skews slightly younger than the blokes that originally played this material, the crowd on Friday night was definitely composed of first generation fans judging by the abundance of middle-aged and soon to be middle-aged men in attendance. It was certainly a night for reliving passionate youth for many as “Bizarro” is one of the great relationship-angst albums of all time. So great in fact that Gedge’s heart-wounded lyrics can still inspire a crowd of grown men to scream along with him even now, twenty years removed from the soul-crushing trials of youthful romance and the debut of the perfect soundtrack for them.
When The Wedding Present took to the stage on Friday night, I was a little surprised to see that Gedge was the only member of the band I recognized. For some reason I assumed with this album-anniversary tour we would see some of the “Bizarro”-years line-up. Not that I was too concerned by the unfamiliar faces on stage, Gedge has been the only consistent member of The Wedding Present over the last 25 years; and a similar, unfamiliar, backing-band sounded just fine when I saw them at the Black Cat in 2005. That show was a fun one, but didn’t leave much of a lasting impression on me. I was expecting much more from Friday night’s show since it would be featuring the entire “Bizarro” album being played live. I am a huge fan of the current trend in concerts of bands performing entire albums live. I have been to many such concerts and they are always excellent. The combination of hearing an entire seminal work live with the physical/technical dexterity required of the musicians to perform a full-album (including tracks they rarely play anymore) right in front of your eyes is an incredible thing to see.
The Wedding Present opened up Friday’s concert with about six or seven non-”Bizarro” tunes. The performance was fun but not incredibly tight and had me a little concerned for the “Bizarro” set that was yet to come. The crowd seemed to be loving every second of it though, coming to life the instant David Gedge opened his mouth. People sing along and dance at every concert I attend but there was something magical happening to the crowd on Friday night. So many of the men and women around me had this light in their eyes and smiles as they cut loose with every kind of weird, herky-jerky, late 80′s/early 90′s college-radio, dance move you could imagine. It was obvious by the crowd’s reaction that Gedge and his band’s music are beloved. The crowd’s energy and happiness at seeing Gedge on stage was infectious. By the time they were playing ‘Corduroy’, I was making my way to the very front to join up with a good friend of mine and his high-school buddies who had trekked down from Pennsylvania for the show. I wanted to get right in the thick of things before they started playing “Bizarro”; the principal reason everyone had come out Friday night.
The set was separated into two halves by a manipulated, stuttering sample of a British radio or television announcer introducing The Wedding Present. (this may have been John Peel’s voice but I am uncertain). To be honest I thought using the sample was pretty cheesy as it stuttered through the playing of the final, non-”Bizarro” song. But then that song ended and the sample was left to play out fully with the announcer’s voice introducing “The Wedding Present’s new album, Bizarro!” and the band instantly launched into ‘Brassneck’ to open the album-portion of the set. It was a transition that turned a kind of lame gimmick into something incredibly cool.
The second half of The Wedding Present’s set featured them performing the UK, 10-track version of “Bizarro”. This performance was stellar. The band instantly sounded much, much tighter; Gedge’s voice went from playful to all-business as he belted out some of the best, post-break-up, acid-tinged lyrics ever; and the crowd went wild. I almost felt like I was watching a different band in the second half of this show. They were so well-rehearsed and on-point that my earlier concerns flew right out the window. “Bizarro” is a speed-strum heavy album and it was incredible to watch Gedge and second guitarist Graeme Ramsay attack the material with intensity. The set’s mid-section of ‘Thanks’, ‘Kennedy’, “What Have I Said Now”, and ‘Granadaland’ was absolute perfection in bringing the emotional damage and guitar-jangle fury of the album to the stage; it was like watching Gedge rip out his broken-heart and throw it into the crowd.
The set ended with the 9+ minute finale of ‘Take Me!’. Arguably “Bizarro’s” most cheerful tune, if you play optimist and assume that the narrator gets the girl after the song is over. Maybe not so cheerful if you embrace the unrequited love angle and assume the narrator pines away, never telling the girl what he tells us in the song. Gedge and the band extended ‘Take Me!’ a few minutes to make for an exciting live jam. By song’s end the audience and the band had been through the ringer and Gedge let us all down easy with an abbreviated epilogue. Before playing the album closer, Gedge reminded the crowd that The Wedding Present doesn’t do encores, and then he launched into “Be Honest”, ending the night with the lyrics:
“And if we’re really, really going to be honest.
We might as well be brief.”