By Tim Mooney
Review AON concert Chicago, October 1999
I arrived late, delayed by the purchase of a new car, and Chicago traffic. Fortunately, there was an "opening act," a DJ who was simply spinning and scratching music. I didn't know anyone there, or I didn't know whether I knew anyone there, so I stood on the floor, perhaps two people from the stage. I was grateful for whomever had mentioned that Lol was on the left; I was going to be annoying and ask him to clarify whether that was audience left, or stage left, but I knew what he meant. And there on stage right were three guitars lined up. Certainly the Lolster's preferred instruments of pleasure.
The crowd seemed fairly eclectic, perhaps leaning to the techno-dweeb side. I struck up a conversation with a guy standing next to me who was living his dream to see Art of Noise live. He was happy, and only mildly interested in the fact that one of the players had worked with another band before. I measured the distance to the stage in my mind, and thought about the title of my essay: "I was twenty feet from Lol Creme!" Perhaps "I was fifteen feet from Lol Creme!" if I nosed in a little closer.
And finally, the DJ wrapped up and the band came out. Paul Morley showed up first, along with the two tape loop boys who stood at that back. He narrated a bit of silliness about things that began with the letter A. Concluding, of course, with the Art of Noise.
And then the rest of the band came out. The opera singer (a beautiful girl who couldn't have been more than 22, bubbling with energy), Anne Dudley (gorgeous), Trevor Horn, (who seems to me to be a bit of a cross between John Lithgow and Lorne Michaels). I knew just who would be next.
"LOL!" I called out as soon as I saw him. He looked up, surprised, perhaps, to be known as anything but a member of the band. I applauded with my hands above my head, and he seemed to catch my eye and smile. "Lol Creme smiled at me!" was the new title of my essay.
And then the music. The lush beautiful music. Interrupted by the frontman with the hammer. Occasionally, his jokes were amusing. At times his enthusiasm was infectious. And yet, I have never seen such a clear potential for addition by subtraction. Lose that one poseur, and the whole evening is nothing but a gorgeous wall of sound. The Debussy pieces are dreamlike, wafting, amazing. And then, the interruption of the narration, breaking the mood, time and again.
Anne Dudley plays a mean piano. Lol accompanies fluidly on guitar (a stratocaster, I was to note, which became relevant later). Trevor Horn plays a stand-up bass guitar, occasionally shifting over to the regular bass. He and Lol stand in close proximity, occasionally shooting looks across at Anne, presumably to take or give each other visual cues.
It is almost impossible to distinguish what is being played live to what is pre-recorded. At one point they (Paul) seemed to mock the audience by playing a recording of Beat Box (or was it Close to the Edit?) while the band only made slight feints at playing along.
They shift between the new disc and the "hits". Lol adding flourishes on the guitar, but buried fairly deep in the mix. He and Trevor Horn trade private jokes. At times you wonder what such geniuses are doing playing back up to this joker shaking his little hammer. But the music is infectious and one cannot help but rock, sway, clap along, pump a fist in the air or dance. Lol would work the foot pedal on his system to change the texture of the guitar, occasionally making it growl ferociously. I think about the title "I was Fourteen Feet from Lol's Foot."
And there, with the frontman making a joke about "Is that a Gunn in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?" all seems suspended for a moment, and all eyes turn to Lol. I know what is coming, and as much as I want to shout out to Lol, I hesitate and wait for the notes. Lol plays the twangy intro to the Peter Gunn theme. He seems to know that it drives the audience crazy, though he can't help but be bored by the predictableness and repetition of it all. The opera singer's voice is harmonically altered, so that she sings the incredibly high twangy guitar part.
They finish with a bit of the Debussy, but come back for an encore, featuring the opera singer again, along with Anne Dudley on piano, who was to sing hardly at all all night. For that matter, Lol doesn't even have a microphone. They flit a while longer through the catalogue. (I didn't write down what they did.) And left the stage again.
The audience, many of whom had been dancing, or at least shifting their weight to the tune of the music, refused to leave, clapping and stomping their feet.
They came back out again. And again went back to perform the Peter Gunn theme. (Paul Morley couldn't help but revisit the "gun in your pocket" line. ) Again, Lol was featured, even more than before. Trevor Horn plays an electronic saxophone.
Finally, they leave again. The audience continues to shout and stamp for another three minutes, and then the house lights come up.
I walked out slowly chatting with my new friend the Art of Noise fan. He spotted an AON poster on the wall and looked at me. "Should I take it?" I shrugged. He passed on it. I thought about it. Who would care? And then the guy behind me nicked it.
It was Randy Craig. Former Stronie. An actor I'd directed in a show 8 or 9 years ago with whom I'd discovered a mutual interest in 10cc and G&C. The club was perhaps three miles from his house. I'd wondered if I might see him here, and several times through the evening had regretted not calling him to alert him to the concert.
We chatted, catching up on his life, my life. The crowd pushed past us. Perhaps thirty five people lingered near the front door and we stayed there talking. The attractive woman who'd been videotaping the concert continued to videotape the fans out in front of the building. Speaking of videotapes, Randy had the videotape of the Godley & Creme MTV program I'd loaned him years before ... did I want to come and get it? We agreed, largely in our assessment of the concert; incredible sound but lose the front man.
And then we noticed a couple of cameras focused in a particular direction. Paul Morley, no longer with his fireman's coat and hammer, was signing autographs. He wasn't exactly being swarmed with people. Randy and I realized at the same moment; perhaps the rest of the band would be soon to follow. We lingered and talked, eying the side door to the theatre as a possible exit.
A few minutes passed, and Morley was out again, signing more autographs. Many of the theatre personnel were now gone, and things were darker inside. There weren't many people to greet, and I had little interest in striking up a conversation with the guy, who was fairly unrecognizable on the street. He had seemed to make a big deal about the fact that the faces of the Art of Noise did not appear on their album covers (which struck me in turn as his way of posturing by pretending that he isn't posturing), and this was the result. (Several times during the evening I found myself thinking, "this guy is trying to be David Byrne, about twenty years too late.")
I couldn't help but chuckle when Morley went back to the theatre door to find it locked.
We walked back to the front door, and inside could see the instruments being collected in the front hallway. Of course they were being handled by roadies ("never met the roadies; leave them in the van"). But perhaps Lol was not far behind. Randy asked one of the guys in Metro t-shirts if this was the way the band would come out, and the guy indicated the side door. We returned to the side, and again, noticed Morley at the front door, this time only edging halfway out of it so as not to get locked out.
And then Randy did a very brave thing. "Hey, we're big 10cc fans, and we were wondering if Lol was coming out." "I don't know. I'll see." He went back inside.
Perhaps two minutes later, we saw the guy we'd been making fun of coming back down the front hall with Lol under his arm. Lol was grinning and perhaps a bit nervous; had he been the victim of 10cc stalkers in the past?
And then it was Randy who hesitated while I found the strength to say "We're HUGE 10cc fans from way back."
Randy: "Rubber Bullets was like the first album I ever owned." (Okay, that wasn't the name of the album, but Lol got the idea.) He shook our hands, thanking us with a big smile on his face. I wished I'd stolen the poster off of the wall or bought a t-shirt so that I'd have something for Lol to sign. Randy and I dug out business cards and Lol gladly signed the backsides of them.
And then some guy who'd been lingering near the door playing hackey sack: "The Art of Noise is just awesome! I love you guys!"
Randy could not let that stand. He turned to lecture the guy on exactly who he was talking to, here. "This man is one of the founding members of ..." Rather than leaving Lol to listen, embarrassed, to his own biography, which couldn't begin to scratch the surface in these brief, stolen moments, I turned to engage him in a new question. "So how much longer is the tour?"
"Not long. It's already halfway through. We've done three dates so far already: San Francisco, Los Angeles and here."
"I know somebody who's seeing you in New York tomorrow night," I said, putting in a plug for Jose. Lol seemed unmoved by that bit. The follow-up question that I never got to ask was, "And what are you doing next?"
Randy: "Are you and Kev working on anything these days?" (Oh, Randy, don't take him down that road, I thought.)
Lol: "Well, Kev and I aren't working together any more. We split up around 1989. You know, we'd been together for twenty-eight years, which was enough. I don't know if I split from him or he split from me, but I moved out to live in Los Angeles to do movies, and he's in England."
Randy: "I kept waiting for you to play the gizmo." (Oh, Randy, don't bring THAT up!)
Lol: "It's up in the attic somewhere. I really don't play it any more."
The Hackey Sack Player: "The Art of Noise is just the BEST, man! You know, I've been writing poetry for two years. I'm working on making my living with this, man." He showed the hackey sack. "I believe in doing what you love, man." (Was he giving Lol career advice?)
Lol: "Well, that's great." He was nudging back into the door. He reached out to shake our hands once more.
Randy: "Hey, was that your old Strat you were playing?"
Lol stopped just inside the foyer, perhaps intrigued that someone recognized the instrument.
"No, actually, somebody pinched it."
"Somebody pinched your Strat?"
"Yeah, the one I'm using used to belong to Nigel Gray. The Police used to record just down the block from my house, and after somebody pinched my Strat, Nigel gave me his."
It wasn't so much the content of this story that mattered so much, as it was seeing Lol tell a spontaneous story rather than answering the battery of questions that he must be bored to death with. He was happy to engage us on a personal level, and thanked us for coming. He headed back up the hallway, and we waved from the doorway.
There over his shoulder, the woman with the video camera was capturing a parting shot of the two of us in the doorway, and I realized that I was probably grinning ear to ear. I waved at the camera, and then noticed that Lol had turned back, giving us an even brighter smile and a final wave at the same time.
Walking to our cars, Randy and I chatted about the whole full-circle nature of things. I'd never caught 10cc live twenty-five years before, and had always regretted that. Lol was older and so was I. But seeing him took away the regret I'd always carried around for not having caught him live the first time around. Almost as though life could now start over, picking up from where I'd left off, somewhere, years before.
There were, of course, all of the questions that I hadn't managed to ask: "What are you doing NEXT, Lol?" "What's up with Lalo?" "What movies are you working on now?" "Do you need a slave to work in your office and manage things for you? Here's my business card."
(Published: February 2000)
© 1999-2001 The Official 10cc Pages