Bristol's middle-aged moshpit, spurred on by some younger pogoing devotees, bounced their way through The Wedding Present's debut album "George Best" one last time in a live setting. Celebrating its thirtieth birthday, David Gedge was the only surviving member of the 1987 incarnation - indeed the only one of the current awesome foursome that was anywhere near adulthood when the album was written. As well as a celebration, it was also the album's retirement tour, the last time it will be reprised live as a full body of work. Bristol gave it a splendid send-off.
Before the "George Best" segment, we were treated to a diverse cross-section of Wedding Present songs from 1991 to the present day, spanning "Seamonsters", "Watusi", "El Rey", "Valentina", "Going, Going" and the recent "Home Internationals EP". They eased atmospherically into motion with the sparse piano intro of "Scotland", before building to the widescreen, post-rock sonics that have characterised much of their recent sound. "Broken Bow" reflected on how 'The pain of failure is so much greater than the pleasure of success', whilst succeeding pleasurably, before the first of many walls of sound smacked us in the chops during "Deer Caught in the Headlights" and "Model, Actress, Whatever".
'We are the semi-legendary Wedding Present' announced Gedge, wry and flirtatious, very much comfortable within his own skin as a seasoned front man, despite what the angst of many a lyric may suggest. He may sing with his heart on his sleeve, but he addresses his audience with his tongue in his cheek, introducing "Loveslave" as part of their 'frankly groundbreaking LP', "Seamonsters". Much as this was self-aware, self-referential and ironic in its bragging, there was a ripple of assent through the audience that this was just how their pre-grunge 1991 masterwork ought to be remembered. Gedge the songwriter has always had an ear for everyday conversation. "Crawl" gave him the chance to hurl a typical colloquial grenade, growling, 'Say that again and I'll kill you.' "Loveslave" gave them the chance to go gung-ho on the guitars and be the Shredding Present. That and 2016's "Fifty-Six" had most of us on the phone to the Guitar String Abuse Hotline.
What the band has now that it didn't have then is the permanent counterpoint of bassist Danielle Wadey's vocals, brought to bear on "Click, Click", as hers and Gedge's unaccompanied vocals layered perfectly at the end of the track, Wadey also fulfilling Amelia Fletcher's vocal duties on "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft". Along with Charles Layton on drums and Marcus Kain on guitar, they form a musically tighter group than the 1987 combination, a view that Gedge also holds and happily shared with the crowd.
The quiet ending of "England" led straight into the anything-but-quiet opening of "George Best", the sharp intake of breath and 'Oh why do you catch my eye, then turn away?' from "Everyone Think He Looks Daft". It brought a surge of redoubled enthusiasm from the crowd and helped the two inattentive strokers in front of me to stop conversing loudly and pay proper attention (why do so many people talk through gigs rather than letting the artist provide the noise nowadays?). "A Million Miles", "Give My Love To Kevin" and "My Favourite Dress" epitomised the steadier, more contemplative side of the album, whilst "Shatner" and "Anyone Can Make A Mistake" were evidence of how David Gedge has the hardest-working wrist in the business, his hand a blur, triggering chord after chord of the insistent rhythms that were the stock-in-trade of the band's early years. The former was preceded by the ironic, 'We're going to slow things down now' and the latter's lyric, 'A little bit of what you fancy doesn't do any good at all' ran contrary to the glorious exhilaration in the room.
There was no complaining by the time we reached song twenty-one, the album's final track, "You Can't Moan Can You?" That said, 'You have got everything you need' was not quite true as a lyric, because everyone knew that they hadn't played "Kennedy". As any fool knows, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends at least five servings of The Wedding Present per day, including as much "Kennedy" as possible. Love of life and faith in setlists was upheld when they launched into it as their non-encore encore (having eschewed the pantomime of the encore in 1989 and stuck to their guns since). With fearsome attack, it sent us out into the sultry Bristolian night on a wave of giddy nostalgia, reminding us that the Wedding Present is the gift that keeps on giving.
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