Was it worth getting seasick to see Elvis Costello? The question was unavoidable as 400 assorted liggers, Beautiful People and fans boarded the Royal Iris at Liverpool's Pier Head in less than seasonal weather. The surprise guest appearance of Radar's big star apart, this promised to be quite an event — if not the gig of the year, then the cruise of the year. Was that distant groan the ghost of Merseybeat moving over at last for the new generation, or just another seasick passenger?
It seemed quite poetic to be putting a band called the Yachts on a boat. The return of local talent, denying the claim that Liverpool is still a musical backwater (no pun intended). One ex-Liverpudlian, one ex-member of Liverpool's most loved band of the Seventies, and one fully-fledged Liverpool group.
The Bob Dylan of the new wave stole no-one's limelight, appearing early in the evening as the sun began to set over the Mersey. He played one old song (a Merseybeats number, I believe), five of his greatest hits, and disappeared. He seemed more relaxed than usual, and restored faith in himself as a human being, talking to the audience between numbers, making bad jokes about drowning, and even smiling.
Clive Langer thanked the support band and played a short, sharp set of six numbers including the two best from the new E.P., "Lovely Evening" and "The Whole World" (aided by backing vocals from various friends, well-wishers and ex-Deaf School members). Both were very strong songs, as immediately familiar as if Deaf School had once played them. His band comprised John Grant (drums), James Eller (bass), and more local talent in the person of Ian Broudie (of Liverpool's most posthumously-favoured group, Big In Japan) on guitar. A different line-up than that of the EP, playing in public together for the first time. It didn't show.
Yachts compensated for the economy of the first two sets with all the enthusiasm of a return from exile (America) and played what sounded like everything from their new LP (awaiting imminent release). I like the Yachts, but I like them three minutes at a time. More than hour is more than enough.
At their best (the singles) they create that sense of joy which makes a good pop song. At their worst, there's the suspicion of a lack of substance. Slight variations of structure and pace are insufficient to make up for the predictable tunes, and the constant repetition of the elements which gave them their original appeal (keyboards and vocal harmonies) becomes slightly tedious.
But I look out of the window and there are the band reflected in the glass, surrounded by an eager audience, and below them can be seen the lights of the famous Merseyside skyline, and even Liverpool looks roman- tic in the dark. I think poetic thoughts like "It's not just another gig." Yachts are a good-time band, and it's an occasion to have a good time. At the back, people with good sea-legs are dancing. The boat is still rocking. And the band played on...