Sounds, December 23, 1989

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Let the vibe take over

Christmas Rocks / Dublin Olympia Theatre

Jim Carroll

Christmas Rocks has become an annual fundraising bash for Temple Street Children's Hospital, organised by journalists Lisa Hand and Christine Ryan, it uses the "vibe" element in Dublin rock to create a night of festive fun and frolics. You could call it the city's yearly rock pantomime.

What we get with our popcorn is choice local acts, raffles, inane DJs and personalities and "surprise guests." And, in a city where that tag is used on the press release for virtually every charity concert, the organisers' catches often turn out to be quite large fish.

Scale The Heights power into action and roll out a big barrel of pop chords. "Proud Of You" and "Disposable" stand out with their Undertones' paint shining bright, but their set's too short for any other observations to be made.

The Dixons are charming journeymen who know a good song before the ink dries on the page. "Wait" has a superb Byrds echo to it while "I Have Fun" is a strand of class weaving from the amps.

The Joshua Trio redo U2 songs in a jazz style and take the Michael out of the fab four and their activities. While he joke inevitably wears thin, we laugh at Paul's white robes and his speech about reindeer with red noses.

The Golden Horde are sonic boys lost in music and fun. Their psychedelic Ramones racket is the rock 'n' roll angle to the show. "I Reject You," "Adrienne," "She's A Weirdo" — all grist to Simon Carmody's arm-flailing mill.

Elvis Costello walks on stage and the place erupts. The nation's pretender to Christy Moore's throne, he plays his human jukebox role with the ease only years of such appearances can give. He raps about Douglas Hurd and "acid, punk and Kylie" and the crowd hold their breath with each new turn taken. Barbed guitar chords add to the tension and we realise that there are reasons other than fun to be here. A shake of "Reet Petite," a snatch of "Jackie Wilson Said" and he's gone.

Mary Coughlan is no longer the woman her popular caricature remains. She's read a few paragraphs about the act of subtlety and now moves us with her voice rather than her rants. Her new songs are damn good ("Man Of The World" — Coughlan discovers soul House?!) and her band are more than equal to this spread of material. "These Boots Are Made For Walking" dum-dum-dum's all over the stage forcing former opinions to be rewritten.

That The Cutting Crew flew in for tonight's show is admirable. That they performed songs which redefined the words bland and predictable is criminal. The Crow have stumbled on the fact that folk equals hip and blast us with bagpipe sounds and earthy, gutsy, jokey bravado. Boring.

The Four Of Us play pop for everyone. "Washington Deceased" is sharp but glowing in its acoustic clothing, while their version of Lou Reed's "Busload Of Faith" bursts with soul and heartfelt fervour. The Four Of Us are heading for a land where pop's dreams and wishes are granted by The Charts Fairy.

The Pogues are chequered fieldmice on the Olympia's stage, sprawling about like children topped with something the ghosts of Christmas past have dropped down the chimney. Shane presents new variations on the duck walk, while Daryl has discovered Happy Mondays and the Bez foxtrot. The others scramble about making the most of an already chaotic situation.

There are a number of sides to this gang's festive feast. Terry Woods introduces sense and protest with "Streets Of Sorrow," standing alone in the midst of seasonal trappings singing of emigrant life and bad deals. It merges into "Birmingham Six" and Shane's rasp is all the more significant given the previous day's "Parade Of Innocence" and the presence of one of the Guildford Four in the audience.

"Yeah X 5" turns the insane side out. The brass section pour out a sassy, ska-beaten mix and the rest of the happy-happy-happy gang swirl in a mix of paper-streamers and artificial snow. Liam O'Maonlai stalks the stage banging a bodhran in search of his soul. This carnival of barks and colour hits a "mental! mental!" run with "Fiesta." Whistles, running children, more snow — there is nothing The Pogues can do that can't be done, as this glam trash demonstrates.

Tonight, The Pogues are magical demons spinning and dancing with joy. Now, we can forget some dreadful half-alive summer performances and think, instead, of what happens when this amount of talent collides. Of course, it's untogether, out-of-place, out-of-time but the vibe (what else?) is right.

Mary Coughlan joins Shane for "Fairytale Of New York," the last burst of sanity before we head to our beds. It's merry anarchy at this stage (an hour or so behind schedule and counting) and the mega finale draws everyone onstage. Here "White Christmas" can be noted more for its spirit than performance as emotions run high. With a collective blink, It's over and someone starts to plan for 1990, Now that will be fun.

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Sounds, December 23 / 30, 1989

Jim Carroll reports on the Christmas Rocks For Children benefit concert, Sunday, December 10, 1989, Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Ireland.

Peter Kane writes about Spike for the Best Of The Year feature.


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Elvis Costello

Peter Kane

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After the brittle, bruising simplicty that was Blood And Chocolate, Spike visits Dublin, Hollywood, New Orleans and er, Paul McCartney to let them work their special magic on the muse with styles and sounds as diverse as the themes addressed. More proof that Costello goes where no other British songwriter can hope to follow.

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