This review was first published on BBC Oxford on 16 February 2006, two days after Julian Cope’s concert in Oxford.
It’s February the 14th and there’s a lot of love bouncing around upstairs in the Zodiac…
…but that’s not just because it’s Valentines Day, no no no. It’s because the Arch Drude, Julian Cope, is onstage.
His last Zodiac appearance was a solo affair where, armed with a lurid green semi acoustic guitar, effects pedals and a hefty beard, he plundered his vast back catalogue to mesmerising effect. Now, 18 months later and with last year’s Citizen Cain’d/Dark Orgasm double whammy in the can, he is ready to ROCK. We know this for a fact because Doggen – guitarist extraordinaire and tonight masked by Joker-style face paint – is up there with a six-stringed axe to grind, while Mister E is ready to pound his kit.
The opening shots of White B**** Comes Good and She’s Got a Ring on her Finger tell us exactly what to expect – a night of Copean garage/psyche rifferama. Double Vegetation, Highway to the Sun, World War Pigs, Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line and Sunspots are all given extra beef by Doggen’s unrestrained guitar cookery, as are a pair of tunes from Teardrops archives. There’s even an airing for Brain Donor’s unrefined thuggery… Get Off My Pretty Face indeed. Everyone’s happy.
Threading it all together is Cope’s between-song banter, as unhinged and high value as ever. Never one to use two words when twenty will do, the self-styled rock ‘n’ roll shaman riffs on the trivial and the bizarre, from his fingerless studded gloves to a disastrous séance with Al Jourgensen’s wife via lost maps to the underworld. And who else would bother to swap his bass for another one that’s exactly the same, just because he loved the absurdity of it?
After dropping the pace with Autogeddon’s epic s.t.a.r.c.a.r., Doggen and Mister E depart to leave the frontman wielding his mellotron and electric guitar to max effect on a clutch of Fried/Peggy Suicide/Jehovahkill/20 Mothers faves. Then the band regroup for the last stretch, finally finishing off with Hell is Wicked and Reynard the Fox. It’s here, right at the end, where the mood of the gig changes from feelgood rockout to slightly macabre spectacle as Cope gets deeper into raging poet mode before cutting his chest with the mic stand. Though not out of character – he revived it in last year’s tour – it’s still unnerving. Necessary? Like Iggy Pop’s famously sliding kecks, probably not. Then again, with his current ‘cliché is reality’ trip, who knows what’s going on…
Lashings of rock, lashings of charisma, 100% Cope – another great gig. See you next time.