Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mission UK concert review: Los Angeles

My review originally appeared at

Whenever I happen to encounter Sirius XM’s 1st Wave station and its Sunday night show Dark Wave, the playlist inevitably comes around to the Mission UK.

Characterized by Wayne Hussey’s melodramatic vocals, Simon Hinkler’s eerie guitar sounds and Craig Adams’ fine bass work, the band was among the more popular ones to emerge from England’s goth rock scene during the mid-'80s, notching a dozen Top 40 British singles over a seven-year period. 

The group's frontman (above, far right) has continued to release Mission albums with varying lineups since then, and in 2010, to commemorate their 25th anniversary, he reconvened those two original members for live dates around the U.K. and Europe.

All three subsequently went into the studio to make The Brightest Light, their first album together in decades. Due out Sept. 17 through The End Records, it was produced by David M. Allen, best known for his work with the Cure and as engineer on early efforts by Hussey’s previous groups, Dead or Alive and Sisters of Mercy.

Hussey has called the new songs more honest, outward-looking and closest to the Mission’s rocking live sound than ever before. That was definitely true during a powerful show at Club Nokia in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Although the quartet’s last American tour was back in 2002, the venue was less than full. No matter, fans who packed the front pit were quite boisterous, often shouting out requests.

Bathed in shadowy light and sharply clad in black clothing (Hinkler sported a de rigueur wide black porkpie hat), the musicians opened their 95-minute, 16-song set with a spooky, eight-minute-long “Black Cat Bone.” One of five new tracks from the frequently impressive Brightest Light, the lyrics concern aging: “When you get to my age / The candles cost more than the cake … I’d make a pact with the devil if I could be 21 again.” Hussey, 55, also sings: “I can feel my juju working.”

Very true in L.A. Despite claims of throat issues, his trademark quaver never faltered. Obviously in a good mood, he boasted, “I’m still the second best singer in the world; I’ll tell you who the first one is later.” When a few songs passed and one concert-goer yelled “Bono,” Hussey replied, “You’re joking!”

Hinkler constantly amazed everyone with siren-style guitar effects often aided by an EBow device, Adams stepped things up with big backing vocals, and young drummer Mike Kelly, employing some Keith Moon mannerisms, was fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, Hussey – a former O.C. resident who now lives in Brazil – interacted with his bandmates (at one point putting his arms around Adams) and gave a shout-out to their instrument supplier, Schecter Guitar.

The new album’s mellow title track was among the standouts (check out the mysterious video here). Longtime enthusiasts were treated to sharp renditions of such alt-rock faves as “Beyond the Pale” (for which Hussey played a white 12-string electric guitar), “Severina,” the ballad “Butterfly on a Wheel” (triggered by synth and drum machine), a stunning “Wasteland” and a pulse-quickening take on debut '86 single “Serpent’s Kiss.”

The band’s encore section included the punkish “Drag” and a gritty cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which was joined by '90s Mission guitarist Mark G. Thwaite. (That elicited a sense of déjà vu for me, considering I just saw Thwaite with Gary Numan at the Observatory last week and then caught Dave Matthews Band tackling the Dylan classic in Irvine a few days later. The "Cars" man was even in attendance.)

Finally, the Arabic-dance-infused rock that is “Tower of Strength” found Hussey venture into the crowd to kneel in appreciation of Hinkler’s intriguing sounds. His pick for "best singer," by the way, was Dylan.

All told, it was great to see these vets finally back together, making vital music again. 

Set list: The Mission UK at Club Nokia
Main set: Black Cat Bone / Beyond the Pale / Serpent's Kiss / Naked and Savage / Sometimes the Brightest Light Comes from the Darkest Place / Garden of Delight / Severina / Butterfly on a Wheel / Everything But the Squeal / Like a Hurricane (Neil Young cover) / Wasteland / Swan Song 
First encore: Drag > All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover, with a line from Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven) / Deliverance 
Second encore: Tower of Strength 

Photo courtesy of The End Records.

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