9 Sep 2003

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9 Sep 2003
Tour by UNKLE
VenueInstitute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

In September 2003 UNKLE performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London as part of the launch of their new album, Never Never Land. The group also had a short exhibition at the ICA from September 6-8, as mentioned in Billboard 13 September 2003.


2/5 Stars - by Dorian Lynskey[1]

Almost a decade since their inception, UNKLE remain a funny excuse for a band, comprised of Mo'Wax founder James Lavelle, a producer sidekick (one Richard File has now replaced DJ Shadow) and whichever big names Lavelle can dragoon into the studio. The results have been mixed. UNKLE's debut album, Psyence Fiction, was sporadically intriguing but overblown and somewhat impenetrable. The follow-up, Never, Never, Land, arrives next Monday, hence this packed preview show. But the extensive roster of guest stars, including Ian Brown and Massive Attack's 3D, poses a problem for live performance. Trying to assemble them all would be like asking the entire cast of a Hollywood movie if they'd mind re-creating it on stage.

There are ways to plug the gap, whether by recruiting substitute vocalists or by reducing the voices to samples, ripe for rearrangement. UNKLE, however, settle for playing the album, adding only enough effects to prove they haven't just stuck the CD on. Even File, who sings on the record, remains bafflingly mute while triggering a playback of his own voice. The music itself is grand but joyless, all churning breakbeats and baleful minor chords.

The onus thus rests on the visual projections. Opening song Eye for an Eye gets its own animated video, showing a race of lovable flower-picking critters assailed by vicious black insects. It's impressively directed but the political message (Lavelle campaigned against the war in Iraq) is crass. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not peopled with lovable flower-picking critters and geopolitics can't be reduced to the level of Star Wars via the Teletubbies.

After that, the money seems to run out and the set revolves around (1) a pointy-headed alien walking down a street, (2) an attempt to make a gangster film on a budget of £8.37 and (3) Lavelle's collection of Star Wars figures. The significance of the latter is unclear but they would fetch a tidy sum on eBay.

By the time the set finally hits its stride with a propulsive remix of DJ Shadow's GDMFSOB, half the audience members have already relocated to the bar, and who can blame them? The UNKLE live experience resembles a party at which the star guests have conspicuously failed to show.


See Also

Billboard 13 September 2003


External Links

Review on The Guardian website

Images from Never Never Land launch exhibition at ICA