Folding Fingers Over Stardust
Of course the nature of Pop is cyclical. You know how it goes: you spend months, years even just drifting along, barely registering anything, moaning into your beer and/or your beard about how nothing’s as good as it used to be, how it all sounds like stale re-hashes of x, y and z, and why don’t the bloody kids have any taste these days anyway; you sit on the forlorn fore-shore in the faded beach shelter, scowling at ‘Queen’ carved into the peeling blue paint and you think you might as well give it all up and start getting into philately again (I mean, no offence if stamps are your thing and all that...). And then it happens. Something breezes into your life, prises open your ears and plants feathery kisses of delicious sunlit blossom on your eyelids. Your heart erupts once more, to cast off the rusted cocoon and fly into tomorrow.

Of course minor tremors of this kind happen all the time. They’re the ones that get you by day to day; are the ones tied up in single songs, the occasional fleetingly obsessive album and in great lines from bad songs you hear fragments of in city streets and motorway traffic jams.

Then there are the great earth shifting Mt St Helens events that throw you off course, that cause you to drop everything, to throw up your arms in joyful surrender as words escape involuntarily from your lips, calling ‘Take me! Take me! Take me now!’

So it is with Hidden Cameras.

There are so many things to love about Hidden Cameras. They implicitly understand all that is great about what I call the Pop experience, naturally grasp the elements required to create the package that allows that experience to transcend the world around us. Hidden Cameras essentially know the importance of myth building to Pop, understand the need for theatre and of course that the need for theatre does not mean an excuse for pretension and the preposterously pompous. Hidden Cameras are earthy and otherworldly in the same instant, and that’s a rare achievement and one that needs to be applauded. They make absurdist reference to fairy tale escapism whilst being graphically open about sex, both those concepts being key of course. Hidden Cameras take the elements of Pop and strip them back to the bones, disassemble and rebuild the constituent parts to create something oddly familiar yet peculiarly new. Hidden Cameras throw peculiar shapes and cast naturally strange shadows. Oh, and of course they have great songs. That goes without saying. I assumed you understood as much…

From the outset the Hidden Cameras live performances have been key to their appeal, have been essential ingredients in the construction of the Hidden Cameras myth. With each event given an individual title (tonight’s is the Union Of Wine show) and with tales of porn theatre and church stages filled with up to thirty performers and stripping masked dancers it’s easy to see why people have been intrigued. Tonight’s show at the baroque Bush Hall is the first time I’ve managed to catch the band in the live context, and I’m excited by the prospect. This is unusual.

I’m easily bored by bands when they play live. As a rule I much prefer the personal delight of songs creating moments in my memory through association, prefer taking things at my own pace, making my own time and space within songs. Maybe I just don’t like being guided… Or maybe too it’s just that so many bands are interminably dull. Certainly too many are content to play the detached cool card, or wallow in an imagined status created by a media so keen to bestow wardrobes full of emperors clothes. Not Hidden Cameras though. Hidden Cameras short-circuit all the traditional notions of indie cool and thus emerge as easily the coolest of all: Hidden Cameras draw the threads of Art and Pop together with an excitement and energy that puts all others on the shade. It’s wonderful is to see a band so obviously in thrall to the sound they are making, so immersed and united in the sheer joy of the creation of their gospel of PopArt Noise.

Led by Joel Gibb, Hidden Camera’s recognised leader, the band of wild hearted troubadours carouse and caress Gibb’s songs with the passion and sensitivity you find only in the truest hearted lovers. They reach for the sky and fold fingers over stardust. They dive to the insides of undersea chasms and emerge with pearls and hidden treasure. And they dance. And we dance along.

Of course the dancing is key too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hidden Cameras are a great dance band. And when they floor the throttle and turn up the heat, you just can’t help yourself; your feet will shimmy and your hips will twirl. Just to prove the point, the bands’ own dancers themselves creep in during the third song, one in a wolf mask, the other with a paper plate face decorated with paper tassels and a Dali moustache. They carry small flasks of wine which they squirt into the open mouths of the audience, my year of abstinence broken in a startled second of abandon that I will treasure for a while to come, or at least until the weekend. They climb on the PA stands, gyrate with outstretched arms, cast off their attire to reveal crosses of masking tape and forests of hair. That it’s more Exploding Plastic Inevitable than Hawkwind goes without saying.

There’s an energy at work with Hidden Cameras that explodes across the band / audience divide, forging connections that insist upon the strongest of emotional responses. Only the cynically jaded can feign indifference. The rest of us are carried away on waves of devotion, and when the band climax with an epic ‘Smells Like Happiness’ with everyone wearing red blindfolds I swear I can almost sense that euphoria in my nostrils.

With a triumphant new album due courtesy of the fine people at Rough Trade in July, Hidden Cameras are poised to be the soundtrack for another summer of love and devotion. Make sure you tune in too.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett