I knew it was going to be a wild ride when The Blue Aeroplanes took to the stage. It wasn’t the fact that the front man was wearing sunglasses (although that was a clue), but rather, the grey haired, classically trained dancer sporting a red t-shirt with Keep Corbyn printed across the front. There are currently seven members of The Blue Aeroplanes, including dancer Wojtek Dmochowski, and they all squeezed themselves onto the small Voodoo Lounge stage upstairs in The Phoenix. Downstairs was a full bar of people waiting to experience a live performance of The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead album, so it was a pretty old school night. All the coolest clothes you’d never find in Urban Outfitters, and me, certainly the youngest person in the entire building, unprepared for the bizarre performance I was about to experience.
The Blue Aeroplanes formed in 1981, out of the remnants of the band Art Objects, that brothers Gerard and John Langely were involved in, alongside Dmochowski. They’re a Bristol based unit, but spent a lot of time in the 80s and 90s supporting the likes of REM and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as touring independent venues, like the Phoenix. Last year they played at BBC 6 Music’s festival at the Colston Hall in their hometown Bristol, and this month they’ve released they’re fourteenth studio album. Welcome, Stranger! was funded through the crowd-sourcing platform PledgeMusic, and their Exeter date marked the end of a three-week UK tour supporting said album. So they’re busy people.
Maybe that explains why Gerard Langley had a folder full of lyrics glued to his side at all times. To be fair, he wasn’t always actively reading the lyrics to his own songs, just the newer ones. It took me a while to figure out exactly what they were, as the entire experience was bizarre. The ages of the members varies widely, as do their own individual styles, and roles within the group were passed back and forth like a badly organized sports day relay race throughout the set, with Gerard Langley leaving the Voodoo Lounge completely for songs that he wasn’t leading. The most consistent part of the whole evening was Dmochowski, who just kept dancing. And even that just made me want to listen to the Happy Mondays (thanks, Bez). But not only was Gerard Langley reading his own lyrics, but he was wearing sunglasses too. It’s his trademark, apparently, but I reckon that doesn’t make for the easiest reading in a dark room. To his credit, he didn’t lift his specs to have a peak once. Maybe they were prescription? Maybe they’re surgically attached to his face? Maybe he’s devoting his life to maintaining the aesthetics of the Blues Brothers? Who knows?
All of that stuff is window dressing, essentially. When it comes down to it, The Blue Aeroplanes played their instruments well, were enjoying themselves, and had good rapport with the audience. They’re South-West staples, and people had presumably travelled far and wide (well, across the English Riviera, Dartmoor, and beyond) to see a band they’ve seen before in other local venues over the years. The fact that people were enjoying it so much was infectious, and almost made up for the questionable Bob Dylan cover they offered at one point to spice things up. I don’t know if I could call it a solid performance, but it was definitely something. A little rough around the edges, but a lot of fun. When they bowed out the crowd demanded an encore with such ferocity that they came back and just picked up where they left off, sticking around for several more tracks. Gerard Langley was keen to point out that it should not be an exercise in nostalgia, but I think it was, which there really isn’t anything wrong with.