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The Cesarians (live at The Dublin Castle)

The Cesarians at The Dublin Castle Hallowe'en 2015London
31 October 2015

So it’s Saturday night in Camden Town, and it’s also Hallowe’en, which means picking our way through assorted ghosts, ghouls, clowns and supervillains to The Dublin Castle, there to see London’s mightiest punk/chanson/brass jazz ensemble, The Cesarians. They’ve got a whole new album’s worth of material to play us, and a perfect night to do it on.

What they haven’t got, however, is a bassist, Budge McGraw sadly having been taken to hospital. But you know what? They’re The Cesarians. They can do it. With this forced return to their original no-guitars policy, they’ve got Hallowe’en on their side. Which means Justine Armatage on keyboards can fill in with some seasonally appropriate spooky low-end organ sounds. And thank the ghosts, it works, dammit!

The Cesarians at The Dublin Castle Hallowe'en 2015

Charlie Finke is, as always, one of the most engaging frontmen in the land. Clad in a white suit this time, he reels, jitters and flings himself around the stage, a sweating, twitching ball of diabolical energy sounding every note like he’s been through Hell to get here with these songs, and he’s brought some of it back with him. Lyrical and crazed, like a pre-Raphaelite poet who’s had his laudanum switched for meth, he delivers his perfectly-crafted tales of faded elegance, sex and death. There’s something of The Birthday Party or The Pop Group in the way that such a finely-honed band can replicate such chaos — basically, to sound this loose, you have to be tight as fuck.

Everything is unpredictable, yet everything is entirely according to plan. Huge piledrivers of brass underpin his tableaux of dark wit, the violin soars and picks like some weird eagle/vulture hybrid, and as members swap instruments and roles there’s always something new going on. “She Said”, with its “justfuckoffjustfuckoffjustfuckoff” chorus is the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, but let’s face it the crowd are pretty pleased throughout. One minute sounding like a more organic Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel on “Creation Theory”, the next coming on like a Jacques Brel who’s been at Phil Spector‘s medicine cabinet, with Charlie emotionally dedicating a song to people who have lost beloved animals ten minutes before delivering the loudest meditation on a spree killing case this side of Nine Inch Nails, their range, both lyrically and musically, is far bigger and far more internally coherent than what’s essentially a pretty small and funny-shaped venue.

The Cesarians at The Dublin Castle Hallowe'en 2015

Shorn of Vocoder, new album title track “Pure White Speed” loses none of its menace, and their poppiest song to date, “Control”, recalls under-rated ’90s speedfreak indie popsters Strangelove, but with more bite and depth. And then just when you think you’re getting a handle on what kind of band they actually are, they turn the dial marked “epic” up to 11 for a glorious take on their début album’s “Sour Ink”. It’s a massive sound. A good Cesarians gig can make you feel like you’ve been dragged through a ’70s cop show set in early 20th-century Europe while being beaten up by a circus clown with a bottle of whiskey. And this was a VERY good Cesarians gig.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Jonny Cashunut-

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