Messed up, yet not mixed up, Siren Sir serenades the downtrodden, not forgetting neither action nor fun.
“I hate compromising because you have to live with it,” says Kevin Coyne in an interview adding a tad of context to this concert that captured the British troubadour in his idiosyncratic prime. He was an artist of a very particular sort – a tormented soul and a patron of the underdog, who could turn suffering into songs and get away with laying pain on the line. Here’s the reason why Coyne’s Rockpalast performance is so spellbinding. Concentrating on his then-recent repertoire – there are, alongside earlier tracks, four cuts from the about-to-be-released “Millionaires And Teddy Bears” and five from its predecessor “Dynamite Daze” – the material presented on 2 CDs and a DVD may come from different albums but the numbers on display only stress the strength and wholeness of Kevin’s oeuvre.
The singer builds a simmering, seething even, anger that’s deliberately undermined by his comic excursions – almost curse-like little narratives – into a kind of vaudeville, with an acoustic intensity bar set incredibly high from the very start, once furious strum has spurred the histrionic “Araby” towards a trance-inducing, feverish reverie. Kevin’s closed eyes and feeble wails, which intersperse verses, suggest cerebral trip way beyond the blues idiom that his songs spring from, while the artist’s smile can indicate this journey to the East, and one depicted in the post-Brel “Amsterdam” as well, was in his mind. Coyne conjures Weimar-esque weirdness on the acidic speech preceding “Dance Of The Bourgeoisie” – wherein he, demonstrating full command of the audience, would slander BONEY M and David Cassidy and then demonstrate bossa nova-esque moves – and on the sparse a cappella of “Marjory Razorblade”: a stark embodiment of loneliness, one of the major subjects in Kevin’s canon.
His hilarious scat should spice up “Right On Her Side” – featuring an alternative set of lyrics – but there’s something deliberately disturbing about Kevin’s on-stage delivery, a feeling exacerbated by the singer using only a thumb on the fretboard, ignoring conventional chords, and gesticulating to emphasize certain phrases. Theatrical yet endearing in his unpretentious sincerity and self-deprecation, only Coyne could couple Sid Vicious with Rod Stewart in a “pop star” bracket for the sparse, strident, astringent “Having A Party” to assiduously, acerbically attack showbiz, asserting eventually, “I’m going to be me,” and staring into a hand mirror to proclaim, “Kevin, you look beautiful!” He’s able to be serious, too, dedicating sympathetic, if scary, “Brothers Of Mine” to Johnny Rotten and enacting crucifixion for the beatbox-spiced rap of “Saviour” before shooting a toy gun to punctuate his point and briefly torturing harmonica to finish this subversive pieta.
Coyne’s not only singing about pain in the likes of “Don’t Blame Mandy” but also playing it in “Burning Head” – which wouldn’t be issued in its final form until much later – that he starts by wearing and tearing off a mask to accentuate the song’s metronomic horror. This socially-aware gloom is dispelled when Kevin is joined by Zoot Money whose boogie-minded ivories inform “Dynamite Days” with sly and slight frivolity, and facilitate the kitchen-sink, albeit spiritual, romanticism of “Are We Dreaming” or worrisome innocence of “Roses In Your Room.” Keyboards parts seem minimalistic but they create just the right mood. The organist launches into cosmic boogie on the expansive “Eastbourne Ladies” while the vocalist is serving up another diatribe against the rich, whereas the two duet on the finale of “Strange Locomotion” in an infectiously funny way.
This is how Coyne’s “Better to be mad than sad” mantra comes to life in front of the audience. It’s not easy listening and it’s not easy watching: it’s a different kind of entertainment: bittersweet and totally mesmerizing. An essential spectacle – aurally and visually.