The Cramps, London Astoria 15-08-06
It's an overcast Tuesday afternoon in London and the living dead have invaded Tottenham Court Road. A shambling horde clad in black leather, black hair dye and black nail polish meanders from the Astoria doors to Soho Square. Drunken girls in fishnet tights and no knickers openly urinate in the street. It's like a 1950s biker rally on Trioxin gas. There can be only one reason big enough for these lost souls to brave the sunlight (such as it is): The Cramps are in town for a rare UK show.
Opening act The Priscillas are local girls but they seem to be an unknown quantity for most of the crowd. They deliver a good-natured and fun set of punky garage tunes sweetened with 1950s pop melodies and while they hardly set the place alight, they receive a warm enough response. 'Gonna Rip Up Your Photograph' sounds like 'Different Kind of Love' by The Wildhearts with new vocals, and that's as good a reference point for their sound as any. Someone should tell vocalist Jenny Drag, though, that her hat makes her look like a female version of Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland.
When the lights go down and the doomy organ music intro tape starts up, the already overexcited crowd goes crazy. With no Cramps gigs on these shores since 2003 and no new album to promote, many of us are hoping for a 'greatest hits' set, a wish which looks to be fulfilled when the band open with 'The Mad Daddy' from their classic debut long player, "Songs the Lord Taught Us". Now pushing 60, vocalist Lux Interior is initially unrecognisable, having foregone the black hair dye in favour of a grey-blonde quiff. With his skinny frame wrapped in a high-collared, skin-tight black outfit, Lux appears to have been pried from his coffin, rejuvenated with 10,000 volts of electricity, and let loose on the stage. In contrast, guitarist Poison Ivy seems to have been bathing in the blood of virgins, her haughty gaze and disdainful scowls apparently unchanged in the past decade.
While it doesn't turn out to be the 'oldies' set we were salivating for (the band play a whacking great chunk of material from their last studio album, 2003's "Fiends of Dope Island"), the allure of The Cramps is too much for anyone to resist. Their mixture of 1950s rockabilly and garage punk is equal parts sleaze and pantomime, with a dirty groove which grabs you and won't let go. A couple of songs into their set the person behind me puts an arm around my waist and starts grinding their hips against my backside. In the crush I can't look around to see if it's a man or a woman, and frankly, I don't care - it's that kind of gig.
Although Lux seems to have mellowed a little in his old age, he still spits fountains of red wine about the place, climbs down from the stage to make Chihuahua noises at a young girl in the front row, and puts clamps on his nipples. When not bending microphone stands over his head (he has a spare supply by the drumkit), he crawls after Ivy on his hands and knees trying to kiss her feet. He also seems incapable of keeping his hands off his penis. They close with an extended 'Tear It Up', during which Lux climbs onto the amps, smashes a wine bottle over his microphone with a practiced flick of the wrist, and squats there making monkey noises through the broken neck. There are some boos when we realise that there aren't going to be any more encores, but the night can't be judged as anything less than a triumph. They may not have played everyone's favourite songs, but The Cramps can't be beaten when it comes to putting on a show which leaves you feeling happily corrupted. Like their tag-line used to say, "They'll ooze, you'll throb".