Bristol Fleece & Firkin, 4th November 2009
Francis Dcunnery seems to have annoyed a lot of people recently. By touring as “Francis Dunnery’s New It Bites” people have been expecting a return to the good old days, with Dunnery rocking out and throwing shapes to the very tunes that made him all those years ago. As I’ve been reading some of these comments I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this “New It Bites”, especially as the other It Bites are doing so well lately.
It’s a very good crowd in the Fleece, not unusual for a Dunnery gig. As he comes onstage with a full band you can almost hear the intakes of breath from expectant fans, many of whom have just recovered from a giggling fit at the very funny intro tape. Then it all goes weird, as the band launch into the It Bites staple “Kiss Like Judas”, but not like anyone has ever heard before. Rather than an upbeat pop rock song, tonight it’s transformed into a jazz, lounge lizard version that goes on for bloody ages. With all that said, it’s still very uplifting, despite a vibe that’s so laid back it’s virtually horizontal. It’s followed by another It Bites song (from the debut) “Whole New World”, which gets the same treatment, again going on at the end for several minutes. Although I’m enjoying this, it’s like I’ve walked into the “12” Jazz Remix” tour or something.
After this, things settle down a bit, although are no less weird. We are introduced to tonight’s special guest, “A true prog guy” called Simon Rogers (from Also Eden). It takes most people by surprise when he helps out on Dunnery’s new version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which pisses all over the Joy Division original (I never did like Ian Curtis’ voice). Interestingly, current It Bites vocalist/guitarist John Mitchell has also played this onstage with Dunnery, so it’s nice to know there’s no animosity there. The song has been beautifully “Dunneryed” and would fit in with any of his recent albums, so make of that what you will, but try not to get too upset if you’re a Joy Division fan.
At this point I feel I have a pretty good idea where the gig is going, only for Dunnery to pull the rug from under me with a Robert Plant cover, “Calling To You”. A complete departure from the songs played so far, it’s a pretty ballsy rocker that finishes with a quite astonishing keyboard piece from Tom Brislin (Ex Spiralling) and some nifty guitar from Dunnery. As usual, Francis Dunnery refuses to be pigeonholed, and as usual it’s great to see. As a result, it’s easier to go with the flow as he plays another cover, this time “Still Life In Mobile Homes”, bringing new life to a once abysmal song by Japan. We also get treated to a new take on a song on the original It Bites demo, called “Holiday”, a song that would have nestled in nicely with It Bites B-sides such as “Having A Good Day” (A song he really should have played on this tour). To top it all off, Dunnery gets out the Tapboard, not seen since his It Bites days. It’s a kind of dual guitar fretboard in a box (used with a delay pedal). I hope that makes sense, as when done correctly it sounds amazing, and Dunnery proceeds to play it correctly as we are treated to “Charlie” from the IB “Eat Me In St Louis” album. This is one of my favourite instrumentals, and it’s done absolutely perfectly. If anything, the addition of minimal backing instruments spoils it’s simplicity. At the end, Dunnery looks justifiably smug.
Things get even stranger as Dunnery welcomes onstage “Foxy”, which is a guy in a Genesis type fox mask who just sits there on a stool as the band plays “Sister Sarah”. I haven’t a clue what this is supposed to mean, and I’m not sure the guy in the fox mask does either! It all gets back to jazz 12” remixes again with “Underneath Your Pillow” and “Yellow Christian”, after which we get another cool cover, although this time of a good song, “Living In New York City” by Genesis. As there’s no real way to walk off and wait for applause, encore “Still Too Young To Remember” is played anyway, after some serious faffing about with instruments and silliness about equipment sponsorship.
Well, it’s certainly been a weird night. The music was eclectic, entertaining and often confusing, whilst Dunnery’s between songs banter has been hilarious as ever. He happily acknowledges that internet users, or “Dwarf Porn Guys” as he calls them, have a problem with his re-imagining of the It Bites tracks, but doesn’t seem to give a damn. Personally, I like the fact I can see his version as well as the originals by the other guys. The “New It Bites” label is definitely misleading, and I feel was a bad move on his part, but anyone who has enjoyed his solo work can hardly fail to be entertained by anything he has done, although hardcore It Bites fans should probably check YouTube first…
Review by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com