Shepherds Bush Empire: April 12th 2000

shepherds01. I Remember That
02. Bonny
03. The Sound of Crying
04. Machine Gun Ibiza
05. Andromeda Heights
06. We Let the Stars Go
07. Life’s a Miracle
08. If You Don’t Love Me
09. Jordan: The Comeback
10. Faron Young
11. Couldn’t Bear to be Special
12. Dragons
13. Appetite
14. A Life of Surprises
15. Electric Guitars
16. Cars and Girls
17. Cruel
18. I’m a Troubled Man
19. Carnival 2000
20. Moving the River
21. Hey Manhattan
22. Lions in my Own Garden (Exit Someone)
23. Swans
24. One of the Broken
25. When Love Breaks Down
26. Goodbye Lucille #1
27. Cowboy Dreams
28. Looking for Atlantis

Two distinct recordings of this concert exist. The first is an excellent audience recording, circulating copies have the two encores not played at this gig (Where the Heart Is and Prisoner of the Past) from the following night’s show tagged on and have the initial introduction at the start of the concert. The other tape is a fair audience recording, a bit crackly with a fair bit of audience chatter, probably from the standing section of the hall. Interestingly the two recordings were made from similar locations because some of the audience comments can be heard on both.

“It seemed that something had happened, other than Paddy forgetting the words half way through Looking for Atlantis. I always had the impression that his faux pas had put him in a bad mood and he’d had enough. I was just gutted that they never did Prisoner of the Past like they had at virtually every other show on the tour.

“The booing came out of nowhere though. Not the sort of thing you would hear at a PS gig.”

imarcopolo, sproutnet discussion board

“WE HAD all heard the rumours. A few of us here might even have seen the pictures, but there are audible gasps throughout the hall when Paddy McAloon finally makes his entrance. Or, perhaps more to the point, when Paddy McAloon’s beard makes its entrance.

“It is indeed a formidable thing, surely deserving of its own billing on the marquee: a luxuriant grey thatch which could provide warmth and comfort to several families of nesting terns, or kindling for a mighty bonfire.

“It may even be the reason that so little has been heard of McAloon over this past decade – it doesn’t look like the sort of beard a chap could grow merely in his spare time.

“It suits him, of course. McAloon’s best songs have always had an otherworldly, fantastical quality, sounding less like they were recorded in anything so mundane as a studio, and more like they were conjured into being in a castle dungeon by a man who very possibly turned up for work in a long blue robe and pointy hat emblazoned with stars (he sports baggy black trousers and a waistcoat tonight, however).

“Between songs, he chats amiably in a strange, placeless accent, as evocative of the Ireland and America of his frequent musical imaginings as of his native Tyneside.

“This fits, too, helping build the image of the recluse happy to travel only in the idealised universe he creates on record: the last proper Prefab Sprout album, 1997’s scandalously overlooked masterpiece Andromeda Heights, was an audacious blueprint for a brave new world in which love could conquer all and (possibly not coincidentally) Prefab Sprout were everyone’s favourite band.

“Tonight is their first London show in 10 years, divided by an intermission into two generous sets. McAloon explains early on that the lack of new songs is not due to a dearth of ideas on his part: “Quite the opposite, in fact,” he says. (The stories still do the rounds of half-completed suites dedicated to Michael Jackson and/or Elvis Presley, or of a concept album called Earth: The Story So Far, and we can but cross our fingers.) It has just been so long, he says, and he thought we might be happy to hear all the old ones.

“The first half of the show is strangely stilted and nervous – they play “Faron Young”, “Appetite” and “The Sound Of Crying” as if being observed by a fussy examiner.

“The second is suddenly liberated and exhilarating, McAloon singing “Cars & Girls”, “Swans” and, especially, “One Of The Broken” (“Hi, this is God here…”) as if it has only just occurred to him what improbably great songs they are, and what a fine thing it is to be allowed to sing them.

“There’s no “King Of Rock’n’Roll” among the encores, but it doesn’t matter. In a strange sort of way, the point was already proved.”

Andrew Mueller, Independent, April 14th 2000

“HOW self-effacing can you get? Your band hasn’t played a live tour for ages, you don’t have a recognisable record contract or any apparent desire to record any new material and when you do play a major London engagement, the first thing punters see as they enter the building is a T-shirt emblazoned: “Every 2.4 seconds someone somewhere isn’t buying a Prefab Sprout record.”

“Whether we put that down to chief Sprout Paddy MacAloon’s sense of humour or credit him with a realistic streak isn’t made plain as the return of the Prefab unfolds.

“The old song structures remain in place but MacAloon himself has transmogrified into a wild, woolly-looking character reminiscent of a slimline Jerry Garcia.
Indeed his beard makes more noise than his music for a while.

“Out of time and place, Paddy pads around a repertoire that once had him labelled as a genius. Stylistically caught in a groove that encompasses Sondheim and a British version of Steely Dan, the tunes are as sparse as the word count is high. The polished vitriol of Machine Gun Ibiza and the anti-urban Andromeda Heights don’t raise the stakes.

“Only the semi-spoken Jordan and an almost rousing Faron Young click the evening out of timewarp.

“Maybe, like all songwriters whose work is an acquired taste, MacAloon isn’t a genius after all. Lots of this set were like watching anti-climb paint dry. Cruel, Manhattan and When Love Breaks Down were lucid enough, yet the band swung along without soul or passion. If this is a comeback, it’s taking an age to get started.” Max Bell

“… and the runners up are Elastica, but the winners of the award for band least likely to be seen on stage are Prefab Sprout.” A strange night, then, when both of these bands are playing live in the same city.

” On the warm-up tape, in ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, Glen Campbell sings, “By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working”, but Prefab Sprout seemed determined to make up for lost time, arriving on stage, 8pm sharp. No support.

“Or at least a band took the stage – looking like The Grateful Dead. Paddy McAloon appeared to have aged faster than his sold out audience, who were still old enough to make it a good night for the local baby-sitting industry.

“The set consisted of two and a half-hours-worth of the Prefab Sprout back catalogue, rich in lyrical detail. The first half consisting mostly of album tracks and late period (ie: 1990) songs, the highlight being ‘The Sound Of Crying’.

“But it was the second half in which the show became more enjoyable. Kicking off with ‘Andromeda Heights’ highlight ‘Electric Guitars’ and swiftly followed by ‘Cars And Girls’. Then ‘Carnival 2000’, which seemed to be the only song with even the vaguest connection to the fin de siecle frenzy that wasn’t released at the end of last year – an admirable stance by any measure.

“Next up, ‘Hey Manhattan’, and when McAloon, with his grey beard, sang “this is God here”, in ‘One of the Broken’, it certainly looked like it. Closing the half with ‘When Love Breaks Down’ and ‘Goodbye Lucille #1’ they stalked off stage.

“The audience waited politely for the inevitable encore, and when the band came back, expected the missing songs, ‘Nightingales’ and ‘The King Of Rock And Roll’, but they never came. On Prefab Sprout’s first tour since God was a boy, is this really the time to be so wilful? It could have made the difference between a competent show and a great one.

by Ian Davies

“Paddy did indeed come out to greet us after a while, and I was thrilled to meet one of my musical heroes. He spent some time chatting with us with and even posed with some of us for pics. I thought that I’d traveled the farthest distance of all (from Texas) to see the Sprouts, but during our conversations with Paddy, I found that I’d been outdone by two girls with us who came all the way from Japan.

“Although I would’ve loved to have seen Wendy on stage with the band, I do remember the audience filling in for her at times – most notably on the intro to “Cars & Girls” – which almost made it sound like she was there

“I wish those London shows were available for download somewhere. From what I remember, Paddy’s voice was stronger those nights than it was at the Manchester gig or on any of the prior tour recordings that I’ve heard (Leeds, Liverpool, Southhampton, Cambridge, etc.).”

zzzimbob, sproutnet discussion board

“My favourites were Leeds (well, Paddy dedicated a song to me at this show – how could I say any different?) and the two London gigs. Generally speaking it seemed to me that the standing shows had a better atmosphere, and the audience were more responsive as a result. The Cambridge show – although standing – had a bit of a muted atmosphere, possibly because the BBC were recording it. The fact that Paddy had to keep asking people to stop smoking probably didn’t help either.

“Who else was at the second London show? The one where a significant chunk of the audience refused to leave – even after the house lights had come up and the road crew had started dissassembling the rig? The roadies were – understandably – quite put out when we all started booing them. Only time I’ve seen that happen at a concert.”

stewart, sproutnet discussion board

sbticket prefab2 prefab1 2000-04-14 The Times shep14 shepherdsbt

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