Though they've been a band for 23 years, some things about The Wedding Present remain comfortingly constant: the subject matter of their songs (love, heartbreak, betrayal, jealously), founder David Gedge's ability to play the guitar like his hand's on fire, and the band's strict policy of no requests, no encores. But most importantly, their ability to consistently deliver the goods, year after year, despite enough line-up changes to rival The Fall.
Still, the Southpaw show on Thursday, which I'm pretty sure their first-ever in Brooklyn, was much better than their tour two years ago, the first since Gedge reinstated the Wedding Present name after eight years as Cinerama (who I also liked). That record, Take Fountain, was quite good but really had more of Cinerama feel (it was written as a Cinerama record), and the band was almost entirely new.
Same line-up two years later, with a new album, El Rey, that really sounds like The Wedding Present, we get a confident show with a crowd-pleasing set of fan favorites and the best of the new album. Set highlights for me was hearing "Sportscar" from 1996's underrated Mini and the one-two Seamonsters punch of "Dalliance" and "Dare." I really don't know how Gedge manages to still play like that, whipping the guitar around, but I'm glad he still does.
As much as I love The Wedding Present, the real thrill of the night came just before they took stage. I noticed that there was a cheap-looking keyboard set up by the main microphone and immediately thought "that's an odd thing to see at a Wedding Present show" but then out came a guy wearing a giant papier mache head and I exclaimed "OH MY GOD IT'S FRANK SIDEBOTTOM!" I'm pretty sure I was one of about four people in the place who knew who he was (feel confident that the dude standing near me wearing a Frank Sidebottom t-shirt did too) and I only knew about him because I used to read the Trouser Press Record Guide over-and-over and was intrigued enough by the writeup to go out an purchase a best-of CD about ten years ago.
Anyway, Frank is kind of like a British, much weirder Weird Al, who does cover versions of popular (and not-so-popular) songs but changes the lyrics so that they're all about his hometown of Timperley (example: "Anarchy in the UK" becomes "Anarchy in Timperley") and how he does the shopping for his mum, his love of football, and the like — all in this high-pitched nasal voice. It's genuinely weird and funny and I never ever in my life thought I would see Frank Sidebottom live. (He was in town four a four-day blitzkrieg of the New York area where he played, like, 12 gigs during that time.) I think I actually did the rub-eyes-because-I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing thing. Frank only played for about ten minutes before introducing the night's main attraction, but he did play his ace cover of The Fall's "Hit the North" in that time.