Current 93 @ Union Chapel – May 24th 2024
Current 93 @ Union Chapel – May 24th 2024

Live Review: Current 93 @ Union Chapel and EHSAA – May 24th and 25th 2024

Current 93, the brainchild of musician and artist David Tibet, has lived many lives over the course of its four decade existence, starting out with the harsh industrial noise of early albums Nature Unveiled and Dogs Blood Rising and eventually transitioning into the experimental folk sound that it is most known for today. Musicians have changed over time, with Tibet remaining the only constant member, and the group has built a dedicated fan following. Live performances are sporadic at best, and as a result are considered major events by many. When two shows in England – one in London’s storied Union Chapel and another more intimate one in, of all places, a fishing club in Hastings– were announced, fans snapped up tickets and traveled from all around the world to attend.

In recent years, most Current 93 shows have focused on a complete play-through of the then-current album, along with a handful of songs from the band’s extensive back catalog. It’s been a couple of years now, though, since the most recent album (2022’s If a City Is Set Upon a Hill) was released and performances of the album in full had already been done, so there was great anticipation around the setlist. Much to the delight of the fans in attendance, the show ended up being a career-spanning mix of songs including many fan favorites and tracks that hadn’t been performed live in years.

Perhaps most surprising was at the very start of the London set, in which three of the current band members – Reinier Von Houdt on piano, Andrew Liles on electronics, and Ossian Brown on hurdy-gurdy – recreated “Ach Golgotha (Maldoror Is Dead),” the menacing industrial noise piece that takes up the entire first side of Current 93’s debut record Nature Unveiled. The trio were then joined by Tibet, along with guitarist Alasdair Roberts, violinist Aloma Ruiz Boada, and multi-instrumentalist Michael J. York (who played everything from whistles to bagpipes to great bass recorder throughout the set). Experimental filmmaker Davide Pepe opened the show with a short film, and also provided visuals on a screen above the band throughout the show.

Picking out highlights of the set is nearly impossible. In a set that ranged from earlier albums (“Be” and “Alone” from Imperium, “Hourglass for Diana” from Earth Covers Earth, “The Death of the Corn” from Horsey) to mid-period peaks (“The Descent of Long Satan and Babylon” and “A Sadness Song” from Thunder Perfect Mind, “This Carnival Is Dead and Gone” from All the Pretty Little Horses, “Niemandswasser” from Sleep Has His House), to recent masterpieces (“A Thousand Witches” and “Bright Dead Star” from the Light Is Leaving Us All, “If a City…” and “There Is No Zodiac” from If a City Is Set Upon a Hill), the band proved again and again why (at least to his fans) Tibet is one of the greatest songwriters and poets of his time. Although the songs had been recorded by many different musicians in different line-ups over the years, the group which Tibet has assembled for the band’s current incarnation (which appears on the two most recent albums only) did a flawless job of interpreting them.

Midway through the set, Tibet invited June-Alison Gibbons, a writer that he has championed in recent years, up on stage to read her poem “The Black Girl’s Blues For the White Girl” with ambient backing from the band. Gibbons also re-joined the band during the encore to lead the “la la la”s in “Oh Coal Blacksmith.”

By the end of the set, the entire room was in awe. Many adjectives were thrown around – amazing, mind-blowing, unearthly – as fans tried to process what they had just witnessed. It was almost certainly, for nearly everyone in the room, one of the best shows that they had ever hoped to see. It was definitely one they won’t forget soon.

For a small but fortunate group of those fans, it wasn’t over. Tibet lives in Hastings, and chose to book a second, much smaller show for the next day at his local hangout, the East Hastings Sea Angling Association. The venue couldn’t have been more different, with the high, arching vaults of Union Chapel being traded for a rustic bar in a fishing club. But what was lost in ambiance was made up for in sheer intimacy, as those in attendance crowded right up to the front of the foot-high stage. With the exception of skipping the initial industrial piece, the setlist was similar.

The Hastings show was opened by The Witching Tale, the project of Michael J. York and Katherine Blake (of Miranda Sex Garden and Mediæval Bæbes).

PHOTOS © MATT CONDON

Current 93 – May 24th, Union Chapel

Current 93 – May 25th, East Hastings Sea Angling Association

The Witching Tale – May 25th, East Hastings Sea Angling Association