Here’s a scene for our times: During the rousing, snidely angry “Blues for Ceausescu,” the climax of the Irish-English band Fatima Mansions’ Southern California debut at Bogart’s in Long Beach on Tuesday, one young couple in the very small crowd was finally moved to take to the dance floor.
Nothing wrong with that--the bracing, Stooges-like riff of the song called for some kind of physical participation. But these folks were smiling and bopping, looking no different than if they were hearing, oh, “Johnny B. Goode,” rather than an acidicly gleeful adios to an executed dictator.
Leader-singer Cathal Coughlan wasn’t smiling and bopping. He was raging and convulsing, investing each shout of “Ciao! Ceausescu” with an implied sic semper tyrannis to the bureaucrats and politicians who populated the preceding songs in the band’s hourlong set. But the lack of crowd response seemed indicative of a lack of context.
Coughlan’s rage is no more real or complex than that of Axl Rose or Public Enemy’s Chuck D., but it’s less cliched, and thus perhaps harder to grasp. Same for the band’s music, which typically contrasts irony-laced melodiousness with post-punk bursts.
The problem was compounded at Bogart’s by some flatness from the band in the first half of the set. But in a show full of intentionally disturbing notions, the most disturbing was that Coughlan may be shouting in a vacuum.