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Jim Bob, former Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine frontman and professional rabble rouser, is on stage in sunglasses and a particularly sparkly jacket.
This is a rearranged gig from the summer, postponed when the hotel next to the venue burned down just before showtime. The singer addresses the walrus in the room: “We were gonna come on to We Didn’t Start The Fire. We didn’t, but it’s important that you know we thought about it.”
If you don’t remember Carter USM, here’s a primer: anarchic pop duo, drum machines, and a back catalogue stuffed with memorable references, dodgy landlords, and some really dated haircuts. If that doesn’t ring any bells, it doesn’t matter, because Jim Bob is currently writing some of the best songs of his life.
While some are here for the USM classics, and are easily distracted by messages from the babysitter, Jim Bob and his Tighter-than-a-Scotsman-in-Leggings band are themselves on fire, for the new stuff especially.
They open with Thanks for Reaching Out, title track of this year’s excellent album. “This is my Long and Winding Road, my God only Knows, my Up The Junction, typed up on a bus and sent from my iPhone,” he claims in the song’s epic talky section. The chorus is so catchy, so filled with hope, optimism and despair all at the same time, that he’s probably right.
Jim Bob is in terrific form between tunes, whether accidentally implying everyone in Brighton engages in incest, or claiming that Nigel Farage has just died from a snake bite live on I’m a Celebrity. Snakebite of a different kind is powering the crowd, who wake up for Carter classic Do Ray Me so Far so Good, a song that manages the trick of sounding both palatial and bedsit, epic and intimate all at once. When he sings: “In spite of what you’ve been told about Elvis, the good die old and helpless,” hundreds of bald middle aged men sing along as one.
As with a lot of youth classics, these invincible tunes sound more poignant every passing year. This the Grebo My Generation: on the USM website, you can buy T-shirts celebrating the album “30-something,” but amended to 40-something, 50-something, 60-something.
Even more moving is the encore. Latest single, “This is End Times,” is performed with voice and keys only, Jim Bob accompanied by semi-retired pop star and former Star columnist Chris T-T. “This is a song about the Taliban,” explains Jim Bob, before shutting us all up with a beautifully economic lyric about fascism, authoritarian clampdowns, and weak men scared of what they don’t understand.
“I never thought I’d miss so much, before so much was taken away,” he sings. This song is about Afghanistan, but I always heard it as being about Britain in a few years’ time. Judging by the rapt silence, I wasn’t the only one.
Things finish up via a punk roadie blowing bubbles and a triumphant singalong to The Impossible Dream. As the house lights come up, there’s a cheer as We Didn’t Start The Fire finally blares out to send us home.
Jim Bob blew us away: what else do I have to say?
Jim Bob plays Electric Brixton on December 2, on tour in 2024. For more information see: jim-bob.co.uk
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