By BRUCE DENNILL
Wayne Hussey / Rivonia Barnyard, Johannesburg / 9 May
After three decades of being one of the kingpins of the gothic rock music scene, it’s not surprising to note that Wayne Hussey – in terms of his fans – has a type. Black shirts, mostly black trousers, a bit of ink here, a piercing there. That stereotype doesn’t extend to the man himself, whose fashion sense is more or less mainstream smart casual, accessorised (permanently) with sunglasses, indoors or out, stage dimmers up or down.
The monochromatic appearance of the crowd was mirrored, to some extent, by the sonic range that Hussey operated within on his first visit to South Africa as a solo artist. This is not to say that his performance was boring in any way: he played a quartet of different guitars and a ukulele, all filtered through a complex effects system, as well as heading over to a keyboard for a few numbers. And after playing for two hours, his vocals were no less rich and heartfelt than they were at the start of the show.
But like most artists who have had careers as long as his, Hussey relies on a skeleton of chords and arrangement ideas around which his compositions are built. And given that his chosen musical area involves dark moodiness, it makes sense that other than in Butterfly On A Wheel and a couple of other commercial hits, the singer-songwriter is not overly concerned about making his material catchy. It’s his lyrics and the feelings they inspire that his fans connect with, so hands-in-the-air anthems are not on the menu here. Indeed, about an hour-and-a-half into the set, Hussey remarks: “I guess you’d like to hear something you know now.” And it’s telling that the tune that receives the loudest cheer in the section following that statement is a cover of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus.
The consistency of tone has made Hussey and the various bands he’s been a part of – The Mission, Sisters of Mercy, Dead or Alive – enduringly influential and local artists who’ve benefited from that remote input include Ashton Nyte and David Beretta Owens, both of whom appeared on the support bill for this show. But live, with just one seated performer on stage, the formula is not as exciting as many regular concertgoers might have hoped. Hussey uses his considerable array of skills to good effect: along with his impressive vocals, there is some dextrous, clever guitar playing, spiced with a number of effects pedals and a loop station. Musicians in the audience can spend entire gigs trying to figure out how he concocts the sounds he uses, but there’s not a lot of territory for the neutral bystander to occupy.
Hussey’s interaction with the crowd is relaxed but brief – just short introductions to some of the songs and the occasional chirp in response to a request from the back of the venue or the sight of a fellow Liverpool fan wearing a club shirt. Those exchanges reveal a dry wit, and if Hussey was to allow himself the change to expand his scope as a raconteur, this type of concert would immediately gain an increased cachet.