Simon Bonney's Crime and the City Solution have been away a long time. Last heard from in 1991, with the passage of twenty-odd years and only a couple of solo records from Bonney during that period, it looked as if the Crime had been solved for good. And then, more or less out of nowhere, earlier this year it was announced that a new version of Crime had recorded a new album in industry-scarred Detroit for release next year. Described by Bonney as having more of a groove than any other previous Crime record, and in part influenced by listening to George Clinton, 'American Twilight' ponders whether the US is poised for a terminal economic decline, while also examining the lack of a social catcher's mit in the States for anyone falling through the cracks onto hard times.
If that sounds a lot like 'The Grapes Of Wrath' for a nation whose industrial supremacy is rapidly being eclipsed in this Asian Century, it's probably because that's pretty much what it is, and in spite of the touches of funk-inspired rhythm on display in the new material, it all makes for a reasonably sombre affair. Drawing on material from 'American Twilight' as well as songs from Crime's earlier incarnations, Bonney and his new band - former Einstürzende Neubauten guitarist Alexander Hacke and Bonney's violinist wife Bronwyn Adams from the old group; Matthew Smith, Troy Gregory, Wovenhand/16 Horsepower's David Eugene Edwards and Dirty Three's Jim White as the new brooms - prove Bonney's assertion that he only writes two types of songs: songs about love and songs about power struggles.
That second mode of writing was evidenced in the second encore the band played, the title track from 'American Twilight'; against Danielle de Picciotto's saddening film of run-down housing and dilapidated architecture, what Bonney described as his "cautionary tale" turned out to be a blistering maelstrom of some sort of punk-soul crossover. Bassist Gregory, the least animated of the seven-piece band, suddenly came to life, matching the wild intensity of lithe guitarist David Eugene Edwards, prone to fixing wild angry stares at the audience. Alexander Hacke, for much of the show looking like he was in a Marx Brothers disguise, delivered some of the loudest guitar rhythms imaginable, full of crackling dystopian noise. In amongst all of this was the enigmatic Simon Bonney, clad in what looked like a diplomat's suit, neckerchief and polka dot shirt, a frontman prone to wriggly jazz dancing and often to be found weaving shapes with the microphone cord, his vocal moving from quiet introspection to preacher-like dominance with effortless grace. 'American Twilight' concluded with Bonney intoning the word “Armageddon” over and over, and looking at those harrowing shots of a city gone to the rails, it felt like the end of the world had already happened while no one was looking. By way of light relief, Bonney's romantic side came through with songs like 'On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain)', 'All Must Be Love' and 'The Dolphins and the Sharks', songs balanced finely between anguish and joy, delivered with a desperate and unusual sensuality.
Elsewhere in the set Bronwyn Adams struck her violin so forcefully during a spirited 'Hunter' that the bow began to disintegrate, the band delivering a tight, frantic blues groove that saw Jim White rattling around his kit casually, like a seasoned jazz drummer, producing a racket that belied his subtle movements. 'I Have the Gun', one of Crime's defining moments, saw the folksy sections take on a primal, skiffly sound, while its heavy middle passage was so fierce that you half expected to see fire and brimstone spitting forth from a massive rift in the stage.
Bands who've enjoyed a twenty-year vacation shouldn't be able to make such an impressive din and compress such an array of different styles into one set (and with 'The Last Dictator' into one very idiosyncratic piece of music). Precisely because it just doesn't neatly “fit” anywhere at all is what makes Bonney's unique take on song writing so timeless and yet criminally - pun intended - known to so few people.
Words by Mat Smith
Photos by Andy Sturmey