In the past few years, as the UK’s political leanings have teetered ever more to the right, Jonny & the Baptists have stepped up in their music. They’ve sliced into the little Britain nastiness of the Coalition Government with their incisively funny lyrics and targeted the dangerous stupidity of UKIP with bombastic brilliance.
The Satiric Verses is undoubtedly their best show yet. The songs are as wildly, irresistibly clever as Bigger than Judas, but this is a more generous experience. Frontman Jonny Donahoe is no less passionate about laying waste to Nigel Farage and his awful party, but last year’s trace of a sneer is gone. This time, his anger is embracing: each song reaches out to us.
From the hilarious ‘Grounds for Divorce’ – in which a furious England lambasts Scotland for breaking up their marriage – to ‘Revolution’, Jonny & the Baptists sweep hysterically across the terrain of contemporary debate. The sheer imaginative energy of it all blasts off the stage. Donahoe’s ebullient mix of scorching wit and showmanship is superb.
Earlier this year, Jonny & the Baptists’s Stop UKIP national tour made headlines as outraged party members began to bombard venues with complaints. The effect is threaded throughout this show. Drawn from a survey the group started on their website, ‘Farage’ is a hilarious roll-call of new meanings for old Nige’s surname, while Jonny reading out a litany of bizarre insults damns UKIP as effectively as any satire.
And following UKIP’s recent election success, there’s a note of genuine despair throbbing beneath the surface of the music – a real fear that all of this pointed banter is rear-guard action by this point. This is at its most poignant in the beautifully judged ‘Hey Dad’, which lays bare the political chasm between Jonny and his Daily Mail-reading father. It’s a heartfelt lament for lost closeness wrapped up in witty asides.
Throughout the show, there’s a greater sense of closeness and warmth than before. Jonny’s odd-couple relationship with rangy guitarist Paddy Gervers, which has grown each year, is now a joy – their relaxed, easy chemistry makes the experience of watching Jonny & the Baptists akin to spending an evening with particularly good value, politically attuned friends.
Coupled to this is a stronger sense of purpose and structure – The Satiric Verses demonstrates a clarity of vision that moves away from simply cycling through a set-list. It unfolds like theatre at times. The eye-wateringly strong G&Ts that Jonny knocks back throughout get their raucously ambivalent pay-off in ‘Let’s Drink it Better’.
It’s a clever, confident gesture that rounds off a sophisticated, emotionally rich hour of entertainment – transforming a seemingly crowd-pleasing ending into a complicated one full of echoes of defiance and defeat. But this superlative show never breaks its stride. It’s thought-provoking, lyrically brilliant fun of the highest order.