“Part gig, part play” is a broad church. When I read it in marketing copy I’m suspicious that it’s simply a way to confer the energy of one medium onto a lackluster example of another. At its best it really is a whole new thing – and in that case, using “part this, part that” feels unappreciative. Luckily, Songs for the End of the World is one of the good ones. With a varied musical palette, highly talented musicians and a winking affection for the eschatological, this is an apocalyptic rock’n’roll cabaret which earns its self-styling as ‘gig-theatre’. It stands up well next to my previous favourite of the genre, Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra’s No Place to Go, with slightly less story, fewer teeth in the satire, but a wider musical range, energetic performances and (strangely) a similar focus on Mars.
Dom Coyote take the role of astronaut Jim Walters, and his band the Bloodmoneys play the various inhabitants of the village Ashley-Coombe, one of the last safe places in New Albion. Walters is headed to Mars, where he will be joined by his wife Mary, who will become the new attractive and pricey colony’s Adam and Eve, in a project funded by big bad corporation New Global. In opening projections which are reminiscent of 1927’s Golem or The Animals and Children Took to the Streets we learn that New Global are also responsible for the creation of the village of Ashley-Coombe itself. There’s not a lot of story to go on, and the satire is fairly familiar – with Miss Worthington preaching from her New Bible about terrorists and migrants perhaps the weakest link – but the narrative is largely enjoyable genre colour for what is really a Dom Coyote concept album.
Acknowledging 1950s rock’n’roll as its musical starting point, Songs for the End of the World owes as much to Pink Floyd, with Ted Barnes taking the mic for a soulful Dark Side of the Moon-like number “It’s just a case of the I-can’t-stop-shaking blues”, and Coyote as astronaut Jim Walters channeling Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust as he finds himself stuck in orbit around an Earth that’s being destroyed for profit. He highlights the piece’s emotional heart as he sings “How could I lose you?” for his wife Mary at the top of the show, and reprises it talking about the whole Earth, staring down at it from above.
Taking the soundtrack to the Space Race and putting it in a colourful and brash Pulp world, with strong video design by Brett Harvey, brilliant performances from singers Coyote and Milly Oldfield, great synth sounds and cracking work on the drums from Daisy Palmer, Songs for the End of the World is a huge amount of fun.
Songs for the End of the World was on as part of Vaults Festival 2016. Click here for more of their programme.