“The Slits are getting poorer,'” Ari Up declares to a two-thirds-full Crawdaddy. ‘It’s time for us to get paid, if we were rich, we could do shit!” It’s true, the original riot grrrls may have been a big influence on two generations, but getting name-dropped by cool bands doesn’t pay the bills, and their 1979 debut album Cut is a nugget that’s often overlooked during punk appraisals. It’s a ramshackle mix of scratchy guitars, dubbed-up basslines and Ari Up’s off-the-wall chanting, perfectly illustrated by tonight’s opener ‘Newtown’, a lolling reggae-punk number Ari calls ‘our spooky one – we’re getting all atmospheric Ireland and we’re gonna have a party.'”
About 8ft tall in diamante high heel boots and giant dreads bunched up on her head, Ari Up alone is worth the price of the ticket. The German newspaper heiress grew up in London and formed The Slits in 1976 when she was 14, and still prances about the stage like a mischievous teen, punching the air, pulling off Apache war cries and getting her dancehall grind on in a pair of silver tiger print leggings. Her hybrid accent of German, cockney and patois (she’s been based in Jamaica since 1981) turns up the comedy dial – especially when she puts on a cod Oirish accent and calls herself a green warrior. The three young newbie Slits on stage look like they’re partying with their batty aunt, while fellow ‘oldie’ Tessa Pollitt is more shy, letting her reggae dread basslines do the talking. ‘This is too quiet, we could almost be hippies,'” jokes Ari. ‘Play some punk will ya?'” someone yells from the back and they counter with ‘Vindictive’, a two-chord wonder from 1976.
A Slits gig in 2010 isn’t much different from their 2005 comeback show in Crawdaddy, and probably the same as it ever was – one part punk, one part dub, two parts chaos. The wheels are about to come off at any time but that’s half the charm. They swap instruments when they take a notion – Ari kicks Anna Schulte off the drums for a few numbers and Tessa fills in on keyboard while Hollie Cook (Sex Pistol Paul’s daughter) sings the sweet ‘Cry Baby’ from last year’s Trapped Animal – their first album since 1981’s Return of the Giant Slits, the follow-up to Cut. They’ve a brand new guitarist (didn’t catch her name) and she sings ‘Babylon’, the most overtly reggae track on Trapped Animal – all echo chamber effects and lilting keys. They don’t shy away from new material and the dancehall racket of ‘Ask Ma’ and ‘Lazy Slam’ are far better in the grubbier live setting than on the too-shiny record.
Of course the highlights are from Cut – there’s no argument there, from the teens and 20-somethings in the front row trying to start a moshpit, to the punks from the old guard lining the sides and the back. ‘Typical Girls’ has always been the breezy anthem to a group who are anything but, and ‘Shoplifting’ has Ari dragging two fans up on stage for some ‘Ari-oke karaoke'” (steady on, it’s her pun) while the whole crowd chants ‘Do a runner! Do a runner!’ from the imaginary cops. Their skuzzy cover of ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ (now through the Bassline) is always a crowd-pleaser and honey honey, it goes down well tonight. ‘FM’ fell foul to an earlier equipment malfunction after a drum collapsed off its stand and rolled across the stage. A not so modest Ari Up reckons she had a clear premonition of it happening – due to her supernatural ‘Jamaican sense’. In any case she could’ve predicted the reaction as they give it another shot and ‘Frequent Mutilation transmits over the air’ to heads pogoing at the front. It’s a raucous finale and The Slits exit stage right before Ari comes back out for an a capella rundown of her solo track ‘Bashment’ from a few years ago. She’d be on that stage all night if they let her. A half hour later she’s leading her troops up the steps of Crawdaddy and they’re doing a runner with bottles of water, fruit, crisps and hoummus from the night’s rider, to save on the touring budget. Buy a Slits record today folks, let’s make these girls rich.