When you tell people you’re going to a gig, they tend to ask you who you’re seeing. The usual reaction I get when I tell them is a blank stare, or perhaps a confused “who?” as the bands I like — The Raveonettes, Aqualung, The Polyphonic Spree — don’t often register in the collective mind of the general public.
People have heard of Minnie Driver, though, so the conversation would usually run like this:
SOMEONE: Doing anything interesting tonight?
ME: Yeah, going to a gig at the Zodiac.
SOMEONE: Who you seeing?
ME: Minnie Driver.
SOMEONE: Minnie Driver?
The emphasis on the surname happened every time, which makes me wonder if there’s another artist out there called, I don’t know, Minnie Bliver, or Minnie Cryver, or something else that’s phonetically similar (Minnie McGuyver, perhaps?). People always had to check that they’d heard me correctly, but, yes, Minnie Driver. Last night, I went to see Minnie Driver at the Oxford Zodiac.
Back up a bit.
This was all part of a greater plan, in fact. During my recent flirtation with unemployment, I had been annoyed that I’d missed a few gigs in Bristol — Interpol and The Polyphonic Spree to name two — due to the need to conserve my cash, so I was determined to take up the gig-going habit again when I reached Oxford. Oxford, it turns out, has approximately one venue, the Zodiac, and it’s pretty tiny. Where do the vast swathes of students go for their live music? I’ve no idea — perhaps they don’t, being too busy wandering the streets looking intellectual, with their cashmere scarves, slim, round spectacles and smart folio editions of The Pickwick Papers tucked under their arms.
Minnie Driver’s booking at the Zodiac was, I felt, a good way to check the venue out. Her one album is a very mellow affair, a sort of vague country/easy-listening blend but with extra breasts, so the crowd was unlikely to be full of leather-clad greasers trying to mosh with me and pour beer over my head. It would be a crowd of people who danced by nodding their heads in time with the music, and perhaps lifting one knee slightly, swaying very gently over to one side, then swaying back, neither foot ever leaving the ground. Perfect.
(It was also a good opportunity for me to test out my new camera phone. The photos I took were uniformly terrible. )
There were two support acts. The first, Michael Miller, was on for just 20 minutes. He seemed a bit depressed, playing quietly to an uncaring crowd and doing his own echo effect, then lurking behind his merchandise stand for the rest of the night. Was he aware that Minnie’s band had, out of sympathy, signed up to be on his mailing list because nobody else had? Next on was Peter Bruntnell, who played for longer and was far more personable and not depressed at all.
Then, there was Minnie. Ahh, Minnie. Those high cheekbones. That wide smile. That enormous hair. That 9″ waist.
What is in her pocket, anyway?
Having only one album and not a great deal of b-sides and unreleased material to work with, the set was pretty short (45 minutes, I think). Minnie happily chatted with the crowd, thanked us all for coming out to see her…as the venue is so small, it was all fairly intimate. Though she apologised for having so many slow ballads (which makes me think her next release will be thrash metal), her live performance was notably more heated than her album. Highlights included her two singles, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket and Invisible Girl, plus a cover of Springsteen’s Hungry Heart, but generally, it was all good.
She has a good rapport with her band — a little too good at times, as there were moments when her back was turned and she appeared to be chatting to her musicians. They all looked as if they were enjoying the conversation, but we couldn’t hear a word of it — perhaps they were talking about us, or just having a laugh at Michael Miller.
I’d definitely go and see her again, but I guess it depends on whether she plans to continue singing or go back into acting. She was originally a singer, performing as a teenager in London jazz clubs, but then Circle of Friends took her out of that for 15 years or so. I hope she continues singing, anyway — she’s good at it.