“Wakey wakey, Siouxsie,” the main attraction chided herself midway through the set. It was five years since her last gig, an absence Siouxsie Sioux admitted was “too long. Way too long. Don’t ask. Time to make up for it.” Cue rejoicing from fans – the “Ice Queen” was back.
Siouxsie’s return, at the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown festival, was at the behest of another powerful woman, Yoko Ono, curator of this year’s edition. The result was an intense and electric show, as perfectly devised as the geometry of Siouxsie’s black eyeliner.
The punk veteran, 56, was preceded on stage by three younger men in ties, an industrious, anonymous guitar-bass-drum combo. Several sheets of white office blinds were lowered in the background like a conference suite preparing itself for a PowerPoint presentation. Into this functional setting Siouxsie arrived like a figure from a gothic fairytale, marching to her microphone stand in a white PVC dress criss-crossed with black straps, hair a majestic dark mane.
She opened with Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 33-year-old hit, “Happy House”. “We’re in a dream in the happy house,” she chanted, twirling around. Often one’s reaction to reactivations like hers is led by nostalgia. But the themes of dreaming and fantasy that run through Siouxsie’s music gave tonight’s gig an extra frisson, as though she really had emerged from an enchanted sleep.
The first part of the set was a song-by-song recital of Kaleidoscope, the Banshees’ third LP, released in 1980, the point at which Siouxsie and her band made the transition from punk scenesters to bona fide stars. She was the only member of the original group present. The absence of her former drummer and husband Budgie was especially pointed – the pair divorced in 2007, a possible explanation for her recent inactivity.
Her current band gave the songs a vigorous shaking-out, more at home with the punk energy of “Clockface” than the fractured textures of “Hybrid”. Siouxsie was a magnetic focal point, performing expressionist swirls and flamenco-style hand gestures. Her voice has grown lower, which gave her vocals a Marlene Dietrich-like imperiousness, an affinity highlighted by her Weimar cabaret routine on “Careless Love”.
After Kaleidoscope came picks from the Banshees’ back catalogue (“Israel”, “Arabian Knights”), before a pointed swerve into her 2007 solo album Mantaray, ending with “Into a Swan”. “I’m on the verge of an awakening,” Siouxsie sang with magnificent command as brutal industrial rock raged alongside her. The hibernation is over.