Beth Ditto isn’t bigger than Jesus, except around her middle, but she does have some Divine qualities. A lesbian icon, she looks like a regenade from Hairspray, tugging down a green jersey mini-dress as it rides up over her jelly thighs. Her voice, a raucous gospel yell, thunders into “Eyes Open” as if she were gargling the spirit of Janis Joplin. That her band are promoting a live album, Live in Liverpool, out on April 7, only proves there’s nothing like catching them in the flesh.
Since their front woman became a fixture in the fashion press, it’s a relief to find that Gossip – from Arkansas via Oregon – walk the talk so ferociously. Guitarist Brace Paine is a pointy-toed praying mantis in a Crass T-shirt, his playing all deft jabs and switchblade lunges. Tattooed drummer Hannah Billie brutalises her skins with rudimentary élan. They make a terrifically visceral din, yet the show belongs to Ditto.
She ad-libs between tracks: “I’m a poseur and I don’t care/I like to make people stare.” Odd lines from Talking Heads, 1990s riot grrrls Huggy Bear and Broadway standards tumble out. She worries about having turned 27: “It’s the curse year.” If, vocally, she is still a one-trick pony, what a trick and what a pony – she’s a hoof-stamping, hyperventilating Shetland.
Gossip’s usual cover, Aaliyah’s “Are U That Somebody?”, here becomes, with an auxiliary bassist, a kind of delinquent dub. New song “Heavy Cross” is exhilarating apostasy for a Good Friday. Raging punk-funk, it builds towards a prog-blues finale, and then morphs into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, after Ditto sings “I don’t trust you” at her would-be saviour, clasping her “sins” to her breast.
For the encore, she is preceded back on stage by a leather-jacketed man in a gimp mask. “Listen Up!”, pulsing like an electricity pylon, is played with more friends and hangers-on dancing round the drum kit. The scene resembles a cooler, scuzzier Gap ad. It only takes the intro of “Standing in the Way of Control”, Gossip’s signature rave-up, for the place to hit boiling point. Ditto drags gleeful kids from the crowd until the group is engulfed by a moshing mêlée. There won’t be a more rock’n’roll moment all year.
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