The Catherine Wheel
with Tracy Bonham
9:30 Club, Washington, DC • July 8, 2000
The line for the 9:30 Club was over a block long by the time the doors opened. Once inside, there was another hour before the show started, but when it did, it was well worth the wait. Tracy Bonham was the opening act. In addition to singing, she plays guitar and violin. Much of her music was chromatic and all of it was intense. She scored some extra points with me because she was wearing a T-shirt with “Florida” written down the center. The band’s beer of choice was Corona. The only real annoyances during her set were the slight technical problems. She spent two and a half songs trying to tune her guitar, and while it was impressive that she could use the electric tuner while she sang, it was also very distracting. It led me to wonder how important her guitar part really was if she could tune during a song. My mood lightened up a bit when the plastic tip flew off one of the drummer’s sticks and almost hit the person standing next to me. All in all, they were an entertaining opening band.
Once the stage set up for the Catherine Wheel was done, the deep, sinister voice of Tom Waits sounded from the speakers as he read “What’s He Building?” “What’s he building in there?/ What the hell is he building in there… I’ll tell you one thing/ he’s not building a playhouse for the children… And what’s that tune he’s always whistling…” The crowd drowned the last few lines of the poem out because the Catherine Wheel was finally taking the stage. Rob Dickinson wore a pink Oxford shirt over an A-shirt, and the band’s beer of choice was Heineken. They opened with “Ballad of a Running Man.”
I didn’t notice until they played “Fripp” that the people were singing along, but I looked around and saw that almost everyone knew all the words. Between songs, people were screaming for “Mad Dog.” When the Catherine Wheel finally played it, the crowd was cheering so much that the first few measures sounded like they were coming through a radio with bad reception. Previously, Rob Dickinson has said that “Kill Rhythm” is about killing your best friend, but this time, he explained that it’s about having the desire to kill your pet. “What We Want to Believe In” was called “Bendy Wendy” on the play list, so I’m guessing the name of the bow-legged girl who left him was Wendy. The most notable British phrase of the night came right before their biggest single, “Sparks Are Gonna Fly,” when Rob said, “Swing your pants cause sparks are gonna fly.” He then proceeded to shake his butt to the beat of the song.
About half way through the set, we were introduced to the new bassist for the Catherine Wheel, Benjamin Ellis. He’s from Scotland and he looks like he’s about half the age of the other members of the band. He reminded me of a young version of Flea. His bass playing was incredible (quite possibly the best I’ve ever seen), his back-up vocals were flawless, and throughout the whole show, he looked like he was having the time of his life. Every time he finished half a Heineken, he would open a new one. When he came out for the first encore, he was carrying three bottles. When Dickinson came out for the first encore, he had changed into a black shirt with a small patch of Velcro in the middle. Right before “Future Boy,” he turned around and put something on the Velcro. When he faced the audience again, he had a little red heart in the middle of his shirt that was outlined by five or six white hearts that lit up from the inside out. “Don’t fear. Superboy is here…”
At the start of the second encore, something was wrong with Rob’s guitar. I didn’t notice a problem with the sound, but he kept adjusting his levels and he finally yelled at the sound guy during one of the songs. This was the second time during the night when his temper got the best off him. When they played “Ma Solituda” earlier in the show, he kept turning around and angrily mouthing, “It’s too slow!” but other than these two incidents, he seemed to be having a good time. He thanked the audience frequently and smiled at a couple in the front during “I Want to Touch You.” He caught everyone off guard with a bizarre guitar intro to the last song, “Little Muscle.” Brian Futter, the other guitarist, even leaned over to look at Dickinson’s fingers and see what the hell they were playing. To end the show, Rob and Brian both threw their guitars off stage. The crowd cheered wildly, hoping for a third encore, but alas, the Catherine Wheel was done. As my adrenaline slowed, I realized that my throat was sore from singing and my legs were sore from dancing. That British pop band is “so super (soo-PEER).”