Bill Hicks 20th Anniversary Tribute Gig | Gig review by Steve Bennett at Highlight, Camden

Bill Hicks 20th Anniversary Tribute Gig

Note: This review is from 2014

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Highlight, Camden

This was an odd gig, apparently attracting the sort of audience who adore Bill Hicks, but are rather more ambivalent to the idea of stand-up in general. They may have been paying their respects, but they were rather disrespectful about it.

Marketeers have devalued the word ‘iconic’ to the point of no meaning, but Hicks can, posthumously, stake a rightful claim to the word. This night, marking 20 years to the day since he died, was opened with an emotive video that portrayed him as a quasi-religious figure, ‘an agent of our evolution’ sent to Earth by God to show us the light and the truth. But before he was an icon, Hicks was an iconoclast, and you’d wonder what he might have made of his own hagiography.

Nonetheless, he is now a leader of a certain tribe. In Camden’s Highlight Club, they cheered his polemic pro-drug stance, or his diatribes against the evils or marketing or corporate-produced pop music (corporate-produced cigarettes, he was rather more keen on).

Twenty years on, the audience is a mix of young converts, old hippies still smelling of patchouli, and posh blokes who talked loudly throughout the show, occasionally turning their attention to the classic Hicks projected on the screen, but rather more involved in their own conversations.

The evening was a mix of tribute and stand-up gig; the lion’s share given over to archive footage of the man himself, both well-known clips from the likes of his career-defining Relentless show, alongside rarer material contributed by the Hicks family. There were also contributions singer-songwriter Daniel Glover – younger and whiter than the guy from the Lethal Weapon films – strumming meaningfully over photo montages showing Hicks as the height of his rock-and-roll cool.

Our two comperes for the night were stand-up Jeff Innocent, well used to keeping a partly-uninterested crowd on side thanks to his years on the club circuit, and Matt Harlocks, one of the co-producers of the 2009 Hicks documentary, American. Interspersed with the videos – and the fundraising raffle – were two stand-up sets from Robin Ince and Brendon Burns.

The tweedish Ince, dressed tonight in his ‘edgiest cardigan’, might not immediately seem an obvious successor to Hicks, but he shares a passion and a curiosity that means his angry rant against The Fast And The Furious 4 sits well alongside Hicks’s complaints about the anti-intellectualism dominating American culture. You suspect Hicks would also have applauded any stand-up who can quote Timothy Leary and drop phrases like ‘imp of the perverse’ into his set.

Burns, a friend of the Hicks family, faced an altogether tougher ride, going on against a later, and drunken audience, who had just been shown footage of Hicks taking on an ignorant crowd. But their take-away message had become twisted into the idea that stand-up should be combative, not that Hicks held such behaviour in nothing but angry contempt.

The fiery Australian never shies away from a fight, which meant his set just got rowdy. He would surely agree this was not his finest 20 minutes, but the easily-distracted crowd hardly gave him a chance. He pulled out crowd-pleasers like his impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering stand-up – but it couldn’t silence the heckles.

Of the many events that took place across the world last night to mark Hicks’s passing, this could lay claim to being the most official, since both Bill’s mother and brother chose to come to Britain, the country that most embraced him.

On stage, Steve Hicks was asked what his brother might have made of tonight’s gig, and answered with tearful gratitude that his work was still being celebrated as being so significant. Earlier the point was made that a similar night for the likes of Richard Pryor or Lenny Bruce would probably not have sold out as easily as this one did.

That is true, and Hicks was a very special comedian – brilliantly funny, socially astute and irrepressibly passionate. But is the best way to commemorate that genius to shout down another stand-up? Clearly buying a T-shirt with his face on it does not imbue you with Hicks’s morals.

Maybe Hicks is turning out more like Jesus after all. He might have been brilliant, but some of the most vocal of his followers are pricks.

Review date: 27 Feb 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Dingwalls

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