Glam Night In: Michael Monroe, Sami Yaffa & Costello Livestream, Stayin' Alive, 23 May 2020.
It’s November 2019 and the world is a different place.
I’ve just arrived at a packed Glasgow Garage, having spent a little too long in the pub across the road, and I could kick myself. Michael Monroe, six nights in to his ten-date UK showcase of new album One Man Gang, is already on stage, in full frenetic performance mode, huge kohl-rimmed eyes scanning the room, waif-like body exploiting the awkward space with gymnastic grace. Sweat drips from the ceiling.
I’ve probably only missed half a song but it feels like insulting a legend. And a decent view is going to be hard to come by. But still. I start to edge my way forwards, resorting to an elbow here and there.
I’m wearing a brand-new fur coat because, let’s face it, this isn’t any ordinary rock star: this is the former Hanoi Rocks frontman, whose outrageous glam-punk looks inspired many a dodgy outfit during my university days. It’s all because of him that, over three decades on, my wardrobe hangs on to its animal print.
Inevitably, just as I find a reasonable spot, I’m shoved in the ribs and someone’s beer sprays all over me, soaking the back of my coat and trickling down my neck. What’s more, the tousle-haired bombshell seems to have disappeared from the stage.
It is not going well.
And then the girl behind me taps me on the shoulder: ‘Look! Look!’
I turn and there he is. Scaling along a ledge the width of a pencil, microphone wire artfully draped, still singing, still eyeballing those at the front, touching the odd hand as he inches his way, cat-like, towards the bar. Once there, he plants his pointy boots on the slippery surface and commands the back of the room like a seasoned acrobat as the bar staff look on, terrified.
In spite of my saturated coat, I am grinning like a maniac.
Fast forward six months and all of that seems like a brilliant dream. So much for beer-soaked coats. So much for the natural habitat of peerless performers.
But Monroe, on lockdown in his native Finland, is typically upbeat. Flanked by his long-term bass player Sami Yaffa and guitarist friend Costello, he is thankful he at least has a stage - namely the 45 Special bar in Oulu which is streaming a series of gigs under the Stayin' Alive banner. And he has the promoters and the tech team cheering him on (he jokes that it reminds him of the time Hanoi played in London to four or five people ‘and a three-legged blind dog’). He’s as impeccably dressed as ever: black silk shirt, blue silk waistcoat adorned with music-note diamante brooches, black-lacquered nails, drainpipe trousers with spangles (you do have to wonder if his wife - to whom he later dedicates a beautifully breathy version of the Hurriganes’ I Will Stay - ever feels the pressure of his always-on glamour).
It’s all a far cry from the slick, high-octane performances we’re used to: the three mostly remain seated and it’s less a concert than an evening in with Michael Monroe. Kind of adult Jackanory with musical interludes. But, for these rock n’ roll starved times, two and a half hours – yes, really – of Michael Monroe is exactly what we all need.
For each visit to the archives, there’s a story: a friendship or writing partnership, a tribute to a hero. We get the Dee Dee Ramone-penned Under the Northern Lights, a lesser-known Tom Petty – Girl on LSD – and there’s Deadtime Stories, from his Demolition 23 project, his homage to the departed Dead Boys (and Lords of the New Church) frontman Stiv Bators (and as a side-story, he reminds us of his duet with Axl Rose on the Dead Boys’ Ain’t it Fun, for the Guns n’ Roses Spaghetti Incident covers album).
The anecdotes just keep on coming: the time Little Richard did the ceremonial honours at the wedding of Little Steven, accompanied by Percy Sledge singing When a Man Loves a Woman; the time Monroe met Johnny Thunders and told him his new album was called Not Fakin’ It and Thunders retorted ‘What were you doin’ before?’; then there was August in Stockholm, 1982, where he apparently slept just twice in the whole month. Things have clearly changed a bit since then: when a drink is delivered to the stage, he double-checks it’s alcohol free. This may also explain why, at the end of a dynamic version of Eddie and the Hotrods’ Do Anything You Wanna Do – who in the world doesn’t love this song? – he is able to leap up from his stool and casually perform the splits. ‘A nice extra treat,’ he says.
When he launches spontaneously into Graham Parker’s Get Started, Start a Fire, Yaffa and Costello look puzzled but they muddle their way through it; at the end he admits he started with the last verse, but no matter. Ever the pro, even the screw-ups are extra treats. ‘I’m suffering from ICRS,’ he later complains. ‘I Can’t Remember Shit.’
Throughout, fans who’ve logged on from all over the world are clamouring for favourites on the message feed. From the Peace of Mind album, they’re rewarded with the aching Make it Go Away and the lyrically timely Loneliness Loves me More. From 2011’s Sensory Overdrive – which surely counts as one of the very best post-Hanoi outings – we’re given the Ginger Wildheart co-write All You Need, its joyful Ginger chorus even better for its pared-down presentation.
Nearly an hour and a half in, the first hint of Hanoi Rocks classic Don’t You Ever Leave Me is enough to trigger a tsunami of emojis with giant hearts for eyes. Later, in lieu of wild screaming, thousands of exclamation marks welcome the much-loved Motorvatin’. All bizarre, when you actually stop to think about it, but somehow brilliant.
With the loss of Monroe's idol Little Richard still fresh, Long Tall Sally is given extended treatment. Then, some persistent whooping from the bar eventually persuades them back for the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop – which is really some feat given the lack of a drum kit.
Six months ago, he’d never have imagined a gig like this. But he’s all about the positives. Among them, he lists the dolphins in Finland and the carbon footprint down by five per cent. ‘So don’t be so glum, chum!’ he says.
The world might be a different place, but Michael Monroe is still Michael Monroe.
Once again, I’m grinning like a maniac.