Featuring The Drums, The Big Pink, Bombay Bicycle Club and Maccabees
Brighton Dome, 15 February 2010
Love it or loathe it, the NME’s obsession with the newest, most zeitgeist-hugging acts has helped launch numerous careers that would otherwise have faded into mediocrity. In some cases (Kasabian) this has clearly been a curse, yet the track record of the magazine’s yearly Awards Tour has, for the most part, been pretty good. Bands such as Arctic Monkeys, The Horrors, and Friendly Fires were all plucked from the mire of indie rock mediocrity and thrust into the spotlight just as their stars were beginning to ascend, with an almost unnerving sense of timing.
Its critics may point to the lack of variety in the bands chosen to play each year (predominantly all male indie rock guitar bands) and the sense of shrill over-excitement hero worship created by a 14+ crowd. But the tour does provide a good opportunity to see some of the year’s most hyped acts before they become huge, and with four bands playing for £15, it seems a bit churlish to complain.
First on this year’s bill are Brooklyn’s The Drums who offer a weird but compelling mix of downbeat lo-fi indie gloom, and peppy tuneful surf rock choruses. The effect is a little disorientating at first, but offers a unique opportunity to imagine how different musical history could have been if Factory Records had emerged from sunny California rather than rain-soaked Manchester. The band pull in a fairly large and energetic crowd, most of them waiting for single ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, which is delivered to a predictably enthusiastic response.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from a line-up that is more solid than intriguing, is that London’s The Big Pink are so relatively low on the bill. Hotly tipped since the start of last year, the band have been making waves in the UK and further afield, reaching huge crowds in shows supporting Muse and The Pixies and releasing ‘A Brief History Of Love’ to critical acclaim. From the moment they step on stage tonight it is obvious the band’s live sound has progressed hugely in the space of a year, as the opening bars of ‘Too Young To Love’ reverberate round the Dome’s cavernous hall. The electro duo are joined by a live bassist and drummer, allowing the band to ramp up the intensity and volume to an all out electro-rock assault on the audience, but it is Milo Cordell, hunched in a hood behind a bank of synths and decks that is doing the damage. Probably the least ‘mainstream’ (and as a result, most interesting) band on the bill, The Big Pink’s live sound benefits hugely from the space afforded by larger venues, where their melodies are given a chance to separate themselves from the distorted wall of noise that typifies their sound.
Bombay Bicycle Club by comparison, seem a little flimsy on first glance. With a bassist that looks about fifteen, and a lead singer who spends most of the gig in a state of nerdy awkwardness, there is a bizarre sense of having stumbled into a sixth form battle of the bands competition. Still, the band are really well supported, with the venue now pretty much at capacity, and once they get going display a taut power that belays their physical appearance, as well as a strong sense of melody. Tracks like ‘Magnet’ and ‘Lamplight’ are rapturously received to the point where mosh circles (of a sort) are developing like wildfire. ‘Always Like This’ showcases the band’s maturing sense of song structure to excellent effect, but the decision to omit tracks like ‘The Hill’ and ‘Dust On The Ground’ seems a little odd when a number of their replacements have a tendency to drift into indie mediocrity.
Last on are The Maccabees, in a hotly anticipated homecoming gig, and from the moment they take the stage to the screams of teenage girls, it is obvious that they are the main attraction for most of the crowd. Backed by a horn section and painted cityscape backdrop, there is a maturity and tightness about the band that sets them apart from their predecessors. This is in part due to the fact that the Maccabees are no longer really a new band, and it is clear from the power and panache of songs like ‘William Powers’ and ‘Can You Give It’ how much they have progressed in the last five years. Looking very much like a band determined to capitalise on the success of 2009’s ‘Wall Of Arms’, The Maccabees rip through their set at breakneck pace until the campfire sing-along of ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ restores a measure of calm. Finishing with the excellent ‘No Kind Words’ and a brief encore, the band leave without outstaying their welcome as the crowd attempt to recover their senses and find discarded shoes and t-shirts. It is a triumphant end to an enjoyable, if unspectacular night, with only The Big Pink really offering much in the way of innovation. Still, the gradual success of bands like The Maccabees should act as a template to those who proceeded them tonight, and a warning against being blinded by the hype machine for all those in attendance.
What did you think of the gig?
Laura: 10/10 “I came down to see Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees but I liked The Drums as well. The Big Pink were alright, I liked the last song, the ‘Dominoes’ one. I loved The Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees were amazing.”
Luke: 10/10 “I came to see the Maccabees but also The Big Pink ‘cos I’ve always loved The Big Pink right from when they started out. They were so good my voice is going through shouting! The Maccabees were great, it looked like they’d come home, it was just incredible.”
Emma: 10/10 “I came down for The Maccabees, I really love them. It’s the third time I’ve seen them, they’re my favourite band. It was probably the best time I’ve seen them. I loved Bombay Bicycle Club and liked The Big Pink, and The Drums had load of energy.”
Emma: 8/10 “Yeah, it was a good gig, I’m glad I only paid £15 for it. I came down to see Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees, and I was really impressed by them. The Drums could have done with a bit more bass and The Big Pink were very loud, I liked it.”
Words by Daniel Pearson
Read our exclusive interviews with Orlando Weeks from Maccabees, and The Drums front man Jonathon Pierce in February 2010’s issue of XYZ Magazine!