Mike Atkinson

Hard-Fi / The Rumble Strips — Nottingham Arena, Thursday December 13

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on December 13, 2007

Hailing from Tavistock in Devon, The Rumble Strips scored their big break in May, as the top-billed act on the NME/Topman package tour. Their music owed a clear debt to Dexys Midnight Runners, particularly on the numbers where two band members doubled up as a brass section. Last March’s nearly-hit Alarm Clock stood out from the pack, with its punchy, drum-heavy arrangement. Unfortunately, the song which followed it opened almost identically — as did the next one. By the end of their sprightly, genial, but ultimately undemanding half-hour set, you sensed that they had used up their still limited box of tricks.

For anyone who had endured The Verve’s atrocious sound mix two nights earlier, it was a relief to hear Hard-Fi sounding comparatively crisp and clear, at least once some early technical problems had been resolved. (“Kai’s bass has been taken out the back and shot”, muttered singer Richard Archer.) They had obviously worked hard to prepare for their biggest tour to date, applying careful thought to the lighting and visuals. Opening number Middle Eastern Holiday was accompanied by some particularly inventive video backdrops, mixing vintage arcade games, military footage and pop-art imagery to compelling effect.

In the course of their eighteen song, ninety minute set, the Staines boys performed most of their debut album Stars of CCTV, and all but one song from its follow-up, Once Upon A Time In The West (the heavily orchestrated Watch Me Fall Apart being an understandable omission). The more rousing newer numbers fared best of all, with Can’t Get Along (Without You) coming as an early highlight. A mariachi-style trumpet appeared for the intro of forthcoming single I Shall Overcome, and Archer whipped out his trusty melodica for older tracks such as Better Do Better.

Hard-Fi’s essentially down-to-earth nature forms a central part of their appeal. These are no untouchable superstars, but regular blokes from the suburbs who articulate the everyday concerns of their audience. However, in order to transfer their act from sweaty rock venues to 10,000 capacity arenas, they still need to raise their game, own the stage, and reach out to everyone in the hall, not just the heaving moshers down the front.

To his credit, Archer tried his best to connect. Nevertheless, as the singer’s calls for mass participation grew more frequent and pleading, you sensed that he was trying a little too hard. Although an energetic and industrious front man, he lacked natural authority. “I’ve been reading my Idiot’s Guide to Arena Rock”, he quipped, cheerfully poking fun at his shortcomings, but also drawing attention to a hurdle that has yet to be overcome.

The band hit their stride with a wonderfully smooth, controlled Tonight, following it with the swaggering, anthemic Suburban Knights. At this point, they almost had the night in their pockets. Sadly, a woefully scrappy Hard To Beat threw away these gains in an instant, closing the main set on an awkward downer. Compared to their confident start — and especially compared to their superb 2005 show at Rock City — the encore came as something of an anti-climax.

Set List:
Middle Eastern Holiday
I Close My Eyes
Tied Up Too Tight
Can’t Get Along
Better Do Better
I Shall Overcome
Help Me Please
Little Angel
Cash Machine
We Need Love
You And Me
Suburban Knights
Hard To Beat
The King
Stars Of CCTV
Living For The Weekend

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