In the nine months since White Lies last played Rock City, sandwiched between Florence and the Machine, Friendly Fires and Glasvegas on the annual NME package tour, their live reputation has steadily grown. A successful summer festival season has won them many new fans, as last night’s capacity turnout demonstrated, and it was heartening to discover how much the band has gained in confidence and stage presence, in such a short space of time.
They’ve been compared with the likes of Editors and Interpol, and it was easy to see why: there’s a similar sense of bleak grandeur, and a shared tendency to pitch dark lyrical themes against rousing, anthemic melodies. The playing was clean, sharp and concise. Emotions were never overplayed; arrangements never sagged or dragged.
Although not a particularly demonstrative front man, Harry McVeigh displayed an intuitive grasp of stage craft, and an ability to connect with his audience without resorting to the usual bag of crowd-pleasing tricks. His eyes said it all: scanning the room, sensing the energy that was being returned to him, and lighting up with pleasure. This whole experience is clearly still new to him, and it was a delight to see him relishing it.
The 67 minute set was bookended by surefire crowd pleasers, opening with Farewell To The Fairground and closing with Death (a more uplifting track than its title might suggest). Material from the chart-topping album To Lose My Life was augmented with an older song (You Still Love Him) and a Talking Heads cover (Heaven). But if one song defined the night, perhaps it was the album’s title track, which took all the band’s key themes – love, fear, hope, faith, death – and placed them into a fist-pumping anthem of the first degree.
Two nights on from Beyoncé’s dazzling, effects-laden extravaganza, it was time for the diametric opposite: a frill-free, no-nonsense, back-to-basics rock gig, from another act at the top of their game. In contrast to the R&B star’s numerous declarations of love, a taciturn Alex Turner offered not much more than a couple of gruff checks that we were “all right, Nottingham?” Formalities dispensed with, he kept his head down and got on with the show.
The simple but effective lighting bathed the band in strong, single colours, alternating between scarlet, turquoise, orange and mauve. The colour scheme was echoed by the screens on either side at the stage, which relayed shadowy, film-like images of the individual band members, silhouetted in tinted monochromes.
Obscured behind shaggy, shoulder-length, centre-parted curtains of hair, the three-man front line – Turner, guitarist Jamie Cook and bassist Nick O’Malley – matched each other for unreadable inscrutability, rumbling and twanging their way through the set with impressive cohesion and control. More storyteller than showman, Turner casts himself as one of life’s observers: the quiet kid in the corner with the notepad on his lap, taking it all in with a quizzical eye, and relaying it back with a snappy, sardonic turn of phrase.
Four years ago, the Monkeys exploded onto the scene, grabbing everyone’s attention with two chart-topping singles and a debut album that was hailed as an instant classic. Three albums down the line, they’ve toned down some of that early precociousness, settling into a comfortable – and some might say conservative – niche. Their newest songs might lack the instantly anthemic qualities of the older hits, but you sense that Turner and his band are in it for the long haul: sturdy, dependable reliables, with a loyal fanbase who have learnt every word off by heart.
Notably more subdued during an extended stretch of lesser-known album tracks, the crowd burst back into life for a rip-roaring rattle through When The Sun Goes Down. An explosion of translucent ticker-tape then brought the main set to an unexpectedly showy conclusion. (Perhaps Ms Knowles had left a box or two behind on Friday night?) It was the one nod to spectacle, at the end of a curiously austere and uninvolving performance. The sweaty moshers down the front might have gone home happy – but for the stranded souls towards the rear, who strained to make sense of the blurred visuals and the muddy sound, the verdict seemed altogether less clear.
Dance Little Liar
This House Is A Circus
Still Take You Home
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
The View From The Afternoon
If You Were There, Beware
The Jeweller’s Hands
Do Me A Favour
When The Sun Goes Down
Fluorescent Adolescent / Mardy Bum
“Was anyone at my last gig in Nottingham?” she asked, before admitting that “it was my shitttest gig ever.” True enough, La Roux’s show at the Rescue Rooms in April had been plagued by technical faults – but in a strange sort of way, the fiasco had played to her strengths as a personality, highlighting the flawed frailty that lies at the heart of her appeal.
Promoted to Rock City for their autumn tour, Elly Jackson and her band encountered no further hitches – although we could have done without the absurd forty-five minute wait which followed the support band. Performing in front of an impressively slick illuminated backdrop, her hair teased into a sky-high vertical quiff that even the X Factor’s John and Edward would have baulked at, La Roux presented herself as a fully fledged pop star.
Unfortunately, the scale of the show also magnified Elly’s limitations as a singer and performer. Vocally sharp and shrill, with indifferent phrasing and a grating lack of pitch control, she sounded like someone who was straining to sing above her natural range. And in terms of showmanship, her lack of training and absence of natural charisma left her unable to establish any meaningful rapport with the crowd.
Luckily, there was still enough goodwill in the room to tide the band over, and enough strong material in the La Roux songbook to overcome the amateurishness of Elly’s delivery. Colourless Colour marked the turning point, and the wildly popular In For The Kill ensured that the main set ended on a rapturous high.
An extended version of the unassailably brilliant Bulletproof was saved for the encore, reminding us of why we all fell for La Roux in the first place. But after a meagre forty-seven minutes on stage – scarcely longer than the gap between the acts – it was difficult not to feel a little bit short-changed, and a little bit deflated.
Widely tipped for stardom at the start of the year, VV Brown may not have set the charts alight during 2009, but a critically acclaimed debut album has nevertheless set her career off on a promising path. A tall, striking woman, with a unique look that has won her several prestigious modelling assignments, VV certainly looks like a pop star – and last night at the Rescue Rooms, it soon became clear that she has substance to match the style.
After a successful summer’s work on the festival circuit, and boosted by a memorable turn on Jools Holland’s Later, VV attracted a slightly older audience than you’d normally find for a pop artist. Her younger female fans were pressed down at the front, while those in their late twenties and early thirties hung further back.
Warm, beaming and eager to please, VV rattled confidently through most of the tracks from her album, pausing to offer a pair of contrasting covers in the middle of the set. Her rendition of Over The Rainbow drew repeated whoops of applause, which lasted all the way through the song. It was followed by a thumping take on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, which had the whole crowd bellowing along with her.
A new song (Caroline) was debuted for the encore: an angry, charged rocker, which spoke of betrayal by a former friend. It showed VV at her best: passionate, committed and in control. If she can hold onto that intensity, and maybe lose some of the more obvious crowd-pleasing manoeuvres in the process, then we could be witnessing the birth of an intriguing artist.
Musical trends may come and go, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s always room for a good old-fashioned “punk rock, blues and country techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro pop band”. Since their inception in 1996, Alabama 3 have built a reputation as one of the most dependably enjoyable live bands on the circuit. If you only know them from their records, then you’re missing half the story. An Alabama 3 gig is an event: a gathering of the faithful, who have come to worship at the altar of the “First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine”.
The service was led by a pair of renegade preachers: The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love (hirsute, full-figured, fond of sermons, and possessed of a Southern American drawl that belied his Brixton roots) and his co-vocalist Larry Love (a latter day medallion man, whose raddled, wired, possibly sleep-deprived performance channelled the spirits of Joe Strummer, Ian Dury and Hunter S. Thompson). Their hymn sheets included devotional numbers such as “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”, “Mao Tse Tung Said”, and the ever-popular “Woke Up This Morning” (best known as the theme tune from The Sopranos).
A lengthy encore included a re-appearance from the support band, followed by an updated version of Country Joe and the Fish’s anti-war protest song, I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die, its words altered to reference the current situation in Afghanistan.
With three hit singles and two charting albums under his belt, you might have expected Just Jack to have filled Rock City to capacity. So it came as a surprise to find him relegated to the venue’s basement bar, playing to an audience that would have fitted comfortably into the Rescue Rooms next door. “They must have turned a thousand people away at the door”, he joked, adapting to his reduced circumstances with relaxed good humour.
On Monday night, Jack Allsop and his five-piece band had played to 1200 people at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – and yet by the end the set, he happily conceded that this had been the better show. The intimacy of the venue gave him free rein to trade quips and banter with the more vocal members of the audience, making everybody feel included.
Wearing his thirty-four years lightly, with the sprightly demeanour of a fresh-faced teen, Jack breezed his way through his 75 minutes on stage. Observational, witty and tender, his songs presented neatly drawn vignettes of everyday life. What they lacked in profundity, they made up for in simple, unforced charm.
As the set gathered steam, the crowd loosened up, bellowing the likeably daft lyrics of The Day I Died back at the stage. (“I always hated Rob! And now they’ll probably offer me Rob’s old job!”) A bold choice for a single, the canon-like Embers broke from the formula, while Starz In Their Eyes – dedicated on this occasion to Susan Boyle – offered a timely pricking of the delusions of TV talent show hopefuls.
Following a showy, energised and dazzlingly exciting set from beat-boxer Killa Kela – and a buzz-dampening no-show from DJ Starsmith – Vincent Frank and his three-piece band took to the stage amidst a shower of glowsticks, hurled onto the stage by his eager young tribe of followers. This hadn’t happened before, but Vincent took it in his stride with bemused good humour. (“Is it always like this in Nottingham?”)
Visibly more at home at the Rescue Rooms than he had been at the Arena, supporting Keane at the start of the year, Vincent commended us for being the “warmest” crowd so far on his autumn tour. Although Frankmusik has yet to enjoy the full scale commercial breakthrough of fellow electro-pop travellers such as La Roux and Little Boots, he has carved out a respectable niche within the pop landscape of 2009, with a string of middle-sized hits, a largely well-received album and a devoted online following already under his belt.
With work already underway on a follow-up album, just one new song was aired during the fifty minute set. It didn’t deviate much from the established Frankmusik template, which takes Eighties synth-pop as its starting point, and underpins its intelligently written love songs with hefty, galloping dance rhythms.
The set climaxed with the album’s opening track In Step (with an added section lifted from Rihanna’s Don’t Stop The Music), followed by a riotously received Better Off As Two. For his encore, Vincent treated us to a beautiful and powerful solo rendition of the Pet Shop Boys classic It’s A Sin, whose subtle, controlled passion hinted at future possibilities as yet unexplored.
Two dates into their autumn tour, this Glasgow sextet have been struggling to maintain their line-up. For Monday night’s Leeds gig, the drummer from support band Stop Eject filled in for Damien Tonner, who had been called back to Scotland for a funeral. Although Damien managed to fly back for the Nottingham show, the band was once again missing a member. Guitarist Greg Sinclair’s absence was announced as the result of a “serious psychotic episode”, which had apparently caused him to be admitted to a monastery. In his place, a “phantom” member had been constructed at the foot of the stage, resplendent in the same gold lamé monk’s cowl that was worn by the keyboardist and bassist.
As it transpired, not a word of this was true. Like most of the band, Sinclair holds down a full time day job, and a professional emergency had called him home. With two other guitarists in the band, the gap was seamlessly closed around his absence.
Combining a knack for catchy, riff-driven numbers (The Howling, Folk Song Oblivion) with a more leftfield, experimental approach, The Phantom Band’s playful eclecticism bore comparison with the much missed Beta Band. Their chugging rhythmic steadiness suggested a schooling in Krautrock, whereas on the epic lament Island, distinct highland folk influences rose to the surface. A sparse but attentive audience gave them the respect they deserved.