The Magic Numbers – Nottingham Bodega Social Club, Monday December 14.
Just over ten years ago, The Social on Pelham Street hosted its very first gig. Since then, it has played host to many of the outgoing decade’s leading acts, at formative stages of their careers: Coldplay, The Strokes, White Stripes, Scissor Sisters and Bloc Party, to name just a few. Occasionally, it has put on shows from acts that you would normally expect to see in considerably larger venues, who have opted for the very special intimacy that the tiny space provides. Last year, Duffy packed us in like sardines. This spring, Late of the Pier played a riotous homecoming gig, which nearly resulted in the collapse of the speaker system. And last night, having all but disappeared from public view over the past three years, The Magic Numbers played their penultimate date on a tour of deliberately small scale venues, which has given them the opportunity to debut material from their forthcoming album to their most loyal fans.
If the band had maintained the standard set by the opening four numbers, then this would have been one of the standout gigs of the year. They started quietly, with a pair of new songs (Restless River and Sound Of Something) which hit the spot perfectly, showcasing their exquisite playing, tender harmonies and instinctive, unforced rapport. The energy levels built during Take A Chance, then exploded into life with a joyous rendition of their debut hit, Forever Lost.
Just as you thought they had the night in the bag, things started to unravel. Although the sound quality was crystal clear for those in the centre of the room, those towards the bar weren’t feeling so lucky. “Sort it out, Romeo”, someone shouted. Already rattled by the muffled vocals coming through the stage monitors, which meant that they could barely hear their own voices, the players appeared to lose confidence. The smiles became strained. Those beautiful West Coast harmonies started to sound ragged round the edges. The playing became more distracted, and less focussed. The newer numbers began to sound interchangeable.
Goaded by one request too many for Love Me Like You (their biggest hit to date) from a well-meaning but extravagantly drunk contingent in the middle of the crowd, lead singer Romeo Stoddart finally snapped. “Shall we just play it now, to shut you lot up?”, he snarled, frustrated by his desire to focus on the new songs which he felt “so passionate” about unveiling.
Moments later, Romeo was all apologies. The mood lightened, as the marathon set built to its exultant conclusion. During the encore, a Facebook competition winner called Victoria took to the stage, for a delightfully feisty lead vocal on Mornings Eleven from the first album. Her excitement at being on stage proved instantly contagious, squeezing out the last drops of enthusiasm from an audience who had diligently stood through twenty-two songs, over the course of a whopping (and frankly excessive) two hours and ten minutes.
It had been a set of Springsteen-esque dimensions, from a band whose gentle charms had been stretched to the limits by awkward conditions, and whose understated songcraft lacked sufficient drama and variety to sustain the full course. But for all that, it was still great to have to them back.