Friday, 17 June 2011

Review: We Are Scientists (w/Tall Ships, Middlesbrough Empire, 13/06/11)

"It's Monday night Middlesbrough, it's time to party!" On first glance at the eerily deserted streets of Teeside's finest drinking pit, you'd probably be forgiven for thinking We Are Scientists' quick-witted, astutely observational lead singer had missed the mark slightly with this evening's opening salvo. A cursory perusal of the city centre reveals a smattering of empty pubs, all offering karaoke nights and strict drug policies, shuttered shops and a punter-less Burger King, its beleaguered workers doubtless desperate for tonight's rock and roll show to kick out so the inebriated hoards will stagger into the joint, desperate for something, anything, to stave off tomorrow's inevitable hangover. For all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough's Monday night appears to have all the social vibrancy of a graveyard.

Woefully lifeless support Tall Ships are well aware of this fact; so much so, it appears, that their performance attempts to replicate the crushing mediocrity... and succeeds unequivocally. The lead singer mumbles his way through a disjointed, entirely incohesive set, never quite sure whether he wants to be in Biffy Clyro or Battles, but managing to be nowhere near as interesting as either. There is a depressing reliance on loops and effects, robbing the set of its authenticity, and all three band members fail to engage with anyone or anything, hiding behind their instruments instead of letting themselves go, looking categorically bored throughout their all-too-lengthy thirty minutes onstage. It's as if they were expecting disinterest, and in so doing, manage to create it, sucking the life and soul out of the party and provoking endless chatter amongst their audience (pockets even begin football chants while they're playing). To call this boring would be an insult to boredom; there's more action in the five person karaoke across the road in The Hairy Lemon than in this joyless, soul-destroying performance.

So is Keith royally mistaken in his assessment of a Middlesbroughian Monday? Well, of course not. His words are a self-fulfilling prophecy: all it takes is for one super-talented, uber-charismatic, devilishly handsome guitarist with silky smooth vocal chords to say it's party time and the masses make it so. As soon as he declares his undying love for the city, the punters are whipped into a frenzy and the lunacy begins; pits form left, right and centre, bodies slamming into one another during an electrifying 'Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt', limbs flying stagewards and being sent promptly back again, the Empire's theatrical facilities not really having the provisions for accommodating reckless crowdsurfers.

There is clearly much love for WAS in the building tonight; the earlier football chants become terrace-aping cries of 'We Are! We Are! Say We Are Scientists!', so vociferous that Keith and Chris actually seem visibly taken aback (no small feat for two guys so ordinarily cool, calm and collected). Every successive 'With Love and Squalor' classic is met with the same blind devotion, the same reckless abandon, so much so, in fact, that 'The Great Escape' threatens to deafen everyone within a two mile radius, so powerful is the crowd's attempt at vocalising the song's really bloody brilliant power chords.

The 'Brain Thrust Mastery' tracks prompt a flurry of activity too: 'Chick Lit' has boys and girls alike dancing in the aisles, 'After Hours' produces an almighty closing singalong and a particularly brutal 'Lethal Enforcer' prompts one over-excited punter to ask Chris to 'get [his] tits out', to which he replies, with razor sharp timing, that they had a lovely pair for us all but unfortunately, they got held up at customs. There's a great deal of this throughout the show, the back and forth between Keith and Chris proving almost as entertaining as the music itself. For the good folk of the Boro, this may even be preferable to certain portions of the set: the cuts from 'Barbara' don't exactly set the room on fire, despite being equally as ace as their counterparts. Even blistering opener - and recent single - 'Nice Guys' meets with a much more muted response, an unfortunate side effect, perhaps, of the band's temporary fall from indie grace.

Alas, no matter: WAS don't let such trivial matters stand in their way. With an arsenal of angular indie rock gems this delicious, even the smoggiest of townies can't stop himself dancing, and with the kind of charismatic stage presence that Freddie Mercury could only dream of, Keith, Chris and Andy cannot do anything other than succeed. Spectacularly. Flamboyantly. With style, panache and a bucketload of grace. And while we may have set the hyperbole generator into overdrive, they do prove that no matter how small the town, no matter how quiet the city, We Are Scientists will always, always bring the party. Middlesbrough, consider yourselves well and truly conquered.

Review: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, The Cluny, 05/06/11

Oh, the heartache. The introspection. The crippling self-awareness and destructive self-doubt. The eyes fixed firmly on the floor, while the mouth mumbles fragments of conversation. The complete inability to pluck up the courage to ask anyone out. Ever. Oh, the woebegotten life of the stereotypical Pains of Being Pure At Heart fan, doomed to pressing repeat on that 'Higher Than The Stars' EP forever, writing bad poetry about how statistically incapable he or she is of asking out that boy or girl from down the street. Oh, the Pains of Being Twee.

Or rather, that's the impression you might get from a casual listen to the band's music, or a fleeting glance at their terribly nice music videos, album artwork and occasional, modest interviews. The reality, it seems, is quite different. Oh sure, the cardigan brigade show up in full force at tonight's Cluny show but they're outnumbered by the boisterous indie brigade, intent on savouring the delights of a band who, at the end of the day, make the kind of wonderfully catchy, instantly memorable and delectably danceable indie pop songs that catapulted Morrissey and friends to superstardom in the Eighties. Tonight's setlist is a veritable goldmine of instant classics, their undeniable melodic sensibilities glistening in the haze of fourteen rounds of scuzzy guitar indulgence.

In a more just universe, TPOBPAH's set would be a marathon of superhits; the colossal opening triad of new album beauty 'Belong', first album rabble rouser 'This Love Is Fucking Right!' and the frankly gorgeous 'A Teenager In Love' would be the equivalent of The Cure playing 'Boys', 'Lovecats' and 'Close to Me' in a row; top ten smashes all and the kind of introduction that whips every punter in the building into a delirious frenzy, desperate to soak up every last morsel of the tracks they've come to know and love. Sadly, Pains aren't that lucky... or rather, the British public simply aren't that cool. Thankfully, these guys don't let that stop them blowing the proverbial roof off the venue and playing like they're headlining Wembley Stadium. The guitar chops are unforgiving and the hooks never-ending, wrapping themselves around the rapturously attentive audience like much-loved comfort blankets, smothering us all in their warmth.

Perhaps inevitably, it's the closing salvo that elicits the most enthusiastic reaction. For all the simplicity of the melodies allows every casual listener in attendance to learn the words to album tracks like the patently ace 'Terrible Friend', and the first few rows spend the majority of the show dancing like they're Morrissey on TOTP circa 1985, it takes a riproaring 'Come Saturday' and 'Young Adult Friction' to encourage every other scrawny indie kid in the building to abandon his/her inhibitions and shake their tushes like they've just popped down to the indie disco in time for 'This Charming Man'. The party continues into the encore, with an extra energetic 'Everywhere With You' following a sobering interpretation of 'Contender', the first song the band every wrote together, sounding heartbreaking tonight on solo electric guitar. It's an experience cherished by every soul lucky enough to be in attendance; and indeed, we're all thanking our lucky stars that Pains even made it to the venue after a particularly unfortunate breakdown on the motorway earlier in the afternoon.

With time firmly against them, no soundcheck and a crowd expectant but perhaps not the most devoted, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart play tonight with the odds stacked against them somewhat, but manage to prove, hand over heart, that they are far more than a ragtag collective of tweeXcore peddlers, wallowing in adolescent sensitivity. Playing with the passion and intensity of a thousand heavier bands, TPOBPAH force you to sit up and listen, while simultaneously providing the kind of thrill-laden set that'll have your limbs throwing shapes in no time. Mark our words, these songs will be indie dancefloor standards before you know it. Now sit up and pay attention before you get lost in the melee.