Friday, February 17, 2006

arctic monkeys and maximo park

With only one night of the tour remaining, the NME Awards Tour finally rolled into Brighton last night, featuring what was (probably) a spirited and odd set from Mystery Jets (I say probably because we turned up late and missed them), a middling, occasionally impressive turn from We Are Scientists and two great sets from the impossibly confident Arctic Monkeys and the impossibly passionate Maximo Park.

Despite the fact that I've now lived in Brighton for the best part of ten years, on and off, I'd never actually been to the Brighton Dome before last week, improbably enough, which is either testament to my cooler-than-thou indie cred (it's tiny, ramshackle venues or nothing for me) or a reflection on the fact that I'm never organised enough to buy tickets for the big events which sell out quickly. Last week's visit - to see a live version of the Mighty Boosh - was hardly a piece of stately theatre, but it showed the Concert Hall in its more cerebral light - the Dome is part of the Royal Pavillion Estate and boasts a pretty impressive interior, a classic 1930's Art Deco hall with comfortable, well positioned stalls.

Last night the venue - packed to the gills with youthful and delirious indie kids - was in rock mode; most people abandoned the seated areas in favour of cramming into the smallish pit before the stage, and soon rendered the floor gummy with spilt lager and fag butts. The Dome has been a non-smoking venue for years, so their inability to stop a bunch of 17 year olds having a cigarette bolds ill for the inforcement of next years smoking regulations. The PA was bone-shakingly loud with real depth. They even put up a couple of big screens at the sides of the stage so that we could admire We Are Scientists' moustaches from afar. Oddly, the 'Monkeys and the 'Park had the screens switched off for their sets.

On the way in, we speculated on what our fellow audience members would think of us; "I'm glad that my parents didn't insist on coming along", was one suggestion. In the event, though we had a good ten years on half the audience, we weren't the only ones who had crossed the unnaceptable line into adulthood, although the audience was certainly the youngest I've ever seen. Parents did, indeed, abound.

We Are Scientists were already underway when we arrived. Their set was decent without being anything too unusual - they seem to have put together a fashionable blend of styles, coming out as a kind of Strokes/Radio 4/Franz Ferdinand/Walkmen hybrid, with a slight mainstream rock instinct. They indulged in a bit of nerdy onstage banter between songs. "What do you guys think of the Mystery Jets", they asked? Despite getting a slightly muted reaction, they continued their vaudeville routine as if we'd shouted the house down. "Well then we agree".

I'm annoyed I missed the 'Jets, but it doesn't look like they went down a storm; for a bunch of 17 year olds, having your singer's dad as your lead guitarist, as the Mystery Jets do, is surely the apotheosis of uncool. As for We Are Scientists, they delivered a short, loud set which was impressive but not much more. The Young Knives do this kind of thing with incomparable panache, and it's a shame they weren't on the bill instead.

The fact that the Arctic Monkeys - justly, as it turned out - were beneath Maximo Park in the pecking order is testament to the fickle, fast moving nature of pop. When the tour was booked they were very much the lesser band. We all know what happened next. Me and Vic speculated that this tour - such an impressive idea, incidentally - should really run all year round with a different four bands every month. As it is, it happens once a year and the Young Knives, who have already released what might turn out to be the best single of 2006, will have a year to wait 'til they get another chance to get on the bill. And the Arctic Monkeys must be content with playing second fiddle to Maximo Park, for another night, at least.

Actually, they're probably glad to be out of the spotlight for a bit. Their set last night was, truthfully, everything it was cracked up to be in the hyperbolic press reports we've got so used to in the last month or two. As I've admitted before, I really like the record, but live they're a great deal more impressive. The fact that they've got, considering their tender youth, five or six songs of such surprising quality is something we already know, but live they seem to imbue these songs (and they're so cocky that they dispense with their two number one singles at the start of the set and don't even bother playing 'Mardy Bum', which they already refer to it as 'the hit', apparently) with such a kinetic swagger that it's very difficult to resist movement.

In addition, the weaker songs get dragged along in the slipstream. The whole set sounds fantastic, with all the voices singing along threatening to outstrip Alex Turner's vocals at times. They play a new song and it sounds as good as anything else they've done. Then Turner teases us by offering to play their light-hearted, Kinksy cover of Girls Aloud's super 'Love Machine' but deliver 'Fake Tales of San Fransisco' instead, a song which sounded paper thin when I heard the original demo last year (causing me to deliver my first damning assesment of the band). It sounds great tonight. They close, predictably, with 'A Certain Romance', and it's bloody marvellous. I'm left with the odd feeling that Arctic Monkeys play a style of music I don't much care for, in a cocky arrogant way which sometimes reminds me of bands I detest (they have more than a little in common, after all, with bands like Oasis) - and yet I'm embarrasingly impressed by them. I hope it isn't me envying their youthfulness, that would be shameful.

Cocksure, calm, nonchalant. Damn them.

Ah, here are Maximo Park - as Sam pointed out, pretty much the diametric opposite of the Arctic Monkeys. Maximo Park, you see, are desperate. And they will pull every trick in the book to make you love them; flattery, gymnastics, and passion. Paul Smith is barely still for a second here, throwing himself from the drum riser in a full scissor kick at the outset and repeating the move at what seemed like regular ten second interludes. Elsewhere he jumps, turns, twists and flings himself around the stage, extending his thin, impeccably tailored legs out at right angles in a way which can only be described as Cockerian. He recalls Jarvis in more ways than one, too - it's apparent in his urgent delivery and his lyrics too; "I sleep with my arms across my chest / and I dream of you with someone else", he sings. When they play 'Postcard of a Painting', with it's delightful unfurling guitar, I unveil my long-lost 'Smiths dance', last seen at an indie disco when I was 17 years old and they played 'This Charming Man'.

And, as great as the Arctic Monkeys were, it's plain that the right band are headlining tonight; Maximo Park, unlike the young whippersnappers, have simply honed their act to perfection, and the extra few years that they've put in have rendered their songs as tight and lean as you could imagine. The singles (and you suddenly realise there have been a bunch of them) sound fantastic - 'The Coast Is Always Changing' is prettiness personified, 'Graffiti' daftly sentimental ("I'll do graffiti if you sing to me in French"), 'Apply Some Pressure' impossibly exciting and set closer 'Going Missing' inspiring a mass singalong. Adding to that canon of great pop-punk singles, the new one, 'I Want You To Stay' is more of the same but just as good, a little less high-octane but brimming with lovely observations, where a "mesh of tones surround your eyes" and a "camera runs just to collect". Expanding on the theme, cranes exist "to collect the sky". It's damn good pop, but it's artful where the Arctic Monkeys are instinctive.

Beyond all that, the band are just plain exciting - the keyboardist frequently gives up playing his synth in order to vault around the stage, or just to clamber all over it. Smith is a blur of energy. The crowd, which thins out after the Monkeys' triumphant set, begins to stream back into the pit. It's like Smith is willing them back. So the set - which also features a stellar take on my favourite Park tune, 'Limmasol' - ends having seemingly fixed a grin to the face of everyone present.

Which isn't a bad thing to be going home with.

1 comment:

SL&V said...

Ain't the world a small small place.
I shudder to think how/why you know Mr Bogs.
Glad to see you're still alive and keeipng it indie ;)
Darian x