In the week in which I discovered that Birmingham’s last remaining independent record shops (Swordfish and Tempest) are to close, tonight’s gig proved, once more, that both the live scene and new music in general is as healthy as ever. There’s something about gigs featuring new bands (by which I probably mean a band on its first album) that’s hard to beat and each one of tonight’s groups still had that mixture of excitement and freshness that, I guess, often gets knocked out of you when you’re on album number 6 and making appearances on The One Show (in between a feature on men who dress up as their favourite vegetables and a salutary warning – presented by Dom Littlewood naturally – of the dangers of sticking parts of your anatomy in food blenders).
Casting aside any thoughts of culinary related mutilation the first band up were Airship (playing their second gig in Birmingham in just over a week). They’re the only band on tonight's bill I’d seen live before (supporting the frankly terrifying Marmaduke Duke) and, as on their first showing they delivered a fine set of tunes that reminded me of a more sophisticated Kings Of Leon in places. The undoubted highlight of the set was new single 'Algebra', a lesson in the power of the quiet/loud/quiet/ loud approach that would outburn Arcade Fire at their very best.
Next up Baddies (not The Baddies...just Baddies...they want to make that quite clear...got it?). Snogging everything from Queens of the Stone Age and to Franz Ferdinand and Gang of Four (as far as musical influences go that is...not literally...although these musicians get up to all sorts of funny business) it was a sweat drenched lesson in how to win fans and influence people. They had me won over from the first number – Holler For My Holiday – a jerky power pop classic that ended with the lead singer staring bug eyed at us, every muscle in his body straining with the sheer exertion. Like a quick shag in a back alley (not that I do that sort of thing anymore...bad back) every tune hit the spot and left little moist patches in my jeans (there wasn’t any need for that was there...I do hope you’re not eating at the moment). If I had to pick the best of the bunch I’d plump for Battleships, the bastard offspring of Supergrass’s ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and pretty much anything done by The Eagles Of Death Metal, replete with a screamalong “whoowhoowhooh”chorus. It’s loud, it’s fast, it’s furious...and it’s frankly impossible to resist. If this band don’t end up shagging the festival crowds silly then we might as well all go home and stick parts of our anatomy in food blenders. PS: Extra points for the subtle band uniform (black DM shoes, black trousers and white shirts buttoned up to the top) and for the lead singer's impassioned words about the musical massacre that the BBC seems set to carry out with the elimination of 6 Music. Yep, I know there are plenty of other ways to get your musical fix these days but, personally, I rather like the fact that there’s a national radio station that’s devoted (pretty much) to spreading the word about some of the best new music around.
Speaking of which, this leads me rather neatly on to the headliners The Joy Formidable. And they are both of these things. A ‘joy’ and ‘formidable’ that is. The’ joy’ comes with, what some people might call the ‘dream pop’ feel of the music, chiming guitars and inspiring lyrics that send the heart and soul soaring. The formidable bit...well...you only have to watch them live for a minute or two to see three people who put 110% into their performance. Co-vocalist and guitarist Rhydian was, after just a couple of tracks a justifiably sweaty mess (“I could do with a tap on my nose” he joked as torrents of the salty stuff flew off him) and drummer Matt was forced to tape up his blistering fingers mid way through the set to stop bits of them dropping off. In the middle of all this, rose-like, is Ritzy - a flailing blur of blonde hair, gutsy vocals and rock sass. Being a lady she didn’t sweat. What she did do was rock out (yes, I’m resorting to a my 'Reviewer’s Book of Cliches' again) as much as anyone I’ve ever seen, arching her back in full on rock goddess mode whilst singing in a voice that’s somehow both sweet and spiky at the same time. The set was littered with all of their best tunes (so far) including the slow burn ‘Whirring’, the scuzzy pop of Austere and current single Popinjay with its naggingly persistent guitar motifs (yes, motifs) and Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit) meets the Cocteau Twins on the way to Pixies gig chorus. Arms were raised aloft, sweat (a lot of it) was spilt and The Joy Formidable demonstrated just what an appropriate name they’ve chosen. A band to clutch to your bosom and never let go.