Somewhere across town this evening cheeky, chirpy Irish chappie Ronan Keating is getting ready to entertain a no doubt packed NIA with his tales of life being a bit like a rollercoaster. Actually I reckon (WARNING: Cheesy link ahead) life’s a bit more like tonight’s openers, who didn’t actually bother to announce who they were (I later discovered they were called Glasser). Why is life like Glasser? Well, bear with me here. Vocally there’s some of the madness of Bjork and Bush (Kate) and musically there’s tribal drumming a plenty (the likes of which have been seldom heard since the days of the mighty Bow Wow Wow...look ‘em up) and a distinctly oriental feel. To reinforce this vibe the band came on wearing robes, the two blokes (who...er ...'played' Apple Macs) also had those hats that Chinese people wear when they’re working in the rice fields. Put it all together and it’s a confusing, strange but oddly intriguing combination that’s generally well worth sticking around for. See? Just like life.
Next up was nothing short of the sonic assault unleashed by These New Puritans. Anyone who jigged along to their 2007 track ‘Elvis’ will no doubt be a little surprised at just how...well...BIG...they sound now. Opener and Balkan beat banger ‘We Want War’ is a simply remarkable bit of stuff. Where the funk did that come from eh? The lead singer has a kind of Terry Hall type of dead pan delivery and the whole thing’s topped off with pounding drums, brass sections, choirs, ominous whispers, quite bits, loud bits...very loud bits. It goes on for over 7 minutes too (not that size is everything) and leaves some of the audience looking a little puzzled. Good. That’s one of the functions of new music...mix that schnizzle up a bit, that’s what I say. I’d love to see the track done with a full orchestra and choir (rather than laptops) but I guess this would be a logistical nightmare. The rest of the set couldn’t possibly compete with, what is, nothing short of the band’s masterpiece – and an incredibly ambitious piece of music for any band to try to pull off. But there were plenty more Terry Hall-ish vocals, heavy beats and Middle Eastern flavas, all of which gelled best in the second best track from their current album (Hidden), the threateningly titled ‘Attack Music’. No ‘Elvis’ sadly, it looks and sounds like the band has moved on from their art rock days...where they go from here will be intriguing.
Finally, The XX. This band was all over the trendy press last year, like footballers on their teammates’ wives. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s whispered songs of love, lust and Geography homework (probably...one or two of the songs tonight were a little difficult to make out) set against stripped back beats and twangy guitars are an intoxicating mix (think Everything But The Girl meets The Cure in places). Judging by the clearly devoted fan base crushed into the venue tonight it’s not just the tastemakers and reviewers who’ve fallen for them either. It’s like listening in on a private conversation between two post coital lovers (not that I do that sort of thing...often). And here, for me, is both the strength and weakness of the band as a live proposition. It’s incredibly intimate. You almost want to be snuggled up under a duvet with the group. Both ‘Basic Space’ and ‘Crystalised’ (with its Joy Division-ish guitar intro) had enough of a connection to send tingles down the spine. An inspired version of Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ also tickled my musical fancy. It’s not often that a band can truly reinvent and make a well known song their own, but tonight they well and truly pulled it off. Other tracks were just a little too low key and hushed to draw me in, even though I was standing pretty close to the stage. That being said the band’s doing something a little bit different and, let’s cut them some slack here, they’ve made a cracking and emotionally raw debut album that can’t be easy to translate into a live show.