Whilst the paper based version of NME now sells fewer copies than the Justin Lee Collins Good Times Guide to Relationships it seems that their website’s now the world’s biggest standalone music portal with 7 million users a month...yes, that’s a whole 2,000 more readers than The Hearing Aid...ahem. Of course all that’s infinitesimally small when you compare it to the number of hits that videos of small children doing something nauseating on You Tube get but still, not bad eh?
Given this NME still clearly has a place in the hearts and minds of a significant number of music fans around the world so tours like this should be rammed, right? Sadly not. This gig was demoted from the Institute’s mid size venue to its smallest one and even this seemed a little empty by the time opening band Gross Magic came onstage. Whatever the reason for the low attendance people missed a treat. The initial signs weren’t encouraging though. Gross Magic’s lead singer seems to have gone all out to wear possibly the worst outfit ever seen, black school type shoes, white socks, what looked like his little sister’s pyjama bottoms and a charity shop t-shirt. Still, this ain’t a fashion show right? What counts is the music and Gross Magic were surprisingly good. Jaw droppingly good in fact.
Lead singer Sam McGarrigle has the kind of trippy, teenage girl meets science nerd kind of vocal that makes Girls’ ex-vocalist Christopher Owens seem overtly macho. Musically the band plays an intriguing hybrid of grunge, glamrock, shoegaze and prog with some surprisingly sophisticated chord progressions in there, no doubt honed though many long dark nights playing along to Frank Zappa albums in their bedrooms. Put these two disparate elements together and you’ve got something that’s heavy enough for old hippies and rockers to love, but with the added lyrical and vocals twists that will appeal to the pale and interesting young folk. Thought my head my explode when they played this at the end (the video really doesn't do them justice)...
It really shouldn’t work, but dammit it does. Magic.
Next up Irish math rockers The Cast Of Cheers who’ve fused the complex skittering sounds of bands like Foals to more of an anthemic indie sound resulting in tracks like the endlessly addictive Family, the inevitable highlight of the set.
“Best drummer everrrrrr” cried out someone in the crowd in their best Comic Book Guy impression after the band’s octopus on steroids like sticksman had meatily beaten a couple of songs to death. I wouldn’t argue with that. Well I could, but he’d probably just drum my skull into dust.
Finally, all the way from Minneapolis, Howler, proclaimed by NME as the third best new band of 2011 and fronted by 21 year old Jordan Gatesmith, who also made their 50 coolest people list. That’s a lot of cool to live up to. Perhaps Jordan was feeling the pressure as he quickly announced that he was feeling sick and might vomit all over the front row. Cool. Given the coolness surrounding the band they’ve attracted a small but enthusiastic group of fans, all looking for this generation’s Ramones / Strokes / Libertines all of whom have clearly influenced Gatesmith and co. In fact Howler have even gone as far as covering the Libs Up The Bracket which they steadfastly refused to play this evening despite increasingly desperate requests from one or two well lubricated members of the audience. What they did run through at a fair old pace though were just over half a dozen garage / surf rock tinged tracks kicking off with one of their slower numbers, Back To The Grave, and ending chaotically with their biggest hit to date, Back Of Your Neck. At times Jordan seems a little perplexed especially when it came to communicating with the audience. “Where can I buy spray paint from?” he asked mid set. Someone helpfully shouted out “Halfords”. Jordan looked puzzled ”Wholefoods?” A suggestion that he go to B&Q didn’t get through either. “Black Lagoon?” Hmmm, maybe it’s the Brummie accent. I guess looking a little perplexed is cool though eh? As the set wore on the crowd got livelier culminating in a fair percentage of them spilling over the barriers to join the band onstage, much to the annoyance of the security dude who rapidly disappeared under a sea of teenage (and one or two middle aged) bodies. There are worse ways to go I guess. Some of the band actively encouraged this anarchy, swapping places with the crowd and joining the few remaining audience members on the dancefloor in a gloriously messy end to a hugely enjoyable gig. Howler might just be another in a long line of skinny young dudes with attitude but they pull it off better than most. Cool.