Thanks to the internet it’s seemingly possible these days to record a track in the morning, stick it up online at lunchtime and be the next big thing before Deal Or No Deal. All it takes is for an uploaded video on You Tube to catch the public’s imagination and voila, record labels beating a path to your door and Jools Holland climbing over your fence begging you to tickle his ivories. I’m not entirely sure if this was London Grammar’s sole route to success but they, like a number of other acts recently, do seem to have come from nowhere. Now with a US tour under their belts and debut album that narrowly missed being number one in the UK charts they’re playing a sold out show at the 600 person capacity Academy 2 with a return visit to the main Academy room already booked for next February. Blimey.
First up, all the way from LA, Jaymes (nope, that’s not a typo...I know...it makes a change) Young. Chilled would probably be the best way to describe Mr Young and his music. Nothing wrong with that but in the rapidly filling Academy the atmosphere perhaps isn’t most conducive to appreciating the brooding melancholy of arguably his best track to date Dark Star. Add in the relentless chattering from the crowd – it still never ceases to amaze me why people pay to go to a gig and then talk through the majority of it...kind of like going to a restaurant, ordering a meal and then taking out your packed lunch to eat instead – and any spell that he hoped to conjure sadly fell a little flat.
SIVU (it’s Finish apparently, his real name is James Page...I guess he figured the musical world already had a perfectly decent Jimmy Page) fared a lot better. Flanked by a violinist and cellist he started off with Bodies a beguiling mix of Villagers and Wild Beasts with a touch of Radiohead in the mix (perhaps his most relevant musical touchstones).
Adding strings to anything makes it a much richer and fuller sound and this, combined with SIVU’s relatively low key vocals and angsty lyrics, came across as a particularly good combination. As the set progressed you could tell he was winning over a growing number if the crowd (the chattering stopped) and I’m guessing it won’t be too long before he’s back here as a headliner.
Confession time. London Grammar’s rise to fame has pretty much passed me by. Hey, it’s impossible to keep your finger on the pulse all the time...I’m still recovering from Wham splitting up. Like the XX (to whom t’Grammar have lazily been compared) the live show is a fairly low key affair. No laser beams, screaming guitar solos and crowd surfing here. What you do have though is lead singer Hannah’s voice. And that, my friends, is a very wonderful thing indeed. Imagine the love child of Anna Calvi and Tori Amos (not biologically possible but I’m willing to watch the practical experiments), with a dash of Lana Del Rey thrown in for good measure. Yep, the girl’s got range...in fact during opening number Hey Now she pretty much covered all the bases (or maybe that should be basses) from a low manly rumble to its polar opposite. Such vocal gymnastics frequently drew appreciative whoops from the capacity crowd (featuring far more couples than the average gig...I imagine London Grammar’s album is the post coital soundtrack du jour), deservedly so. A lot of the material’s focussed on relationships and Hannah’s made no secret of the fact that ex-boyfriends have provided a rich source of inspiration with tracks like the brooding Darling Are You Going To Leave Me and that breakthrough track Wasting My Young Years (both of which were rapturously received this evening) being notable examples. The latter of these two tracks seemed beefier tonight than on record/download/CD/tape (delete as applicable), a smart move that lifts the music from out of the bedroom and into the arenas that they seem to heading inexorably towards. In fact the change of pace from chilled out noodling to more beat heavy moments creates some interesting contrasts (older readers may recall bands like One Dove did similar things way back in the 90s).
Despite this being their first UK headlining tour they seemed remarkably composed, Hannah in particular. She even had the balls to engage in a little audience interaction (always a brave thing to do), picking out her three favourite members of the crowd and neatly managing to avoid alienating all those who thought she was pointing at them when in fact she was after someone else. It’s a simple enough thing but this kind of interaction can really help win to fans and influence people. Sure, some of the lyrics might equally be a little simplistic (the chorus of Flickers in particular), but hell, it’s their first album (Flickers redeemed itself tonight courtesy of a little dubstep section though). After a surprisingly funky ending to Metal and Dust and the traditional going off and coming on again routine they finished with a well chosen cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, which somehow seemed to be even more haunting than the original. In Hannah Reid London Grammar have a serious vocal talent, follow up their debut with an album that makes the most of it and they’ll be massive...no question (mark) at all.