Monday, May 16, 2005

Numbers Crunch

The Magic Numbers/The Pipettes, Carling Academy 2, Birmingham, Sunday May 15 2005.

To be perfectly honest with you, Dead Kenny clean forgets that there is a second support band on tonight, so by the time he gets to the venue, with Ben and his lovely friend Alison in tow, Absentee have already gone missing. But then, perhaps, in a high-concept style, the best way to treat a band with a name like that is to review their gig without actually showing up. So how's this for a four-word summary: Absentee failed to register. Dismissed!

Next it's The Pipettes, three Brighton belles who are like The Andrews Sisters with added pop punk fizz, or Bananarama with a fixation with cheap organs (did you see how Dead Kenny avoided the obvious joke there?). They offer a pastiche of 50s/60s girlpop with a pomo twist (polka dot com, anyone?), contrasting catchy harmonies with post-feminist sauciness on songs about one-night stands and loving young men in school uniform. They're the sort of band you either don't get or else they cast you under their spell from opening number 'ABC' (set to be the lead track on their forthcoming ep, in stores from June 13). As for Dead Kenny, he's always had a weakness for girls with enthusiastic and instinctive hand movements, and spends the entire gig drooling over the brunette with hair over her eyes (who has the cheeky insouciance of someone anticipating the prospect of lurid lavatory sex with a Premiership footballer this side of Xmas).

Headlining are The Magic Numbers, fresh from their recent triumph of 'Forever Lost' being named Parallax View Single Of The Week the previous day (surely only bashful modesty can be preventing them from mentioning this accolade). Lead singer Romeo is looking suitably pleased with himself, no doubt still beaming from his pre-gig photo opportunity with Alison when she found him mooching outside McDonalds, and indeed the band are treated like returning gods to a packed and diverse crowd. Dead Kenny has to pinch himself (discreetly, you know how people can get the wrong idea) to remind himself this is a band that haven't even properly released a single yet, let alone an album (their eponymous debut is released June 13). To get some perspective, there's loads more people here than there were to the Oasis gig in Edwards No 8 just before their second single 'Shakermaker' came out (Supersonic had already got into the Top 40, by this point, remember).

So, can we believe the hype or are The Magic Numbers just the result of a PR machine's cooked books? Dead Kenny regrets to report that he leaves feeling mildly disappointed: having come to listen to angels sing, he has to make do with talented mortals instead. They're likeable enough performers, but Dead Kenny didn't find himself totally beguiled by their presence, and Romeo's crowd interaction (beyond calling out some names from the band's forum) was serviceable but not as exceptional as some rave live reviews have suggested. A rousing version of 'Forever Lost' is played about five songs in, but none of the other songs stand out immediately as single material and it could be that the album proves to more of a slow-burner than an instant 'greatest hits' collection.

That said, any band with a chainsmoking drummer and a lead singer who makes Badly Drawn Boy look like Bryan Ferry in comparison can't be all bad, and it may just simply be impossible for the band to live up to the ridiculously high expectations that besotted journalists are creating. On the evidence of tonight's performance the majority of the band's output is pleasant, melodic soft rock, lighter on harmonies than expected, not exceptionally original or striking, but delivered in an amiable and diverting fashion. Beyond this, Dead Kenny refuses to be further drawn until 'The Magic Numbers' album reveals itself as more than the sum of its' parts...


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