Monday, March 10, 2008

Club Class

MGMT/Virgin Passages, Bar Academy, Birmingham, Monday March 3 2008, 8.45pm.
Yeasayer/Everett, Bar Academy, Birmingham, Wednesday March 5 2008, 8.15pm.

Two hotly-tipped Brooklyn bands on the brink of success with their newly-released debut albums touring the same level of venues at exactly the same time in the UK - did they not think about a co-headlining tour in bigger venues and thus bigger payola? Maybe they don't get on, or perhaps they do and it's just record/management company politics that prevented this good idea happening, and thus they're pining for each other as they plot parallel paths up and down the country?

Still, with the two gigs separated by two days we do get the bonus of additional support bands. Getting things warmed up for MGMT are Staffordshire's Virgin Passages whose strange, hypnotic take on alt.folk may find favour with fans of The Besnard Lakes and Low. Their songs rustle with rustic charm but with sufficient undertow of weirdness and menace to keep things interesting, even if your drooling diarist finds himself distracted by the delightful Davina Stevens' O-face as she coos her backing vox. It's perhaps not the right crowd tonight to fully appreciate the subtleties of what Virgin Passages are doing, but 'This Is Not The End Of The World' particularly impresses, their new ep 'Distances' (out now on Fire Records) is a keeper, and Davina and Kate are charming, engaging company from our brief conversation at the end of the night.

Meanwhile, Yeasayer's planned support, all-girl goth-poppers Ipso Facto, cancel on the night and local lads Everett from nearby Dudley are drafted in at the last minute. Their polite keyboard-driven pop-rock will draw obvious comparisons with the likes of Coldplay and Keane, and while it's tempting to suggest that times have moved on since those bands were in their pomp, their tunes are strong enough that given sufficient airplay they might just have a chance, particularly if they focus on the more energetic numbers which give them more opportunity to transcend their antecedents.

With brilliant new single 'Time To Pretend' (a Parallax Jukebox favourite for weeks now) out in the shops on the day of the gig and accumulating airplay as fast as Dead Kenny develops rockstar crushes MGMT are already too big a proposition for the Bar Academy, evidenced by the fact there seems twice as many people here than is usual for sell-out shows. Surprisingly, live the duo are augmented to a fairly standard band set-up, but while there's nothing particularly remarkable about their presentation, the confidence with which they drop the huge breakthrough bomb that's 'Time To Pretend' just second track in does indeed signpost exceptional belief.

Curiously, the tactic works, because it releases the tension that otherwise builds up to the song everyone knows, and also gives the crowd no other option but to give some time and attention to the rest of the band's tunes. Having snagged an import copy of 'Oracular Spectacular' in HMV Reading the prior weekend, your calm correspondent knows the cockiness isn't misplaced, the first five tracks on the album being one of the strongest sequence of tunes released this decade, two of those tracks - 'The Youth' and 'Kids' providing the encores which finally allow band and audience alike to drop their cool and start to party.

On Wednesday, Yeasayer have the advantage of their debut platter 'All Hour Cymbals' being in circulation for a few months now, meaning more people are likely to be here for the music than the buzz alone, and their dress sense of vests, ponytails and straggly beards is likely to scare away the fickle fashionista. All the better for the rest of us to lock into their groove-based rock which is difficult to describe without sounding wanky, but trust your happy hack when he says it just simply works. At once mellow and urgent, the music has the soothing qualities of feelgood muzak without ever lapsing into smugness, complacency or schmaltz, and never forgets to keep you moving, 'Wait For The Summer' particularly standing out on the night.

The lead singer convulses as if the tunes are being wrenched from deep inside his gut, as if exorcised by Max Von Sydow or something. This is more remarkable when you consider that rather than howls of angst, he's producing something so melodic that it's as if he's suffering from a kind of tuneful Tourette's. It's an impassioned, exhausting performance all-round from the band, and while MGMT execute drop-dead tunes with remarkable precision, you don't have to be a yes-man to concur that Yeasayer possess something even more precious: they're simply made of the right stuff.

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Blogger Ben said...

So long since I last went to a gig...

Just listening to MGMT for the very first time now. 'Time To Pretend' is very, very good, but some of the other songs on their MySpace sound like an overproduced Scissor Sisters - not so good. And my first feeling was to be aggrieved on behalf of Semifinalists, whose first album at least (not heard the new one) was very much along the same lines and got completely ignored.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Not getting much from Yeasayer - of the tracks on MySpace, only 'Wintertime' got my attention. Suppose it might need time, though.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Ben, Yeasayer are worth the investment of more time, and I think 'All Hour Cymbals' is a record that needs to be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate it. Then the live show adds an extra 20% again.

As for MGMT, I think the first five tracks on 'Oracular Spectacular' represent exceptional pop music that the second quintet of tunes are a little overshadowed by. But 'Time To Pretend' 'Kids' and 'The Youth' are special enough in themselves to warrant purchase.

I s'pose I can hear the Scissor Sisters in them, although SS leave me cold generally. I'm not sure where you're getting the Semifinalists comparisons though, maybe I'll have to dig their debut out again and mull that one over...

10:50 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Yes, do dig Semifinalists' debut out - grossly underrated. After writing the above comment, I went to their MySpace and discovered that the new album isn't actually out until June - and the songs that are up at the moment really aren't that inspiring at all...

Re Yeasayer - we'll see...

12:56 AM  

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