Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just Like I Like Them, They've Got Nice Hits

The Teenagers/The Scarlet Harlots, Bar Academy, Birmingham, Wednesday April 2 2008, 8.30pm.
The Long Blondes/XX Teens, Carling Academy 2, Birmingham, Tuesday April 15 2008, 8.30pm.

We've seen local lot The Scarlet Harlots named on many a Brummie bill but this is our first experience of the saucily-monikered sonic merchants in the flesh. Maybe it's the relatively early midweek hour or your hard-working hack's sobriety but their ska-inflected funk-rock leaves us peculiarly unmoved for the most part, although the last three songs sees sufficient improvement for your fair-minded fathead to want to check them out again, late evening on a club night preferably.

Whatever you say about the French, they're just about the only nationality that knows how to get away with a moustache, as with the lead crooner of The Teenagers who as an oueuf sex appeal to beat the egg-carriers in the crowd crazy. The Gallic indie-poppers are difficult to describe (like a boyband exposed to MTV2, svengali'd by Houellebecq and Gainsbourg rather than Simon Cowell) but easy to listen to, with tunes and hooks that would be all over the radio like a pustulent STD if only they didn't drop the 'C' bomb so plentifully in the lyrics.

More serious weblogs would no doubt explore whether The Teenagers are a grim reflection of a European youth whose misogyny has been greased and colonised by satellite TV and internet p0rn or whether there's more dark, ironic games undertowing the songs' playful exterior, but here at Parallax View we'll satisfy ourselves with bouncing up and down and singing along to the likes of 'Getting Better', 'Streets Of Paris' and 'Wheel Of Fortune'. And in the final analysis the number of young women clambering on stage to sing the distaff part to 'Homecoming' (so popular, it gets two outings tonight) would suggest they don't feel excluded from the fun.

XX Teens are unfamiliar to us, but they get our attention from the get-go with their tight, funky, maths-punk coming on like an anglicised !!!. As things go on, though, we find ourselves urging them to find a new angle and/or take it to the next level, but on tonight's showing, they don't ever quite manage it. Not having a Plan B isn't something you can fairly level at The Long Blondes who have re-imagined themselves in the mould of Blondie's more experimental moments for second album "Couples". Pre-release buzz for the record was a low murmur of discontent, but now that it's out for the world to hear more and more people seem to be responding to their new-found adventurousness.

It's certainly a tightly-packed Academy 2 in the long half-hour wait between bands, a gap perhaps partially explained by hometown boy Screech's concentration on the WBA v Wolves local derby ('The Baggies have just gone 1-0 up' he cheerfully announces). The Long Blondes quickly move on from Championship skirmishes to Premiership pop matters, however, with a set that packs in pretty much every track from "Couples" as well as dropping in old favourites like 'Once And Never Again' and 'Giddy Stratospheres' which could even put a smile on the faces of rival derby-day gaffers Mick McCarthy and Tony Mowbray.

Although all of the band have their moments, it's still lead singer Kate Jackson who commands the attention, this year's more understated sartorial suss seeing her wear a micro-sleeved black top that reveals a large tattoo on her right arm which provides interesting counterpoint to the elegant feminity of the rest of her look. At once slightly aloof and yet eager to please, she's a fascinating frontperson who even finds time to give particular praise to the venue (we're not entirely sure, but we think this is a first in our experience at the Academy).

It's good to see the band confident enough in their new direction and sound to plunder so much from it live during the first few weeks of release. Of the new material, next single 'Guilt' has impressively stealthy appeal, 'The Couples' stands out more live than it does on record, the mesmerising motorik mayhem of 'Round The Hairpin' really roars into life at the midpoint of the set, while 'Here Comes The Serious Bit' combines the best bits of both Long Blondes phases to pleasingly raucous effect. And 'Century' remains drop-dead gorgeous, one of the songs of the year so far, in its precise, glacial appropriation of the Blondie of 'Fade Away And Radiate', 'Rapture' and 'Call Me'. The bold, clear lines of the latest Long Blondes deserves just rewards now, before cheaper, tackier copies start flooding the market.

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