the radio programmes described below can be heard online as they are broadcast or for 7 days after on the BBC iPlayer at bbc.co.uk/6music
interested in a technical (and shorter!) review at popwreckoning? read it here. it has photos too. (when I've got more time, I'll post others on this blog.) when you've only ever heard a band on the radio and fell in love with them purely on the basis of sound, it stands to reason that when you are finally faced with the prospect of seeing them live, it will be an event. multiply that by 3 and you can get a sense why my neurons were firing all over the place in anticipation of the "NME Presents" tour starting at the Black Cat in D.C. on 24 March. The show was being coheadlined by White Lies and Friendly Fires, supported by the American Soft Pack. being an early riser, I commented to Nemone of 6music that I was worried about staying awake. (frankly, I needn't have worried.) [listen to the mp3] besides, on the train downtown, the revelers heading for the Britney Spears show the same night at the Verizon Center made for good theatre.
the three bands on the bill couldn't be any different. (the one thing that brought them together in my mind? I'd heard all of them for the first time on 6music - either on shows by Nemone, Steve Lamacq, or Marc Riley - where they were actually given a chance. I don't even know if any of our local stations here play their music...I've given on local radio.)
The Soft Pack have a snotty, "eff all this" kind of attitude that works well with the singing style of Matt Lamkin and the devil-may-care way Brian Hill pounds his drums. I recommend checking them out on MySpace, I love "Parasites" and "Nightlife" in particular. (FYI they used to be called the Muslims, if that helps any.) they played a short set for Rob Hughes (who was standing in for an absent Marc Riley) on 18 February, and I got a question to them about this tour - sorry, their response wasn't v. verbose! [listen to the mp3]
if dance music is more your speed, then you can't go wrong with Friendly Fires. it was with much disappointment when I read a week ago that me and my girlfriends might have seen them open for Lykke Li last October at the same venue (we got Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson instead - who did nothing for me at all). so I like to think they were trying to make amends for skipping over us last fall in favour of Philly. take the best of house, disco, funk, new wave, and new romantic, roll these disparate genres into one, and you have something approximating the wonderful noise Friendly Fires make. as a longtime supporter of synth-driven '80s dance pop, the Fires hit the spot for me. I've been reading up on their history - when you consider that their album was recorded primarily in singer Ed Macfarlane's parents' garage and somehow emerged from the mixing desk like a glittering jewel, it should be no wonder that they can deliver live. apologies in advance for the "Jerry Maguire" nod, but they had me at "Lovesick" (their first song of the night). if you ask me, that should have been a single before "Jump In the Pool." from my center vantage point, I got a good view of guitarist Edd Gibson and touring musician Rob Lee, but sadly I couldn't see drummer Jack Savidge (the White Lies drum kit was in the way, I hate being short :P) "Paris" and "Skeleton Boy" were better live than I could have imagined. we should have given Ed Mac a gold medal for booty shaking that night, and in one rocking-out trance, Edd tipped over his mike stand. but from what I've read, this is pretty typical for one of their gigs. one has to wonder what they're like at a festival!
before I go further, let me set the stage for you between the first and second acts. after the Soft Pack departed, there was a curious shuffling of people near the stage. now, I'm 5'3", so you can usually find me right up at the front at gigs - or else I've no chance of seeing a thing. and I'm usually at gigs by myself, b/c my friends in town aren't in music like I am. so imagine my surprise when all of a sudden, I was surrounded by a large gaggle of Asian girls of similar height, some of them wearing veils or burkas. I'm not sure if they knew any of the 3 bands, but as soon as Ed Macfarlane started singing, all the while hip shaking to the music, I thought, "good lord, are these girls going to be scandalised? is this going to be an international incident?" (BTW, I think I guessed right, b/c surprised oohs and ahhs abounded that nearly made me laugh, if I hadn't been concentrating on the music. they must have liked what they saw, b/c they all had their cameras snapping away!) this is an interesting point of discussion b/c I'm Chinese, and whenever I talk about the act of gig-going, my friends and relatives give me this funny look of "why?", like I should know better. there's no contest: music is my life and I go to gigs when I fancy, and when something's got a good beat, I'll shake my tail feather however I want, and in the case of Friendly Fires, I thoroughly enjoyed myself :D
as of late, I have 3 albums on heavy rotation - Keane's "Perfect Symmetry" (ha! English piano/synth-driven pop!), the Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled (good American angsty rock), and Friendly Fires' self-titled. after further listening I think I've sussed another reason why their music. Edd Gibson's guitar in "In the Hospital" and "On Board" (in particular) remind me of Andy Taylor's '80s guitar work with Duran Duran and the Powerstation. anyhoo, before I run off on an album tangent, let's get back to the gig...
ok, so if rock with 'tude or electropop isn't your poison, maybe the brand of post-punk rock of White Lies is for you. by this time, a good friend of mine in Holland had seen them live twice already, so I was already primed for a good performance. lyrically, their torch song "To Lose My Life" has a hint of love-borne fatalism similar to the Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," so the band was already high up my cred list long before they arrived in Washington. except for the smoke machines and blinding light show, I enjoyed their set - especially the fantastic start with "Farewell to the Fairground" and the previously mentioned "To Lose My Life." Harry McVeigh's booming vocal was as welcome as a lighthouse in a stormy sea - which is what I expect the band intended, complementing the driving bass lines of Charles Cave and the manic drumming of Jack Lawrence-Brown (who made a good show of it despite being engulfed by the at-times crazy levels of smoke on the stage).
however, other local reviews were not as enthusiastic about their set. my thoughts on this and the evening as a whole: in general, Washington can be a pretty stodgy town. (I'm single-handedly trying to change that with my presence at and post-reports of these gigs, especially when it comes to spreading the gospel about my favourite English music ;) and let's face it: with today's bleak economic picture, the night was probably a good opportunity to let out your inner child and dance. there was also some confusion over who was headlining - while queuing outside the venue, I explained to other people that all three bands were equal in the sense that here on American soil, as none of them have had a big hit here. but in terms of quality, it wasn't confusing to me. I came into the gig expecting to be entertained; I left on a high like no other, and with barely no voice. my only regret is that I won't be able to travel to the festivals these bands are scheduled to hit in the coming months, thanks to that pesky thing called work...
when I spoke to Steve Lamacq on the phone last November, he said he hoped to organise a 6music night for us in D.C. someday. if this gig was any indication, British acts are - and will be - well received, so I say to Lammo, bring it on :D