Wednesday 20 May 2009

Maximo Park, Rock City

We’re at Rock City nice and early to catch the support bands but we’re still not there quite early enough to get a good enough spot for decent photos. Sorry.

Stricken City desperately want to be Florence & The Machine, which is no bad thing of course, they just need a bit more practice. They describe themselves as ‘mistakist’ and produce a slightly clumsy set with barely audible vocals by singer Rebekah Raa who also tinkles away on her Korg keyboard. That said, they do have a certain charm about them.

Raa slinks across the stage as the boys behind her dish out some decent tunes. She is a nice enough front person, attractive, dishevelled, an indie pin-up girl in the making, although she needs to acquire a more confident stage presence.

We were expecting stage presence in spades from Shingai Shoniwa of tonight’s advertised main support, the Noisettes, but the band have, to coin a Maximo Park phrase 'gone missing'. Illness in the band has prompted the Bombay Bicycle Club to step in as replacements for a few dates, which is to our good fortune. I'm not convinced about the reinvented Noisettes, who if their current hit is anything to go by have forsaken their noisy Siouxsie Sioux type sound for disco but I can’t comment because they’re not here.

The Bombay Bicycle Club on the other hand are here and are much more my thing. They are a very likeable indie band who started out when they were all just fifteen. Now at the grand old age of... well they must be pushing nineteen, they have a few EP’s and singles under their belt. They finally have an album due for release in July.

If Rebekah Raa was indie girl personified then Jack Steadman plays the indie boy role to a T. Although at first I think his band are better than he is. I was impressed by them, they could play but their excellent tunes were at first let down by his vocals but once he decided to look up from the floor a bit more often things seem to improve. They started out sounding a bit gloomy but their tunes got more upbeat and jangly as they went along. I might just get that album.

So to the Park and a touch of deja vu, as they open with 'Grafitti', just as they did two years ago. Then its sirens a whir, riffs a surge and Paul Smith, looking as dapper as ever, complete with the obligatory hat, with a megaphone in hand as he goes all Wayne Coyne in the middle of ‘Wraithlike’. God knows what he's singing at that point. Another new track, 'A Cloud Of Mystery' from their new album ‘Quicken The Heart’ follows, an album on which they further fine tune that winning Park formula.

When a band gets to the three album point you wonder what they're going to leave out and there are inevitable casualties in the set but it’s good to hear that 'I Want You To Stay', up next, is still there. To be fair to the band they’re not a band who traipse out the same set every night and whilst we may have missed out on some stuff played elsewhere on this tour nobody else has yet been treated to the excellent 'Your Urge' off 'Our Earthly Pleasures'. A welcome surprise.

Smith, as usual, leaps around the stage like a man possessed, pointing and gesturing at... well just about anyone and everything. He has his audience in the palm of his hand from the off. There’s something about his magnetic presence that pulls you in and demands you have as good as time as he is. So we do. The atmosphere at Rock City tonight is simply electric.

He’s relentlessly energetic, even during the slower songs. Lukas Wooller tries, at times, to match his energetic leader, tipping his keyboard up, down and sideways, playing it at various angles, particularly during a fast and furious ‘Now I'm All Over The Shop’. Perhaps he’s a frustrated guitarist. The rest of the band just leave them to it, preferring instead to simply dish out that Maximo sound to perfection.

One criticism of many gigs that I go to is that the vocals are not always as audible as they could be. Tonight, you can hear every word of Smith’s poetic lyrics and at no detriment to the power of the music. So full marks to the sound technicians.

'Books From Boxes' goes down a storm but 'Going Missing' was, of course, again, simply terrific with Smith perched on the front of the stage for most of it.

He then introduces what, according to him, is possibly their 'funkiest' song yet, that being ‘Lets Get Clinical’ but he then slaps an over-16 certificate on it before admittedly they’d know what he means anyway as he urges us to ‘wash ourselves in sin’.

My partner leans across to ask what the next great song is, as they play ‘Tanned’ from the new LP. Smith disappears briefly towards the end of it, perhaps for a brief lie down, and when he returns the band are already into ‘Calm’.

They seemed to lose momentum with those more thoughtful songs but then they have a good go at getting it back with 'Our Velocity', which lifts the pace back to breakneck. Smith once again looking so hyped up you are worried he might explode.

Then to huge delight down the front, Smith counts them in ‘One in a million, Two is a crowd...’, another old favourite ‘The Night I Lost My Head’.

'The Kids Are Sick Again' is an odd record and an even odder choice as a lead single and tonight they try to turn it into an anthem with the megaphone making another appearance but it never quite works out. Well not for me, unlike the closing 'Girls That Play Guitars' which clearly does work.

The encore begins with a new song, not even on the new album, ‘That Beating Heart’ and then it’s a slow build through ‘Questing, Not Coasting’ to the expected finale of 'Apply Some Pressure'.

Whether 'Apply Some Pressure' is a good one to finish with I'm not sure. Last time they played it mid-set and it brought the house down, this time it's the mid-set show stopper 'Going Missing' that I’ll go home with inside my head.

Maximo Park are an excellent band to see live and tonight they were on top form. All three of their albums but particularly the last two really take on a new life on stage. They could have done as a lot of bands who emerged at the same time have done and gone Arena on us but you get the impression Paul Smith and the band like it cosy like this. Full marks to them for that.

So almost as good as it gets, well, apart from, just as at their gig here two years, there’s still no 'Just, A Glimpse' on this tour but perhaps I’m just being picky.

‘We're Maximo Park and this is what we do’ so says Smith as they leave us and tells us how much he loves the Nottingham crowd, well don't leave it two years then next time mate. Awesome.

Maximo Park - Let's Get Clinical.mp3

Maximo Park - Our Velocity.mp3

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