Friday 13 February 2009

NME Shockwaves Awards Tour, Rock City

The NME Shockwaves Awards Tour has been running since 1995 and takes place in the run up to the awards themselves. It is designed to showcase up and coming talent from the indie rock scene.

Rock City is packed and buzzing as early as 7.30 for the first of the four bands. It seems a lot of people have either read the hype about Florence And The Machine or just simply arrived early to see if Florence Welch can stay inside her dress, which seems precariously balanced on her frame at best.

The London lass, who will later this month collect the Critics' Choice Award at the Brit Awards, skipped on to a stage decorated in brightly coloured flowers, herself looking all bohemian, and kicked off the night's proceedings with a theatrical performance. She proceeded to bash seven bells out of a drum as her band opened with 'Between Two Lungs' and what lungs she had...

My partner described her as Kate Nash with balls but it's another Kate, Kate Bush, who Florence admits she grew up listening to, who perhaps wields the influence here. It's quite an entrance and it doesn't get any less dramatic.

Can she live up to the hype? Well she certainly gave an assured vocal performance as she treated us to her strange and gruesome songs, although tonight there are none of her famed cover versions. She casually introduces her song about 'cutting a girl’s eye out' called the ‘The Girl With One Eye’, an ode to disfigurement. She rants, screams, hyperventilates and at times even sings quite normally through her half hour set during which the recent singles 'Kiss with a Fist' and 'Dog Days are Over' are highlights.

Her stagecraft could probably be best described as eccentric, nothing wrong with that of course. It’s a remarkable sight as she prances around like a horse on hot coals. She invites everyone to not sing along but to howl along, I used to get warned off girls like that, to a song that I believe was also called 'Howl'.

Among her musicians is a harpist playing a large golden harp and another lass on keyboards who is almost as hyperactive and ditsy as Florence herself. Also on stage with her is Charles Cave, the bass player from White Lies, who plays half the set with them. Her debut album, as yet untitled, is due for released in July.

Could it be that tonight’s opening act has stolen the show. Close but I think that honour goes to Ealing's White Lies, who of course I've seen before.

Since then they seem to have cheered up a bit and even brushed up on their stage manner. Their songs are still full of doom and gloom lyrics but at least they now play them with a smile on their faces. I suppose a number one album helps. Opening with 'Farewell To The Fairground', they too like Florence were an instant hit with the crowd. Gloomy lyrics aside they do write great choruses. An impressive set but they again lose momentum when they choose to play the slower tracks '50 On Our Foreheads' and 'The Price Of Love' back to back near the end.

Part way through their set Florence returns to the stage, to great applause and duets with Harry McVeigh on 'Unfinished Business' but she doesn't have eyes for Harry. As she departs, she appears to hug and snog the bass player, hinting at what business it is that remains unfinished.

As with life and White Lies, it all ends fittingly with 'Death'.

If Florence thought she was going to win the most absurd dancing of the evening award, she can think again. That honour goes to Ed Macfarlane, lead singer of St Albans' Friendly Fires. Now he is a man who truly cannot dance but doesn't care, as he gets on down with the rhythm of their opening track 'Lovesick' and doesn't stop for the rest of the set.

Friendly Fires are entertaining and they keep the energy of the evening buzzing along but they're also not my type of thing at all and I find them underwhelming, despite Ed's animated efforts. Another thing I don't like is that they were basically playing over a backing track and just adding to it. So karaoke really and I can get that down my local pub, should I want to. Still all good fun. I thought they'd be the least popular of tonight's acts but no, they'd got their hardcore in tonight and seem to go down well.

It is disappointing after the interaction between the first two bands, that Friendly Fires and headliners Glasvegas do not bond with the others. On a tour like this, that would really have added to the night.

What can I say about Glasvegas that I haven't already said in my previous reviews of them. Well I could say that it's now all getting a bit samey. They open with 'Geraldine', which I suppose is a bit of a departure for them but then we get the same old favourites. The same stuff they've been playing for the last four years. There's nothing from the Christmas EP, there's nothing new, there's nothing old that's not on the album and there's no 'Killing Moon' cover that they did in Liverpool.

They have at least learnt to pause between tracks but I'm not sure this works for them and they've developed the tinniest amount of banter with the crowd. The big problem tonight is their sound, which seemed in a right mess, a lot of the vocals disappeared in a sea of feedback and where was the trademark smoke? I think a lot of the crowd lost interest. They are in my opinion much better suited to the smaller venues that they were playing.

There were rumours of an encore but one didn't appear tonight. In fact, I think their set is actually getting shorter.

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