Friday 12 February 2010

The Sunshine Underground, The Venue, Derby

We’re at a new venue for us tonight, the catchily named 'The Venue', a place owned and run, or so it seems, by the same people who revived the now once more defunct Rockhouse. Maybe they just decided that this was a better proposition than the Rockhouse and I think they’d be right. No idea what the place was before, it still looks like an old warehouse and it’s perfect for gigs, much more so than the Rockhouse. A better prospect to front up in battle against the also excellent Royal.

We’re here to see the Sunshine Underground, a band who seem to have disappeared, well underground, for the last few years. Their new album 'Nobody's Coming to Save You' can hardly be described as hot on the heels of their debut album, 'Raise the Alarm', which was one of the best albums of 2006. Yes guys, almost four years between albums, that’s bordering on Portishead territory but anyway welcome back. First though we have two support bands to enjoy.

I immediately like Birmingham’s ‘51 Breaks’, although on the surface there’s nothing inherently different about them. They’re just another indie band that’s following the fashion to plonk a keyboard stage centre. In their case a rather large specimen as well and one that lead singer Michael Turner barely touches. Most of their keyboard stuff seems to be pre-programmed anyway, so it’s a bit of a waste of stage space to be honest. All the same they’re still a decent outfit who put in an energetic half hour shift and play some dangerously catchy tunes. They even have a touch of Sunshine Underground about them, which endears them to most of the audience, so appropriately arranged support I guess.

We wander off to get a drink from the bar which at £4.50 for two drinks was not bad at all. It’s that for one drink at most of the places we go to see gigs. I’m starting to like this place more and more. We return stage front and watch ‘Cosmo Jarvis’ take the stage.

I wasn’t sure if ‘Cosmo’ was going to be a band or a person and in fact he’s/they’re a bit of both. My partner immediately likes him/them, I’m not so sure. I’ve always been a little unnerved by people who name a band after themselves and he does appear to be a ‘band’. I’m equally mistrusting of anybody called something like ‘Cosmo’ but that’s just me being silly I’m sure. His album is also called, as you may have guessed already, ‘Cosmo Jarvis’.

Putting any ego issues aside he’s undoubtedly got talent. If you check out his website he’s also an actor and a film maker, who has made dozens of videos and short movies, as well as recording a stunning amount of music, which is all available there. No idea if they're any good, haven't got that much time to check. He appears a nice chap though, desperate to be liked, and clearly wants the crowd tonight to appreciate his talent but it’s not always that straightforward mate. A lot of his lyrics are very clever but unfortunately most of the crowd don’t notice and their attention span isn’t helped by the long and complicated instrument changes that disrupt the flow of his set.

He starts off in my kind of territory with a song called ‘Clean My Room’, in which he starts off promising to ‘clean my room and dump my girlfriend’. This is my kind of angst and it gets darker. By the time the song reaches its finale this line has metamorphosed into ‘burn my room and kill my girlfriend’. Nice.

His songs continue in that sort of vain, a track called ‘Crazy Screwed Up Lady’ sticks in my mind, if only because I knew her or was that her sister? Originally from New Jersey but having grown up in Devon, I’d describe him as a cross between Billy Bragg and good old Granddad Rob the Voluntary Butler with his home made mawkish I'm-a-loser-but-not-really songs. Then as a complete contrast he closes the set with a song about gay pirates...

So from Cosmo, busy chap, he of a thousand songs, to the unbusy ones, those we haven’t seen for nigh on four years.

I do love a good rave, not. So The Sunshine Underground shouldn't really be my thing, nu-rave or whatever it was termed four years ago. The lads from Leeds though, always seemed better than the genre they ended up pigeon-holed with.

They open with last year’s 'Coming to Save You' single with not a keyboard in sight, although certainly more than a hint of a backing track, and set about disposing of that pigeon-hole. Their sound seems bolder and brasher than before but still predominately revolves around the strong voice of front man Craig Wellington and the crunching riffs of his and Stuart Jones' guitar.

Gems from ‘Raise The Alarm’ are interspersed amongst the new stuff, a lively ’Wake Up’ and a predictably well received 'Commercial Breakdown' sandwich their forthcoming new single 'We've Always Been Your Friends'.

The new album is in many ways a continuation of the first but perhaps a little heavier and more expansive. As for the old stuff, that seems slightly reworked tonight, beefed up if you like, to fit in. Still though they are as anthemic as ever, we're right down the front, dodging the fists punched towards the ceiling and just out of reach of the crowd surfer’s boots, as the diehards dance and jump around, singing along to every word, old or new.

Mid set, they slip in an obscure one, the b-side/album bonus track ‘You Never Party’, probably the raviest track they’ve done before a wonderful reworking of their finest moment, ‘Borders’ steals the night.

Of the new stuff, I prefer the slower numbers like ‘Any Minute Now’, simply ace tonight, an affecting song that builds to a soaring climax, but the best track is the penultimate one ‘Here It Comes’, a bouncy track, with a great intro that reminds me of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

They are a band in a hurry tonight. Probably having cut too much slack with their supports they are now pushed for time. The original set list appears cut down from what they had been playing on this tour, although in the end they do add to it and helped by rolling the encore into the main set, they get in all but two of the tracks on the new album.

They close with a rushed and slightly messy ‘Put You In Your Place’ but I think it’s only me that notices.

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