Scala, London, Tuesday, February 23
Ever since [a]Edwyn Collins[/a] closed the curtains on the Awards Tour with [a]The Maccabees[/a] last weekend, NME appears to be having difficulty yanking him from the limelight. Lip-curled and foppishly bobbing a half-shaven, half-Shockwaves-sponsored quiff to the punk-funk rattles of [b]‘Hunger’[/b], a Collins clone circa-1983 straddles the stage. But before we have a chance to squint and work out if the man up there with [b]Frankie & The Heartstrings[/b] really is Collins himself, he’s now Morrissey, rolling his eyes to the heavens, draping his microphone lead around his lapel and grappling at his heart to the melancholy [b]‘Fragile’[/b]. OK, so he’s in danger of having one too many Heartstrings to his bow, but Frankie Francis hurdles personalities and genres in a leather jacket, collar upturned and adolescent hips snaking the mic stand.
Like stirring and solid Gaslight Anthem-ish Leamington Spa punkers [a]Sharks[/a], though, at least they’re busting with confidence. Now there’s a word we didn’t think we’d be using in the same paragraph as tonight’s headliners [a]Girls[/a], who, when we last saw them play four months back, were hunched-up balls of crippling awkwardness, brilliant yet wincing to be serenading their bedroom walls instead. So when [b]‘Laura’[/b] – now swelling with full-blown harmonies and rainbows of [b]‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’[/b]-esque keyboards from new member Matthew Kallman – tears open the set, flutters of joy bound about the sardined crowd.
A huge drum-walloping intro to [b]‘Morning Light’[/b], frontman Chris Owens’ Elvis Costello-croons and unabashed declaration that new track [b]‘Lysandre’[/b] is “the best I’ve ever written” affirm that the San Fran oddballs have finally fully grown into their own songs.
Yet, they continue to convey that fragile anguish and nerdy charm for which we initially fell. They’re still white and pasty, and that lump sticks to the back of Owen’s throat when he sings the heart-wrenching [b]‘Hellhole Ratrace’[/b] lyric: “[i]I don’t want to cry my whole life through[/i]”. The crowd wail along, a boy behind us laments: “I put this on a mixtape for my ex” and Owen begins to slowly but surely fall into line beside the likes of [a]Jarvis Cocker[/a] as a true outcast and genius frontman.
As the set wraps up, bassist Chet JR White whacks his tongue hard into his cheek and bursts out: “We’re not nominated for an NME Award but [a]The Big Pink[/a], er, really deserve it.” Catty? Yes. Unnecessary? Certainly. But if anyone deserves to be a little bit cocky for once, it’s this lot.