The Great Escape, Brighton Dome, May 10
Alot’s happened since Maxïmo Park first scissor-kicked their way onto the scene in 2004. After the New Rock Revolution alongside The Futureheads, The Cribs and Bloc Party came the inevitable and endless proclamations that guitar music was dead. New rave came and went. Fred Macpherson started a band, ended it, started another band, ended that as well, then turned up with Spector, whose sound brings us neatly back to 2004 again.
All the while the Park have pottered along, never quite capturing the success of their peers, but never quite fading away. Now, with the imminent release of fourth album ‘The National Health’, it seems like a sink or swim moment for frontman Paul Smith and his gang, a moment to either do a Cribs or a Kaiser Chiefs – prove their mettle or descend into irrelevance.
Headlining The Dome on the first day of The Great Escape, they teeter between the two. Initial signs aren’t good. With a venue half-full with a worryingly static crowd, the opening double-header of internet-released new album tracks ‘The National Health’ and ‘Hips And Lips’ provokes a lukewarm reaction at best. The problem is that when the crowd is into it, Smith’s the most fun, exuberant frontman you can hope for. But when no-one’s into it, he’s just a middle-aged bloke jumping about in a trilby.
Maxïmo can’t do the nonchalant, cool thing or the snarling, vitriolic punk thing. They’re a bunch of lovable dorks, and when people stare back at them blankly it’s kind of awkward and upsetting – neither of which are feelings you particularly want from a rock show. When they delve back into the classics, things slot more easily into place, as ‘Graffiti’ still rings with wonky romance, ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ elicits fist-pumping and the taught angst of debut album track ‘I Want You To Stay’ seems more wired than ever. But there’s something failing to connect, despite the energetic efforts.
Even so, the quality of the new tunes is undeniable. ‘Hips And Lips’ slithers along on bitter sexual frustration and a big ol’ assault of a chorus, while ‘The Undercurrents’ does the kind of radio-friendly, subtle anthemics that are weirdly similar to Keane, but a million times more clever and interesting than that suggests. ‘Write This Down’, meanwhile, is classic Maxïmo – antsy and witty (“I chose the warmest day/To rain on your parade”) with huge disco-ready riffs. You can’t help but crack a smile. Festival crowds are fickle, and debuting a new album on a headline set was foolish, but the band deserve more than near-complete ambivalence.