Death-rock, disco-funk, barbershop-pop, a “sinister” bowler hat and a barrel of new tracks – there’s something for everyone
Wednesday, February 21
A shimmering backdrop of glowing red lights fills the stage. A Wagnerian refrain strikes up from some unseen house orchestra that probably once backed Elvis at the Hilton. And the heart-tugging crooner, in bowler hat and black show-suit, bounds from the wings flashing a cheesy, “No, please, all this for me?” grin. Aside from having a 30-foot fairy light ‘MAXIMO’ stretching across the stage, tonight’s Shockwaves NME Awards Show is a futuristic vision of the first supercasino to hit Newcastle and the showbiz shizzaz of Maximo Park’s debut there; it’s Geordie jerk-rock gone Vegas, baby.
And what a fabulous line-up of skronky, angular guitar cabaret we’ve got for you tonight. Please welcome Blood Red Shoes, making the sound of a minor Nicaraguan guerrilla war with just drumkit and guitar. They’re too cute to be making such dark, diesel-in-the-lungs devil music; it’s like a couple of stand-in Popworld presenters plugged into a Fender, and the bastard poltergeists of a thousand hairy punk biker bands leapt out of Hell, raced down the wires and made nest in their moist, pretty-kid guts. They should be doing Teletubbies On Ice with H from Steps, but instead ‘Stitch Me Back’ sounds like someone’s thrown a drumkit, 50 mallets and a naked and shaved bassist into a high security ward for psychopathic cannibals and recorded the result. Their closing song, meanwhile, is a splintered, pool-cue fight between Bikini Kill, Motörhead, The Bad Seeds and, um, Bis. Gruesomely great.
After the bloodthirsty opening, Hot Club De Paris don’t half sound like a shonky amateur act rehearsing for a turn on When Will I Be Famous? Part foul-mouthed barbershop trio, part scratched Futureheads demo CD, they’re puerile, obtuse jolt-pop with only three decent tunes, and one of those sounds like Altered Images. As their spiky guitar thrash jerks randomly into spittle-flecked beat-box, African gospel, sea shanty jigs or cowboy rodeo bits, one of them makes schoolboyish finger-in-hole actions to illustrate the point of ‘Sometimesitsbetter…’. You can’t help thinking that sometimesitsbetterjusttowritecoherentsongswithproperchorusesandstopfuckingaboutwithallthiswackyshityouheard. This is one half-hour better spent spunking away your cab fare home at the bar.
Providing the disco interlude before the main event, eight-headed fun machine !!! arrive boasting Hitler in a tracksuit on drums, a man who thinks he’s a funky gorilla displaying to a mate on vocals, and a noise like a Talking Heads gig from 1979 being sucked through a Doctor Who wormhole into the future. They’re like a fantastic electro Reservoir Dogs; cool, dangerous and out of control. ‘Must Be The Moon’ is Scissor Sisters lashed up on Codeine and going feral, ‘Heart Of Hearts’ finds Nic Offer handing vocal duties to a bespectacled sidekick so he can better strut his rutting-gibbon stuff, and the whole thing descends into a crazed drum circle frenzy of flailing cowbells, wah-wah wailing and depraved monkey sex before being dragged throat-first offstage by a horny white tiger. Um, metaphorically.
And now… for your intellectual rock pleasure and poetic delectation… Maximo Park! Roaring on to the stage clenching his fists and gnashing his teeth like a piranha in a tuxedo and with his Combover Of Kings crushed into a bowler hat throughout, debate is not so much over which ’60s football pundit Paul Smith most resembles but who he most dances like. Alex from A Clockwork Orange in a mic-stand-brandishing fit of ultra-violence? Napoleon Dynamite doing kung-fu star-jumps at the prom? A wimpy bloke losing his rag in a pub fight? Whatever, he jives, jumps, jerks, jitters and – during new rock pounder ‘The Unstoppable’ – literally frots the amps as if trying to shag his own song.
And who can blame him? Tonight, Maximo Park expand, Hulk-like, out of the bookish indie persona of ‘A Certain Trigger’ and rampage. While first album stormers like ‘Apply Some Pressure’, ‘The Coast Is Always Changing’ and ‘Kiss You Better’ are blasted out with extra punk welly, they’re now complemented by their beefier, more confident new cousins ‘Girls Who Play Guitar’, ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘Russian Literature’, which builds from urgent, stabbing piano chords into what could be Maximo’s rejected new theme for Rocky Balboa.
And whereas Smith’s claim to the title of Poet Of The People previously only stretched to the odd reference to being miserable and speaking French, there’s a fresh tang of beauty-in-the-Northern-grit Mozness to him now. While ‘Postcard Of A Painting’ sparks with Smithsian romanticism, a tremulously poetic ‘Our Velocity’ B-side, Paul explains, is actually about the Newcastle Brown Ale logo, and ‘Nosebleed’ is the most heart-tugging tune about snogging so much you burst a blood vessel. And of course, though he must surely know the words by now, the little red lyric book emerges for ‘Once A Glimpse’. It’s like Slash’s hat or Iggy Pop’s cock: it must always make an appearance.
‘Grafitti’, ‘Limassol’, ‘Going Missing’: it’s a show-stopping finale full of glitz and glamour, fit for a sold-out seven-year run at the MGM Grand, Gateshead. Whatever happens in Maximo, honey, gonna stay in Maximo…