Groove Armada : London Shepherds Bush Empire

They sound great in the car, they're an ad director's dream and they seem like nice lads...

If it’s hard to love a band likeGroove Armada, it’s equally difficult to hate them. After all, they do make lovely background music. They sound great in the car, they’re an ad director’s dream and they seem like nice lads. Yaaaaaawn.

In a live setting, their flaws are there for all to see. Tonight’s set draws heavily from their recent ‘Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub)’ LP, and is therefore dominated by suave, elegant jazz-funk and woozy ambient techno. For the most part, it’s dull stuff. They’re a band for whom a one-note guitar riff and a 4/4 beat comprise enough raw material for ten minutes of music. Adding to their problems is an unhealthy fondness for trumpets – a legacy, perhaps, of Andy Cato’s shady past as a winner of the Young Jazz Musician Of The Year.

With a decent vocalist, the Armada would be a more enticing proposition, but Tim Hutton’s lightweight crooning only adds to the dreariness of tracks like ‘Drifted’ and ‘Tuning In’. Far more effective is R&B singer Celetia Martin, whose contribution to ‘My Friend’ proves to be the highlight of the night.

Ultimately there’s no escaping the

fact that[a]Groove Armada[/a]’s muso tendencies consistently blunt their impact. Even when they play one of their better, poppier tunes, like ‘If Everybody Looked The Same’, they manage to find time for bass solos, keyboard solos, and – most gratingly – extended bongo solos. They also manage to ruin their best song, ‘Superstylin”, by slowing it right down so that we can hear those trumpets amid the dancehall clatter. It’s disappointing, and that’s very much the theme of the night.

Still, the venue is packed out, and three albums down the line, it’s clear that Groove Armada have achieved the longevity that traditionally eludes many dance acts. Yet you suspect that while they may continue to shift units to casual fans, they’ll never really arouse fierce passions either way. That would be asking too much of them.

Niall O’Keeffe