Kate and the gang wheel out a new direction… but is it any good? Amersham Arms, London (March 11)
Over the past month The Long Blondes have been making a covert return to the live scene under the characteristically refined pseudonym of, um, The Dead Eyed Bitches. At the end of February they played a trio of dates at pocket-sized northern clubs and earlier this month they graced the stage at the hipster paradise of London disco Durrr. The secret gig saw Kate Jackson in disguise in a long blonde wig that rowdy punters lovingly attempted to rip from her scalp before getting chucked out of the venue. If that ain’t a sign your fans are missing you, we don’t know what is.
And so, confidence bolstered by a night of whooping, tonight they’re going under their real name for the first time since last year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals. They are poised, nay, expected, to bring back their inimitable brand of kitschy glam to an indie scene that’s all too often weighed down with an acceptance of all things humdrum. But do they succeed this evening? Frankly, it’s hard to tell. Kicking off with ‘Century’, the strung-out Donna Summer-style opener from new album ‘“Couples”’, it’s evident that Jackson, who’s demurely vogueing in slo-mo behind the mic, has programmed herself with a new vocal setting. A breathy falsetto has replaced the raucous punk foghorn of yore. The rest of the band, who in the past found themselves criticised for the simplicity of their playing, have also upped their game. Layered, looping synths and bassist Reenie Hollis’ fancy fretwork go to make up something that sounds far more accomplished than their back catalogue.
Yet their slick new sound seems to have stripped them of their joy. Guitarist Emma Chaplin stares blankly at her feet and even Kate, who used to leap around the stage like a tipsy panther on the prowl, is near motionless. Gone also are the sparkles, leopard print and stylish splendour that made them such a breath of fresh air; today they’re performing in drab civvies. The leisurely likes of ‘Too Clever By Half’ and ‘The Couples’ do little to get the band moving, but a glittering ‘Lust In The Movies’ sees their punk sensibilities firmly back in place. As such, Kate shouts herself horse and exudes all the confidence of a head girl on speech day. Newie ‘Guilt’, a blustery ’70s-does-’50s piece of brassy electropop, fares just as well. Kate no longer seems welded to the same spot in the centre of the stage and struts up and down, sharp limbs poking at the crowd and brazen grin flashing across her face. Musically, though, it’s ‘I Liked The Boys’ that provides the most obvious link with their past, its simple structure and soaring tale of teen lust conveyed via the universal language of dream-pop.
Unsurprisingly, the finale of ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ proves the most popular song of the night, with the crowd hollering along to every word and thrashing about the dingey pub back room. Afterwards, however, there are mumbles from the floor about the band not having aired enough old material. Given what we’ve witnessed earlier on, it seems like it’s not just the fans who’ll have to try and get more comfortable with the Long Blondes version 2.0, but the band as well.