Glasgow Barrowlands. Manchester Academy, 5-6 February
The last time this writer ran the NME Awards Tour Gauntlet – back in 2007, when New Rave was nascent and the headline act (Klaxons, naturally) appeared to be living on a strict diet of cheese trays and MDMA – we were at our physical peak, like Zidane at the 1998 World Cup, or Rocky before the brain damage. Nowadays we’re a little older, fractionally wiser, and frequently see blood in the toilet bowl after nights of heavy excess. Tellingly, the first thing we packed before setting off on this year’s jaunt wasn’t a bottle of tequila, but a packet of Ibuprofen.
Yet incredibly enough, at the time of going to press, that packet remains unopened. You see, this year’s crop of bands – with one admittedly glaring exception – are more merciful on both our and their internal organs than some of their predecessors. Which means it’s nice to be able to report, with all the certainty that semi-sobriety can afford, that [a]The Drums[/a] really are all that.
As the tour’s opening act, there’s just as much pressure – if not more – on these wiry young Turks to deliver as there is on headliners [a]The Maccabees[/a], but if they’re nervous, you’d never know it; possibly because they’ve got such an amazing sheaf of songs to back up the severe cases of adjectivus hyperbolicus they bring out in music journalists.
There’s what you should already know, of course – the Smithsian jangle of ‘Don’t Be A Jerk, Johnny’ (tonight in Glasgow augmented with backing vocals from Tracyanne Campbell and Carey Lander of local heroes Camera Obscura), the wave-crest euphoria of ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ – but there’s also a smattering of ace-sounding new songs from their debut album that you don’t, of which the glacial ‘It Will All End In Tears’ is the obvious standout. In frontman Jonathan Pierce, meanwhile, they have a genuine star who’s part WASP icon-in-waiting, part effeminate indie-oddball.
When we bump into guitarist Jacob Graham backstage after their set, he’s in ebullient mood. How, we ask, is everybody getting along?
“We haven’t really had much of a chance to hang out with the other bands yet,” he laments. “As far as any gossip goes though, everybody’s keeping their secrets under wraps. But I plan on getting to the bottom of it by the end of the tour. There’s got to be something… I mean there’s that, for example.”
‘That’ is [a]The Big Pink[/a], sweeping offstage and into the dressing room, where they proceed to crank up the stereo and sniff strange powders from the back of their hands.
Sonically, The Big Pink are undeniably the most ambitious band on the bill, the band who get you salivating at the thought of what they might achieve, but still hold you in thrall to what they already have; namely, a pulsating strain of post-noughties (that’s what we’re calling this decade, alright?) neo-psychedelia. They’re also massive, massive caners.
“Our plan is to party every single night,” drummer Akiko Matsuura bluntly tells us, and boy, are they going for it. In the interests of tour diplomacy, we notice, they’ve neatly laid out some – ahem – liveners for [a]Bombay Bicycle Club[/a] on the dressing room table with a note saying ‘Love from The Big Pink’ next to it. Aww.
As it turns out, we don’t manage to catch BBC until the next night in Manchester, when we ask guitarist Jamie MacColl if he enjoyed his ‘present’.
“How the hell did you find out about that?! Erm, yes… yes, we did enjoy it.”
Not so much that it impedes their set, however. It’s customary when talking about BBC to mention just how young they are, but they’re quickly maturing. They may lack the quirk of The Drums and the oomph of The Big Pink, but with songs such as ‘Magnet’ and ‘Evening/Morning’ they mark themselves out as a sort of British Interpol. Their one weakness seems to be timidity, but there’s hope there too, because it wasn’t so long ago we’d have said the same thing about The Maccabees, and just look at them now.
Orlando Weeks’ crew, buoyed by the success of their second album, are a sharper, louder, and more confident live proposition these days, and their headline status is a fitting way to end a fantastic 12 months. Manchester certainly loves them, and not just because they enlist [a]I Am Kloot[/a] frontman John Bramwell for a cover of his band’s ‘Because’.
“People seem to be reacting really strongly to the songs,” says Orlando when we join him outside afterwards for a cigarette, amid a crowd of fans baying for photos and autographs. They certainly are, but don’t root for The Maccabees just because they’re nice guys; root for them because they’re a great band.
And because they now employ a brass section decked out in red dinner-lady smocks, obviously. Orlando’s kicked-puppy vocals on opener ‘William Powers’ sound heartfelt and sincere where others might just come across as cloying, and ‘Love You Better’ and (especially) ‘No Kind Words’ prove to be the anthemic moments of a triumphant set. In case you were in any doubt just how much this tour means for The Maccabees, the emotional, Oscar-speech platitude of thanks Orlando dishes out to the fans, the bands, NME, and anybody else in the immediate vicinity should confirm it for you. “Somehow it feels like we’ve earned that. It is a new responsibility for us,” says Orlando, “to headline a tour of this size.
And I don’t think anyone feels let down or short-changed. It feels like a really nice way to end this cycle, on a high.”
We couldn’t agree more and they couldn’t deserve it more. All highs should be this wholesome.