Live Review: Metronomy

KING TUT’S wah wah hut, Glasgow Thursday, January 20

Pic: Richard Johnson
Sitting at home before tonight’s gig and revisiting ‘Nights Out’, Metronomy’s 2008 breakthrough album (of sorts), a thought needled at our mind like an unpicked scab, an overgrown fingernail and a sudden, unremitting testicle itch all rolled into one: just how have this band managed to studiously avoid dirty great integrity-compromising success for so long?

Without wanting for talent or critical acclaim, Metronomy continue to exist in a bubble of relative cultdom, a secret sadly too-well kept. Their cause isn’t helped by the difficulty people have in categorising what they do – not so long ago they were still being mis-sold as sonic detritus fallen from the tail of the new rave comet.

Nor have they been blessed with an especially compelling backstory; the 10-year gradient of their career, from Joseph Mount’s teenage bedroom in Totnes to the present day, has been long, slow and gone largely unnoticed – even James Blunt can lay claim to having averted World War Three by the time he was out of his twenties.

But while their narrative isn’t particularly exciting and their niche is hard to define, none of that trivial stuff does anything to affect Metronomy’s status as one of the bands whose return we’re most jazzed about in 2011. We’re not alone, either: the level of goodwill directed their way tonight is both overpowering and strangely heart-warming, all the more so because, as a bashful Joseph Mount reminds us mid-set:

“It’s been an age since we’ve played in Glasgow, so it’s nice to come back up this way and discover that there are still people here after all.” Such is the adoration showered upon them tonight, you suspect people would be here even if they’d had to wait five years instead of the three it’s taken Metronomy to follow ‘Nights Out’.

The band play a handful of songs from upcoming third album ‘The English Riviera’ tonight, and though their unfamiliarity is evident – they’re played rather more tentatively for one thing, and the crowd briefly cease their shape-throwing to listen closely for another – they showcase Mount’s blossoming songwriting talents.

‘Love Underlined’ starts off straightforwardly enough before squirming and wriggling in ever-weirder and more unpredictable directions, while ‘She Wants’ is a minimalist new-wave pop song underpinned by frantic, elastic jabs of Gbenga Adelekan’s bass, arguably the most prominent element of Metronomy’s new-look line-up.

Of the new tracks, however, it is ‘The Look’, with its probing northern soul keyboard riff and grim lyrics about life on the rim of a small-town sinkhole (“You’ll never get anything better than this/’Cos you’re always going in circles/And everybody thinks you’re trouble”) that stands out as something really special, a kind of ‘That’s Entertainment’ for the 21st century indietronica crowd.

Generally speaking, there’s a strong songwriterly vibe running through all of them – the lovelorn ‘Some Written’, in particular, is oddly reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy. It’s not quite “Daft Punk meets The Eagles” (their words, not ours), but you can kind of hear what they’re getting at.

With all this newness going on, however, it’s good to know that a few constants remain. The pound-store push lights each member wears on their chest are one of them, and they’re still as endearingly naff and unreliable as ever – every time a band member moves a cable seems to come loose somewhere, and the self-assured sexual leer of ‘Holiday’ is contrasted starkly with the sight of Mount’s light flickering madly away like a faulty electronic tit. Naturally, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The old songs, too, have lost none of their sparkle with the passage of time, from ‘Back On The Motorway’’s quirkily English riff on Springsteeny autophilia – complete with honking, semi-ironic saxophone solo – to ‘Heartbreaker’’s symphonic, lo-fi pop perfection. Even the set’s weirder moments, like the schizophrenic instrumentals that switch genre every 30 seconds, or the heavily vocodered ‘What Do I Do Now?’ are playful, mood-lightening diversions that refuse to be boring by virtue of sheer, bloody-minded strangeness.

Nor does Mount’s reputation as indie’s friendliest man appear in any imminent danger; after the band are brought swiftly back onstage by the audience’s demand for “One more tune!”, he cheerfully informs us that, “We never take much persuading, and it’s incredibly cold on the fire escape anyway... if you’re very lucky you’re actually going to get two more tunes, although if you’ve got a bus to catch and one is all you want, that’s OK too.” Bless his cotton socks.

‘Radio Ladio’’s synth-pop bloopery really is the end of the show, however, and it climaxes with a full-throated audience singalong that underlines one final time just how in love this room is with Metronomy tonight. It’s well-earned love, too; this is a band frontloaded with ideas rather than finesse, but beneath their rough edges, off-kilter quirks and dodgy electrical accessories beats a heart of pure pop invention. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Barry Nicolson

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