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Live Review: The Maccabees

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, August 8th

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Most bands debuting new material after a year holed up would dip a tentative two-song toe in the water. The Maccabees, though, tonight dive headlong into Portsmouth’s sweaty anticipation with a total of seven – SEVEN! – new tracks in their pockets. It seems like an age they’ve been away, and on a night when distant London is burning with enmity, their open enthusiasm, their reckless romance is a timely comfort.

Opener ‘Child’ rolls in with a vast, reverby intro as Orlando, in new side-shaven hair and white T-shirt, clasps the mic like a long-absent, precious love, while Felix, his back to the audience, nods his newly long locks as he concentrates on conjuring up a quiet guitar storm. The Maccabees have grown into a band who are not afraid to take their time, to leave a gap. Like all the new songs debuted tonight, ‘Child’ reveals a new mastery of structure and dynamics; a spacious mid-section gives way deliciously as the song kicks back in with redoubled, quickened life.

The livelier beat of ‘Feel To Follow’ also toys with us, holding its breath then blasting back in with frankly massive drums and walls of lustrous noise. They’re clearly enjoying the return to their natural environment, Felix grinning toothily at the bouncing, delighted crowd. ‘First Love’ and ‘One Hand Holding’ inspire mass chants and stompalongs, but it’s testament to the instant spellcasting command of their new stuff that it’s fast hugged to the bosom of a lairy crowd.

Pelican’ scoops us up with arresting stabs of guitar and a post-punk muscularity. ‘Went Away’ charms with a gently chiming, romantic sort of intro that leaps into a joyful, Arcade Fire-ish aggression and careening, epic guitar, while ‘Ayla’ charms with spiralling melodies, thrumming guitar and an insistent refrain of “the wait is over”. Indeed it is, but the surprises aren’t. ‘Forever I’ve Known’ has those mournfully twanging ‘Wicked Game’-style sob-surf guitar tones, moody bass and sultry drums... then just when it’s lulled you, lashes out with a scissoring rhythm.

Finally, the aptly named ‘Grew Up At Midnight’ opens in a big swoopy rush of effects and falsetto vocals with a fraught but gorgeous chorus. It ends in a gobsmacking rolling rumble of drums and a big crashing crescendo as Orlando reflects “we were only kids then”. They spoke of “adapting and maturing” for their third album, but who’d have known it would be so bloody exciting? On tonight’s evidence, it sounds like The Maccabees are entering the prime of their musical lives.

Emily Mackay

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