“You’re so highbrow,” scoffs Sports Team frontman Alex Rice in the opening seconds of their sold-out Electric Ballroom show. It’s a fitting introduction to the group – a rabble of Cambridge-via-London indie kids whose fun-first approach and heavily referential lyrics (think everything from small-town Britain to “flip screen Motorola” mobile phones) are amassing a riotous and dedicated following. As Rice saunters around the stage, clad in a questionable matador outfit and sneering at the seriousness of the groups so often pinned as his peers, it’s an energy that quickly becomes infectious.
‘Camel Crew’ soon follows, a stomping takedown of those aforementioned scenesters – “they know they’ve made it only, when they sign the write to Sony,” Rice scoffs, a not-so-subtle dig at major labellers HMLTD. Tonight’s 1,500-strong crowd – one that the band seem barely able to believe themselves, given they’ve just two EPs and a smattering of singles to their name – responds in lieu, the mosh-pits and pogoing barely letting up for the entirety of their hour-long set. A few of the newer numbers from their ‘Keep Walking!’ EP, released just two weeks ago, sap the energy ever-so-slightly, but Rice pre-empts that with a typically self-effacing statement: “This is a new one,” he smiles before ‘Georgie’. “You might wanna save your energy for later, because you won’t know the words.”
On-stage, however, the energy doesn’t let up for a second. Rice himself dances like he’s got a lightning rod up his backside, all limbs, elbows and duck-like marching from left to right, clambering all over the lighting rig and down into the crowd itself,. In ‘M5’, he goes fully off-piste, his spoken word segment about a motorway car crash coming off like a Swindonian Stephen Malkmus.
The duelling guitarists of primary songwriter Rob Knaggs and Henry Young, meanwhile, hop, skip and jump all over the place, doing their best not to collide with Rice’s whirling dervish routine. Perhaps most brilliant of all, as ever, is keyboardist Ben Mack, whose entire stage routine consists of not cracking a single smile, at any point. Deadpan til the end, as ‘Georgie’ comes to a close, Rice ends up on his knees at Mack’s feet, showering praise on the unassuming star of the show.
While at times they might come off like a classically English band, all poetry and primness, Sports Team remain very much a band for the present day. No song encapsulates that better than ‘Margate’, a track written about that atypically hot summer that bathed this land last year (remember that?), written, recorded and released in the midst of it all. Tonight, it ends with a guitar wig out that could rival the lyrically-referenced Steely Dan themselves.
“We’ve got one more – this has genuinely been the best night of my life,” announces Rice as the set comes to an end with the cacophonous ‘Stanton’ and a suitably wild stage invasion. It’s penultimate song ‘Kutcher’ that best captures the sense of occasion though. A yelping ode to the idyllic, telly-box love of “mid-noughties MTV star” Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, balloons rain from the ceiling as it hits it apex. The crowd begin popping them in unison, a smattering of bangs drowning out the last strains of its final chorus. Close your eyes and you could mistake it for fireworks.