Offended? Yes. Bored? almost certainly. But touched? The Sleeper experience has always provoked many reactions, but emotional engagement was never one of them. And yet here we are, watching Louise Wener awkwardly mum-dance her way around a stage starkly lit by two faulty kebab shop neon lights and somehow feeling genuinely sorry for her.
Noticing the desperate edge in her croak as she surveys her downsized public and welling up in sympathy for her. There are those who took perverse pleasure in Ms Wener’s spectacular and speedy plummet from grace. Who rubbed their hands with righteous glee at the shrinkage the Sleeper tour suffered and muttered about her “asking for it”.
Well, maybe she did. But then the kingdom of pop would be a far poorer place without the kind of column-filling arrogance and PC-baiting swagger she practically patented. The real tragedy of Louise Wener is the sad fact that for all the eminently quotable bluster and marketing muscle, neither she nor her band of C&A shirt wearers have the substance to follow through. This is the woman, remember, whose idea of a drastic image overhaul is to not play the guitar. Much. Well, well, the Prodigy must really be cacking it.
So here she is, wearing the same denim jacket and black vest that was nailed to her torso some five years back, practically indecipherable as she ploughs through ‘Firecracker’, ‘Statuesque’ and ‘Lie Detector’. There is no straying from the musical party line (secondhand Elastica to college ball Blondie and, um, everything in between). No acknowledgement, even, that this is 1998 and the world no longer revolves around Britpop. Sleeper used to be the perfect student band because they wrote about the problems of middle-class England – shagging and suburban boredom, primarily. But they’re becoming more and more like the lover you left behind when you sodded off to college, who’s desperately wanting to believe that nothing has changed.
You can see it in the bashful glances that Sheffield’s students give each other when Sleeper hit supposed classics like ‘Inbetweener’ or ‘Delicious’. Looks that say “remember when…” rather than “how fucking great is this?” And while nostalgia’s all well and good for a night’s entertainment, it’s not much to build a career on. Louise must be wondering how many of tonight’s nostalgists will be back next time. And the time after?
Really, it would be enough to make you weep if only the boredom and the deaf, dumb and blind guitar solos hadn’t already driven you there a long time before. Then, to cap it all, Louise announces the end of the set yelling, “To everyone who’s written about us over the last six months, fuck you!” like a spoilt schoolkid in a huff.
It’s downright pathetic and instantly ensures the banishment of every last drop of sympathy we might have held for her. When they flingthemselves into a breathless but still inept kicking of ‘What Do I Do Now?’, the irony isn’t so much obvious as inescapable. They bounce off into the night convinced, as ever, that the next hit is just around the corner. Not for the first time, they are horribly, horribly wrong. A new yawn beckons.