Live Review: The Great Escape 2009
It's time for our annual dose of seaside fun as the best new buzz bands hit the south coast. Various venues, Brighton, Thursday, May 14-Saturday, May 16
Brighton has always, generally speaking, been a completely useless place. Apart from, that is, providing a fertile turf on which to have what is commonly known as ‘a bit of a laff’. Its salty network of discotheques and drinking holes provides a south-coast Bermuda triangle of frivolity: what better place to throw a big multi-venue festival shindig?
With maybe the most modest slot of the entire event – the opening act on Thursday at murky local pub The Freebutt – Nullifier, a six-man supergroup featuring members of local grrrl/boy rioters Help She Can’t Swim, pay testament to the city’s evergreen ’zine culture. Like Late Of The Pier prescribed a hefty course of Ritalin and told to “stick to the bleedin’ hooks”, they are one of those rare, life-affirming surprise discoveries that will have a hard job remaining a surprise for much longer.
OK, industry buzz gig checklist time: Grandiose venue? Check. A throng of publishing scouts skulking around? Check. Rumours of band members’ past lives viciously circling up to the first note? Check. Mirrors, the Kraftwerkian gloom-troupe everyone can’t wait to see, take the stage shrouded in Dr Who-esque naff theatrics: all beige nylon suits, robotic choreography and Pentium 2 screensaver visuals. You are witnessing the rebirth, would you believe it, of meek underachievers Mumm-Ra. Sadly, the pompous nature of tonight’s overblown display suggest the White Lies formula is proving a tempting framework for also-rans.
Friday brought LA cocktail-punks Abe Vigoda at the regal Pavilion Theatre. Live, they manage to transform an unwieldy debut record into a balls-out belly-slap of good time rock’n’roll. Aided onstage at various points by the Vivian Girls, who had to literally drag members of the reluctant British audience onstage for the dance-off finale, the band fill their set with enough goof-ball dudeisms to posit themselves as the DIY Blink-182.
For all Joe Mount’s trend-obliterating dancefloor visions and increasingly heralded production credentials, when it comes to the live, ahem, arena, Metronomy usually amount to little more than a fun club sideshow. Tonight, however, following the departure of bassist Gabriel Stebbing, and in front of a sold-out 15,000 capacity Corn Exchange, his weirdo-electro-pop outfit transcends to the next tier of megaband status. Commencing with an intro sequence where each member takes the stage one-by-one to hold a single drone note on synth-man Oscar’s keyboard, as if inducting new drummer Anna Prior (ex-Lightspeed Champion) and bassist Gbenga Adelekan into the fold, it’s soon clear we’re watching a fully realised Metronomy. Songs like ‘A Thing For Me’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ sound meatier than ever before and, judging by his beaming eyes, Joe knows it.
Saturday sees NME first in line at the Audio willing Rogues to have more than one tune (‘Not So Pretty’) so they can counter the endless plague of pig-ugly indie bands and mutate into a Rapture-meets-McFly alt.boyband behemoth. Our wishes cruelly thwarted, it’s on to the basement of the Water Margin for Koko Von Napoo’s Champs Élysées-birthed branch of Topshop-electro-pop-punk. Just when you thought that axis had every last soupçon of interest jerked from its foundations, three robobabe Parisians go and remind us of how we watched The Teenagers’ ‘Homecoming’ video and wished the music was as cool as the visuals. The ebb-and-flow of their petite, pouting synths exudes a coy, eyelid battering allure that has the entire venue, regardless of persuasion, wondering whether to tap their toes or rub their thighs. The Teenagers, who apparently also played at some point, were of course in the front row looking, well, jealous. Never mind, lads – you’re in the right place to enjoy being a spare part. Yay for Brighton.