Shockwaves NME Awards Tour 2009: Glasvegas/Friendly Fires/White Lies/Florence And The Machi

It's four for one and one for all as our drama/doom/disco revuew gets rolling. Academy, Glasgow, Friday, January 30

Here we… here we… here we fucking go… Here we… here we… here we fucking go…”

Of course it begins like this: in the pubs, on the stroll down to the venue, in the boys’ toilets, in the front row before a chord has been struck by anyone, it’s all you can hear.

One suspects – tonight at least – that Glasgow’s newest heroes are not as worried as Maximo Park were back in 2006 about being upstaged by touring partners Arctic Monkeys. The first-ons will in two weeks hold aloft a Brit Award after just two singles, the next band are celebrating a Number One album and the second headliners are fast garnering a reputation for being one of the most exciting live bands on the planet, but initially this most impressive Shockwaves NME Awards tour line-up for years feels in distinct danger of being reduced to ‘Glasvegas plus support’.

Florence Welch, however, is not the kind of kook to go down without one hell of a fight. Add to tonight’s location the twin NME Awards Tour traditions that a) the opening act MUST go on to world domination and b) they will go on ludicrously early and thus play to an initially half-empty room, and you might expect her to be worried, but… well, anyone who has encountered Florence And The Machine thus far will be very aware that lack of confidence does not really feature heavily in their leader’s shtick.

On a stage that will shortly house its fair share of doomy black-clad types, her quite spectacular ballgown and the flowers strewn everywhere are a neat contrast. Eschewing any cover versions in favour of a host of songs from her forthcoming James Ford/Paul Epworth/quite-possibly-some-other-almost-comically-cool type-produced debut also proves a brave-but-wise move. A closing salvo of ‘Kiss With A Fist’

and ‘Dog Days Are Over’ ends with Florence apologising for jumping in the crowd and spilling some petrified sap’s pint, ensuring a lasting first impression is made.

“So exactly HOW many of you lot have had – in fact, do have – a Number One album? None of you? Sure, Mr Allan, Number Two is pretty darn good, but it’s not NUMBER ONE is it, you miserable fuck! Ha ha haaaaah!” These, obviously, are not the words that fly from the lips of Harry McVeigh as he takes to the stage, but just the fact that they could be is kind of enough. White Lies are riding high off the back of ‘To Lose My Life…’’s initial triumph and it’s gonna take more than an away crowd to bring them down.

It helps immeasurably, of course, that their thing is wearing black and making dark-hearted rock’n’roll that comes on a little like tonight’s headliners with added Ultravoxian polish. It helps even more immeasurably that Harry’s voice and his band’s songs are quite patently built to fill rooms 60 times this size. ‘To Lose My Life…’ is massive’; ‘Unfinished Business’ gargantuan. Can we say “widescreen” yet?

Now, if we were taking “great live band” in the conventional sense of those words, Friendly Fires would be the best band on this bill by a mile. They have grooves, they have basslines, they have a hired-in brass section, they have a frontman who is rapidly mutating into the closest thing 2009 has to a ’64-era Mick Jagger; they even have, contained within ‘Paris’, a chorus that achieves the not insubstantial feat of being serious contender for most histrionic of the night. They know, as they say in disco-punk circles, how to get a ‘motherfuckin’’ party started. They must do, because even in the middle of an anthemic glum-rock sandwich, they manage to make an entire room of people who have come to listen to songs about death, funerals and missing dads dance to a song called ‘Jump In The Pool’. And that’s jumping into the pool in the “isn’t jumping into the pool the best thing EVER?” sense, not the “hopefully I’ll drown and end this all right now” sense. By the end, Ed Macfarlane has dripped enough sweat to fill, if not a Duran Duran-sized pool, then at least a mid-sized paddling pool. Which is still more than anyone else on this bill can say.

And then something strange happens: the chiming guitars of ‘Geraldine’ start up and Glasvegas fall completely flat. People start leaving in droves, as though everyone in the venue has had their memories erased and… OK, we’re pulling your leg. Of course the headline set is a verging-on-the-religious love-in, a sense-of-unity experience

that from start to finish it is impossible not to become involved in.

Mentioning individual songs seems unfair, as tonight they’re all part of the collective euphoria, but if you’re asking then the peak of the set feels like the slow-building, mesmerising ‘Flowers And Football Tops’, with a special mention going to ‘Go Square Go’, just for the sheer volume of the aforementioned “Here we…” coda. In fact, ‘Fuck You, It’s Over’ might top it, just for bassist Paul Donoghue’s aunt (age: 70) punching along to the expletive-laced chorus.

In fact… awww, look: this is not the time or the place for reasoned assessment. Funnily enough, it’s probably just us pondering how interesting it is that, in the live setting, James Allan’s delicate, awkward songs of introspection are reborn as beer-soaked anthems of a type not dissimilar to those of Oasis. Everyone else is too busy waiting, arms around each other, alcohol and you’re-me-mates tears falling down their faces, for the quiet bit in ‘Daddy’s Gone’.


Hamish MacBain