“I’m rubbish at stage banter,” confesses main Answering Machine Martin sheepishly after another self-deprecating attempt at repartee fails miserably. So, Manchester’s answer to Los Campesinos!, for public oratory: nil points. The name also, no good. How about showmanship? Again, they fall at the first hurdle, looking less animated than their very own celebrity in his own right drum machine Mustafa, who at least begrudgingly flashes his LEDs every few seconds.
But this is 2007, and if the hallowed Monkeys can survive with the charisma of a house brick, why not these, who clearly possess a comparable arsenal of tunes. From the Strokesian fizz of ‘Oklahoma’ to the, erm, Strokesian fizz of ‘Your Home Address’ – so sugary sweet it leaves us wondering when our next dental appointment is – tonight scribbles all over the NYC’s punk pioneers’ template with Radio Dept and Shout Out Louds-coloured crayons.
Throughout the course of one schizophrenic half hour they wrap dark and morose lyrics in bundles of ribbon-wrapped sunshine pop – little juicy apples with diseased cores – and toss them out into the crowd with gleeful abandon. ‘It’s Over, It’s Over’, for example, might detail in excruciating depth the heartache of breaking up with someone, but they deploy enough glorious chiming guitars to raise a smile on the face of the most distraught jilted lover. ‘Silent Hotels’, meanwhile, steals wholesale the riff from Los Campesinos!’ ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, and its three-way chant of “I drink until I’m sick in this city” couldn’t sound desperately sweeter if it was crooned by Paris Hilton on parole day.
And if the issues here are more fucked up than the diary of a would-be school shooter, no-one’s told the band, who beam like choirboys from start to finish, unfazed by persistent heckling, batting the bizarre calls of ‘John Fashanu’ right back at the crowd with “awoogas” in the chorus and just ignoring completely the section of people that’s singing Cribs songs loudly.
Zero charisma, someone else’s fans, and the weirdest heckles we’ve ever heard, but one of the most triumphant gigs of the year.