Seeing a new band live for the first time, especially in the dawn of their career, is an incredibly exciting thing. There’s a sense of what might be, the possibility of discovery. In the country’s smaller venues you can see bands up close, look into the whites of their eyes, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll know you’ve found one. One you’ll follow, their songs sound- tracking your life. One that you know will create further excitement; the wait for the album, the next gig, or as they appear on the radio, shattering some mundane moment and sending your mind right back to that first time you saw them. So, on a Friday night in Manchester, that’s what the NME Awards Tour offers. Four bands, none of which I’ve seen before.
Looking at the list of bands that have played under the NME Awards Tour banner prior to this year is like reading a who’s who of recent indie music. Bands that weren’t headliners include Coldplay (first on, in what is now referred to as the Coldplay slot. Other occupants include Florence and the Machine, The Coral and The Vaccines), Arctic Monkeys (booked before the album came out, toured after) and The Horrors. It’s unclear if the NME have a brilliant eye for the next bands we should be excited about, or if getting a spot on the tour opens up opportunities for new bands to play to audiences that would’ve otherwise been missed. Either way it’s hard to argue with the tour’s record.
As Edwin Starr’s War rang out through the PA system, telling the still half empty venue it’s good for absolutely nothing, I instantly liked Peace. The Birmingham four piece were saying to me: if War’s no good, Peace must be the answer. The six song set started with ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and I was grabbed by the swirling guitar sounds and passionate delivery of the chorus by front man Harrison Koisser. Most of the crowd stood and watched for the first couple of tracks but things went up a notch when the first three rows found themselves bouncing along to the pounding drum beat of ‘Bloodshake’. Earlier, in his slow drawl, Harrison Koisser had told us “Manchester, I think I like you.” But after the reaction to ‘Wraith’, the bands best known track, with its repetitive, almost electronic riff, Koisser was telling us he’d fallen in love. ‘California Daze’ followed. Full of harmonies, it’s a slow starting, melodic, almost dreamy tune. It shows the band’s softer side, the lyric “She tastes like sunshine” standing out. Next single, ‘Follow Baby’, closed the set. It’s rockier and there’s a Stone Roses guitar feel to it and the line “We’re gonna live forever” which, in Manchester, goes down well.
There was a sense of expectation about Palma Violets. The crowd was bigger, packed tighter. I have to admit to worrying about this set. I’d convinced myself it couldn’t live up to expectations. The band who’s ‘Best Of Friends’ was the NME track of 2012, the band who I’d heard compared to the Libertines on more than one occasion, the overall hype. They couldn’t be that good. Could they? The Carl and Pete references are obvious from the start. Sam Fryer and Chilli Jesson feed off each each and their energy levels spill over into the crowd. They gather together in the middle of the stage and deliver fast paced songs, with screamed, urgent vocals, as if the band can’t wait any longer for us to hear them. The set peaks in the middle. The crowd recognise the start of ‘Best Of Friends’ and there’s a big cheer, like welcoming an old friend who’s just walked back into the local. The song gives us the night’s first sing along. The song’s title, the joint vocals and the interaction with the crowd give the sense that we’re all in it together. It’s at this point I start to understand the hype around this band. It’s about the connection with the people. ‘Step Up For The Cool’ and ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ (Best of Friends B-side) follow. The vocals on the latter are clearer and the haunting keyboards give it a slower feel. I hope the album, ‘180’, along with capturing the raw energy of this great live show, can also offer something similar.
Here comes Miles Kane; dressed in white jeans and a white shirt, he still manages to look cool. New single ‘Give Up’ opens the fast paced set. There’s no break, no time for rest between the first four songs. The scratchy guitar sounds of ‘Kingcrawler’ are followed by ‘First Of My Kind’. I wondered as the song started whether it’d miss the brass section from the recorded version but the band’s energy give it a different angle. Kane stops to say hello before the start of ‘Quicksand’. This is brilliant, infectious pop that gets the crowd singing and dancing. Kane’s tight band is set up to showcase him, and his rhythm and bass players stand either side of him, routed to the spot, allowing Kane the space between for his movement and crowd play. Their only involvement comes when the rhythm guitarist takes over the chorus vocals for ‘Rearrange’ to allow Kane to show off his solo skills. The song is another sing along on top of the wah wah guitars.
I thought there would be more banter between songs from Kane, more of the Scouse wit and charm that comes across so easily in interviews. But not headlining, his set is restricted to 45 minutes and it’s all about fitting in as many songs as possible. The set is a mix of tracks from 2011’s ‘Colour Of The Trap’ and new stuff. The best of which, ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’, is next. Its verses are a stomp and the catchy chorus will, at later gigs become something of a crowd favourite, I’m sure. As the band build into ‘Inhaler’, Kane stands in front of his mic, and says “here we fucking go” before jumping up high in the air and starting the driving riff. The passionate delivery is of a man enjoying himself, getting back from the crowd what he’s given them. He teases a few fans by faking to throw an inhaler towards them. Arms go up, desperate for the souvenir. He turns away and throws it to the other side of the crowd, smiling. The finale is a bass heavy jam session; the onstage lights flash rapidly and a long drum roll builds into ‘Come Closer’. There’s more crowd interaction, more back and forward singing and as the song ends the band members leave Miles stood on stage, alone with the crowd. Him: “Whoa Ahhah.” Them: “Whoa Ahhah.” And again. And again.
The stage now empty, for a brief moment I think: Should I get some white jeans? The thought goes as quickly as it appeared, knowing it takes a man cooler than me to pull them off.
At 10:15pm the four members of Edinburgh’s Django Django take the stage for the biggest gig they’ve done in Manchester, dressed identically in black shirts with white patterns. The opening track is a sign of things to come. It’s a fusion of sound; jungle noises, pounding drums and heavy bass lines. Its dance and electronic, weird and wonderful. It’s also a deviation from the night’s earlier bands. ‘Storm And Firewater’, the hypnotic third track, built upon its glam rock drum beat, followed by ‘Waveforms’. It’s here the stage show starts to take more of a role. The backdrop of four white pull down blinds are used to project light and images out over the crowd, yellow lettering of the word ‘Waveforms’ appearing on high reaching hands.
Django Django mix sounds, genre even, pushing the boundaries of pop. It’s experimental, psychedelic and dancy. But at the set’s midpoint they start to lose me, the songs merging into one a little. Front man Vinny Niff bangs a tribal drum and bass player Jimmy Dixon dances around shaking maracas as the sound of a gale blows over the stage. The lack of rhythm guitar means the songs lose some focus. In other parts of the set the guitar grooves a straight line through the songs as other more interesting sounds bend and twist around. That said, the crowd at the front are enjoying themselves, moving to the music. Things pick up again for ‘Default’. The song’s energy and vocal delivery make it the highlight. The return of the guitar is no coincidence. The same can be said of ‘Life’s A Beach’ and ‘The Closer Woh’.
It’s easy to see why Django Django earned a Mercury Prize nomination for their self-titled debut. I suspect as the venues grow and the stages get bigger, their live show will become something very impressive to witness. In terms of discovery, I’ve found a band that are good at what they do but haven’t left me feeling like I’ve found one to follow.Review by Steven Kedie - www.stevenkedie.com