Live at The Refectory on Wednesday, 1st February 2006
It all sits a bit on knife-edge this one; I can't be the only one that feels it. The sweet, sweet taste of anticipation impregnates ever fibre of my body and, in empathy with a dog on heat, I pace round the Refec like a chained beast. Let me free, now.
And so the NME Awards Tour 2006 begins. I am, I feel, going to mix and match this review to suit and not necessarily review in order of bill... you can probably see where I am going with that... and I probably don't care!
The shot in the arm which stops my jittering and holds my stance is the magnificent and behemoth opening of The Mystery Jets. They're bloody crazy mad, these lot. With more pots and pans than a chef's larder they are musically unique; they need a crowd that loves them tonight, and that my reader is what they get.
Months back I caught The Mystery Jets live and the place was filled with a vague aura of bewilderment. Who the hell are they? And what gives them the right to alter my mind's interpretation of what a rock band should be? Questions that have since been dragged out and burned, for this is what a rock band should be.
The sound is mesmeric, Blaine Harrison sits triumphantly astride his throne of scrap smashing his way through the stout bass underbelly of each tune, Harrison Senior and Fish pound out filthy guitar riffs and a bottomless stream of sly keyboard pads which whip each song into a psychedelic frenzy. This is surely just the beginning for The Mystery Jets, I commit to myself on this cold winter's night to journey with them all the way.
We Are Scientists deserve much praise, for they have been dragging their Yankee heals through the dirt for some time now, 6 years or more. Now that said it isn't wholly unusual for bands to kick about in the lower leagues for that length of time... but seriously, when they are this good what they hell have we all been missing?
Their music is frolicsome and instantly danceable. It's music to make love to, music to tango too and maybe, just maybe, music to kill to. They rattle out riff after riff of utter deliciousness. Jaunty guitar straddles aside lusty beats and bangs and the impressive all-American drawl of the enigmatic front man Keith Murray.
They converse candidly with the crowd, tell tales on their new found roomies The Mystery Jets and banter like siblings. And all this alongside playing some monstrous rock and roll and converting 80% of the room into a new pre-packaged fan base. Fantastic stuff.
Maximo Park headline. They are fit for this slot, I am assured, and they have with them a merry band of fans which hold aloft the Maximo torch. Don't disappoint those loyal to your throne and play second fiddle tonight boys, got it? Good.
The crowd is vastly moister than it was only a few short shakes ago, and my heart by this stage I feel is verging on exploding. So Maximo Park, do, in true Geordie fashion set about decimating any last scrap of my life. The mantra is frantic rock and roll; the gaps are filled in by some lusty vocals from Scobby and plenty of good old-fashioned "death by bleeding ears" basslines and frenzied guitar.
If ever the crowd needed an excuse to surge and sway some more, then "Graffiti" applies the suitable ammo. It's like been 14 again, bopping around like a carefree indie-kid. No people really, I am a real person now, I have a job and a mortgage and everything. This is just my drug. During "Apply Some Pressure" I loose a shoe, the kid next to me looses an eye, and we are all as happy as sand-boys that it should end this way. There was rumour of a bill change before today, who the hell even thought of that idea should be shot, for the Park were worthy of this podium.
Now it's pretty unknown for me to join on-line forums and spend hours tapping away on the old qwerty, chatting to fellow disenchanted music lovers, and it's not usual for me to risk live and wife to get tickets to see the next big thing, to scrabble over eBay touts and wake up at crazy o'clock to make sure my presence will be felt. And it sure is as rare as a Nun in a brothel that I buy 2 CD singles in a row. So what possessed me to do all these things over the past 12 months? Who the hell has the cheek to come in and try and steal my musical soul, to mess with my jittery heart and then to skip of down the lane for a kebab?
Welcome to the world of the Arctic Monkeys people. A mental, competitive land which teems with snarly "get a piece of the hype reporters" and proud, slightly confused "we've been here since the beginning" converse kids - all brawling for a slice of the action. So on this night lest I forget that behind the madness there is a humble Yorkshire band that did this to me, to us.
Ladies and Gentlemen, behold the Arctic Monkeys.
Fever pitch does the atmosphere little description, for the Refec positively hums with nerves. I jostle to near as damnit the front row and await my fate. For it is my God given right to jump and push, as it is good gig etiquette to try and implant your elbow in someone's face at least once a pit rendezvous. Queue the Sheffield scallies, the first bars of "Scummy" (When The Sun Goes Down) - and all hell breaks loose.
The next 45 minutes of my life, my music soul enters a new plethora of Euphoria. My voice strains to sing with my heroes, and my lungs collapse, twice. I am trampled on, tipped over, slapped, punched, tickled and licked. And I don't give a damn.
"Still Take You Home" borders on perfection. I've loved this tune like my own baby for a feckin' age, and it seems my new found dancing partners have too, for we all jig and sway like the skittish, overstrung kids we have suddenly morphed into. The lyrics are genius and twisted "But I'm struggling, I can't see through your fake tan. And you know it for a fact that everybody's eating out of your hands".
"A Certain Romance" which has been slightly tweaked and slowed for the now record-breaking album looses none of the ferocious, ramshackle chaos which first attracted my beating heart back on a demo early last year. Its bitter-sweet lyrical footprint surrounded by utter musical destruction.
It's tired and lazy to cite the internet for the phenomenal rise of these scamps, for at last count approximately 18 billion bands had MySpace sites and the increasing trend (and a very positive one) to offer fans free access to early work is ever widespread. So the answer, sorry tabloids, is just not that commercial. For you still have to have the music to back up these promotional gambits.
And that is where the secret, or lack of it, lies. Honest music, which people like me can relate to. Tales of pool hall scraps and sticky nightclub dancefloors, fights with the missus and shopkeeper lust. It's all real. The sometimes intriguing, more often than not boring lives we live. We walk these stories out everyday, everywhere, and finally someone has bottled it and started to sing about it.
So I can scream "Mardy Bum" at the top of my lungs, 'cos sometimes my better half does take her bat home and give me that look - "I'm in trouble again, aren't I? I thought as much". It involves me, you see. It's not just pedestal rock stars harping on about how bloody cruel the world is to them, or what we should do about the state of the world.
My new mates and me are pretty much dead by the end of the set, we just manage to brush ourselves off in time to cheer on a mighty Maximo Park.
The last time music made by heart skip like this was the first time I saw The Libertines. I knew I was invincible and involved in something special that evening. But it was short lived; smack got involved and cruelly pissed on my fire.
With the Monkeys it's different, I know it is. The End has no end.