Live at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday, 19th March 2002
The annual Bright Young Things showcase has been very much like a 'Kinder Surprise' over the last few years - yes you may look back fondly enough, but you'd rather have a 'Fizzy Cola Bottle' (Futuresound competition) or even a 'Flying Saucer' (local band nite at Joseph's Well) because, at the end of the day, while the 'Kinder Egg' promises much, open it up and a crappy toy that you play with for five minutes and then lose down the back of the sofa is all that confronts you. Of course there's always the chocolate; current NME darlings The Music won the event a few years back when it was still a 'battle of the bands' as did the excellent Star Bodixa, but in general Bright Young Things has been disappointing, particularly recently.
This year however the council seem to have got things right - not only has the overall standard of the bands chosen to participate risen dramatically but they've also reinstated the live gigs as part of the package and opened up the excellent 'Crypt' venue for the occasion. "Golly!".
First up tonite, for the second in the series of showcase gigs, are Icarus Smith. Obviously determined to win the much-coveted 'most indie name in the world' award, the band originally come from Hull but moved to Leeds to "increase their profile and be heard" (I like them already; shows how far the local music scene has come in the last few years when bands are actually making the decision to move here).
Although not particularly original (they follow the same distortion drenched, quiet-loud-quiet formula that bands such as Sonic Youth patented over a decade ago) and apparently possessing the sort of 'extremely interesting shoes' that condemned various members of Slowdive, Chapterhouse and My Bloody Valentine to a life spent in and out of the 'cricked neck' department of the local general infirmary, there is something about Icarus Smith that holds the attention.
At regular intervals throughout their twenty five minute set we are treated to a glimpse of what, given time and practise, could be a very good band indeed; occasionally the band will 'click', shifting up several gears (as on the instrumental ending of the closing song tonite) or a truly original melody fragment will emerge from the rather muddy mix. However this does not happen often enough at the moment and the bands flaws are rather too obvious - they need to learn how to end songs (the majority tonite splutter to a halt as each individual member of the band chooses to stop at seemingly random moments) and the addition of backing vocals would help, given the singers distinctly average voice. That said Icarus Smith are clearly talented - if they can find a way of translating their potential into songs that are consistently good then they have a bright future ahead.
Next up are Draco. I'm sure many people will appreciate their blending of 'Roll With It' style Oasis with the occasional bit of pop/punk but it's not for me I'm afraid. To be fair they're a reasonably tight band and the backing vocals provided by drummer Johnny Lamb are extremely good (although a bit more variety would be nice - pretty much every song has harmonies a third above the main vocal line, from start to finish). And if you can ignore the fact that they register eleven on the cheese-o-meter ("but it's alright, please get out of my way, but it's alright, save it for another day") Draco have some pretty catchy melodies, just not my cup of tea I guess.
Third band tonite are the acoustic rock quartet Beautiful Feet. Apparently their "music has developed out of long golden hours of unadorned acoustic simplicity, strummed out amongst friends or cultured in solitude" bah! Thankfully they're better at writing music than they are at penning biographies.
Sounding like David Gray's band fronted by Brian Molko (and occasionally blokey from the Levellers), Beautiful Feet fit pretty nicely into the so-called 'New Acoustic Movement' which seems to have struck a chord with record buyers not enamoured with 'The Bizkit' et al. And very good they are too if a little bland at times (particularly the first few songs). A cover of 'California Dreamin'' suggests that a there's a future on the lucrative 'weddings, birthdays and bar mitzvahs' circuit should the record companies fail to come knocking. On this showing, however, the band has a reasonable chance of success although they would benefit from a few more memorable 'choons' if they're truly going to stand out from the numerous acoustic rock bands around at the moment.
Following on from Beautiful Feet are LaserKid. Although some fine bands had played already tonite it would be fair to say that LaserKid blew me away, or to be more precise, their singer blew me away. Frontman Monyaca Serutla is such a fucking star I swear several planets orbit his head! Sounding like the bastard offspring of Shaun Ryder and Chuck D the guy's gonna be more famous than God in the next few years! Dressed in a bright yellow Brazil football shirt he zips around the stage like a banana on speed, possessing the sort of self-belief that comes from having the skills to, not only pay the bills, but also buy a small country in Eastern Europe.
As for 'the other three', they do a nice line in white-boy funk, more in the style of the Happy Mondays than Jamiroquai (this is A GOOD THING), and are the easily the most professional band here tonite. Unfortunately sometimes this professionalism works against them; all too often where they should shuffle they plod and occasionally the faint whiff of 'session musicianship' seems to pervade the air (this is most definitely NOT A GOOD THING).
Stand out track 'Little Bit Criminal' will have Guy Ritchie reaching for his chequebook however; there's definite potential here and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them snapped up by a record label in the coming months. The problem seems to me that Serulta makes a good local band a great band, which is fine as long as the other members of LaserKid don't mind taking a back seat...
A hard act to follow then for Design who round up tonites proceedings. First off - yes it's an appalling name, but the band quickly allay my fears that they're a piss-poor Manics tribute act by coming on to a ferocious drum loop and entering into a sort of Slipknot meets Massive Attack sludge. Top marks for originality at least.
Not sure why they have two guitarists and two M.C.'s though; it's impossible to tell them apart, further muddying up the sound until the effect is akin to that of being buried up to your forehead in a swamp next to a very busy steelworks. Perhaps this is what they were aiming for? Once again not really my thing, but most definitely worth a listen.
Top nite then. The council seems to have finally got things right (well nearly; it would be nice if they involved LMS and the Yorkshire Evening Post!), all the bands deserved to be here at the Crypt and it's refreshing to see so many different styles on the same bill. Let's just hope the final showcase next week can keep up the high standards set by the first two gigs.