Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Knives' draw

The Young Knives/Goodbooks/27Brigade, Loughborough University, 10th May

The Young Knives in Loughborough. This was never going to be missable, was it? The University Student Union is much like any other SU venue in that there's comfy seating at the back which the locals know to colonise and the main floor part has clearly not been designed with music performance in mind, but the sound is excellent and with a raised area behind the mixing desk nobody has a properly obstructed view. The only out of place oddity is the smoke machine overhead that gets turned on at irregular intervals.

Local heroes 27Brigade describe themselves second hand as "Libertines/Dirty Pretty Things dancing with the Kings of Leon and BRMC", so you can already see which ballpark they're placing themselves in. And that's the parameters where they stay for the duration of their set of undistinguished Baratisms where you can tell right from the start how the set will be made up. They're one of those bands who are frustrating even as an opener, in that they've got energy to burn and there's nothing openly offensive about them but at the same time you keep waiting for a spark that'll mark them out that never flickers in the way that similarly indebted fellow locals the Voom Blooms did for a couple of singles last year.

Announced as support the day before the gig after Larrikin Love's demise caused the cancellation of the Transgressive Roadshow they were signed up to, it's a good time to catch up with Goodbooks now they're a couple of major label singles down with their debut album recorded. In contrast to their Leicester Charlotte gig in front of twenty people in December as reviewed on here, they're keyed up by playing to a sold out, up for it crowd, some of whom who might have actually vaguely heard of them. Starting with what to me at the third time of seeing them is a new song they're more energetic than before, Max Cooke fair dancing around his mike to his band's precise electronically enhanced post-punk, seemingly undeterred when his guitar malfunctions during second song and offbeat anthem to come Alice. Not that they're short of offbeat anthems, as evidenced once again by surely single in waiting Passchendaele, "which no-one can spell and Annie Mac can't say", before Walk With Me, elevated to mid-set, gets the front finally moving. The new wave of post-new wave may finally be steadily evaporating but it looks more and more a shame that it might well take any chance of crossover success down before they've had a chance to prove that their clattering, electro-influenced angularities place them a cut above much better selling bands in the same ballpark. Indeed, if there is a flaw, it's that closer Turn It Back, which in its free download form cuts off at precisely the right time, ie the wrong time by most standards, has had a verse and proper bridge added which doesn't serve to improve it at all.

Being twelve miles from Ashby de la Zouch, Loughborough is as good a homecoming event as The Young Knives are likely to receive - indeed, Henry Dartnall's main recollection of the place is that he and the House Of Lords saw Three Colours Red there ten years previously, really pushing the boat out by stating a frankly unnecessary "we're better" in mitigation. Sartorially, while they still don't resemble any NME front cover star of the last twenty years the tweed of legend seems to now be off the radar, all three clad in matching white shirts and crimson ties suspiciously like the branded neckwear on sale at the back (alongside T-shirts declaring 'I AM THE PRINCE OF WALES' - I can't say I wasn't tempted). Sonically, having only seen them at festivals before with the inevitable open air sonic compromises it's striking how much effort the Dartnalls and drummer Oliver Askew put in, ripping into the jerky stop-start opener Part Timer in a full-throttle fashion that might not have shamed Chris McCormack himself. This is apparently their last proper UK gig to promote last year's excellent debut album Voices Of Animals And Men and it shows in the tightness of the trading of harmony vocals and in Henry's subtly bludgeoning riffs, Mystic Energy both joyfully twisting and full-on riffola in the chorus, against House's complementary bass runs.

The other element that is magnified in this situation is how capable they are of making chantalong call and response out of fairly unlikely lyrics, not least House's sterling lead vocal on The Decision. It's that love of the arcane lyrical structure allied to bitter feelings just under the surface rather than any direct post-punk affiliation that really earns them a comparative place alongside fellow quintessential English bands such as XTC and Wire. Three new songs, from a second album Henry assures us will be "really bad, as all second albums are", keep the formula working - Holiday will need further listens but Terra Firma, which appears to take a Kinksian swipe at class sarcasm through urgent guitar stabs, and Fit 4 U, which belies its unpromising title to take inspiration from the Jam's All Mod Cons and features their next great shoutalong bridge.

Of course, as much as all this is good to hear, it's the moment when House Of Lords informs us that "the next song is about this town" (Henry: "we'd thought about leaving it off, playing six encores and still not playing it") that's really drawn everyone here, and as such everyone at the front sings along to every word of Loughborough Suicide, meaning the trio can coast home, not that physically they're doing anything of the sort, with Coastguard and Weekends And Bleak Days before an encore sees a surprising and pleasing outing for acoustic but in no way delicate B-side Worcestershire Madman (think Blur at their most Syd Barrett-esque) before the chants of "you were screaming at your mum and I was punching your dad" are rewarded with She's Attracted To, Henry going positively screamo by the end of the celebrated repeated line. A successful homecoming, then, and one that underlines why this of all bands stands out from the crowd by dint of really not being like everyone else.


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