'The weather man said it's colder than Antarctica," singer Steve Adams says, thanking the crowd for turning up. Broken Family Band are never without a dedicated following – they comfortably sell out large venues like KOKO and Scala – but it's actually the intimate atmosphere of smaller spaces (albeit packed tonight) that suits them best. Four albums and eight years into their career, the four piece have found themselves without a record label; despite the critical praise showered on them, the band members have proudly kept their day jobs throughout.
Their last album, in 2007, Hello Love, was their liveliest to date, building on the alt-country of their earlier releases, but tonight they play only a sprinkling of songs from it, preferring to dip into earlier and new material. If their moniker refers to dysfunctional families, the band are anything but. Adams does not stalk the limelight; whenever the drummer or excellent lead guitarist have a prominent part, he turns to face them, his back to the crowd. Attention focuses on drummer Mick Roman in "Son of the Man" when he builds up the drums, his sticks pointing in awkward directions as he raps the cymbals and drums at an impressive pace.
"Borrowed Time" gets cheers of recognition and is an exhilarating rowdy live version that almost drowns out the vocals. They hurtle through "Booze and the Drugs", another lively song led by Adams' strumming.
The sardonic lyrics of "St Albans" amuse – it's hardly as though they hail from the coolest of cities, being from Cambridge. They specialise in this kind of irony, helped along by the deadpan delivery of their likeable front man who proves himself the natural entertainer when the bass runs into problems and puts the music on hold.
"If we've ever done an earnest song it is probably this one," Adams says before they launch into "Hey Captain!" Shimmering guitar bursts into full heart-warming sound. But "John Belushi" is just as affecting. The gentle touching alt-country song is saved for the encore, its playful intelligent lyrics best displaying the band's knack for penning human tales of life, and the troubled relationships and regrets that come with it.
When the crowd starts to sing along to the chorus it's the most moving and joyous moment of the show. On such a cold winter's night, Broken Family Band excel in warming up the crowd before they brace the colder-than-Antarctica air.