Groove Armada, Academy, Bristol
British Sea Power, Academy, Leeds
Groove Armada remind us that there's more to them than a song that goes well with canapés
Sunday 17 October 2010
A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4's Come Dine with Me released a triple album of music for dinner parties, intended to soundtrack the purchaser's home entertaining from the soup course on.
And there, bang up top, second track on the "Starters" disc, are Groove Armada.
It's unfortunate positioning for a band who have taken a long time to shake off the curse of being known as dinner-party music ever since Tony Blair and Cherie Booth revealed that they liked to play GA's "At the River" (the offending song on the compilation CD). But it's also a reminder of how far they've come.
When I think of Groove Armada these days, I don't think of New Labour nibbling canapés. I think of genius electronic pop. And, after tonight, I'll think of a literally dazzling live show. For this is the last time Tom Findlay and Andy Cato will ever tour as a band, and they've spared no expense. As soon as the first beat kicks in, you're blinded by banks of old school rave lasers and football floodlights, while singer Saint Saviour, dressed in a Tron-inspired sci-fi body suit, brandishes a frankly superfluous hand torch.
From the off, Groove Armada are a shamelessly euphoric experience, every track sending endorphins flooding through your veins, every thumping electro-house track pulling that trick of sounding as if it's so loud that the batteries are dying on the off-beat, or as though the speaker is being swung around rhythmically on a lasso.
You're left wondering why Groove Armada never quite made it to the B-Jaxx/Prodge/Chemical Bros level of popularity. Absolutely everything's in place. The two songs which, more than any others, turned my opinion around are delivered next to each other tonight. The storming "Song 4 Mutya" is performed with only the cruellest snatch of the scowling Sugababe, but the peerless "Paper Romance", recorded with new electro baton-carriers Fenech-Soler, is an epic, the whole room joining the petulant yelp of "Chere, you can write me a love letter, but there's nothing to say ...". Why wasn't it a massive hit? What is wrong with you people? (OK, it takes half an hour to get to the chorus. But apart from that?)
That song gives way to the Mode-meets-Laura Branigan, mittel-Eighties sound of "History", a song which even makes Will Young sound cool. By the time they encore with "At the River", Cato parping on his trombone like an Aristocat, warmongers couldn't be further from your mind.
There aren't many bands whose singer can carry off a tangerine kagoule on stage and genuinely have you believe they're preparing for a field trip to a glacier rather than following a chav fashion trend. Nor are there many bands whose bassist can sport a brown leather flying cap and have you thinking of David Niven in A Matter of Life and Death rather than Roy "Chubby" Brown. But there aren't many bands like British Sea Power, full stop.
The treasured Cumbrian curios will be releasing their fifth album in the new year, entitled Valhalla Dancehall ("It's a mythical place...", they explain in a short film on their website, "where you'd imagine Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Thor having a great time together"), and it's trailed tonight with "Pyrex", an attack on apathy which begins "Were you not told? Did you not know? Everything around you is being sold", and rises to the refrain of "Sometimes I wish protesting was sexy on a Saturday night..."
It's an uncommonly direct statement from a band who habitually eschew the obvious: witness "Canvey Island" which, with deftness of touch, expresses their terror of climate change by invoking a 1953 flood in which "many lives were lost, with the records of a football team", and which gives me shivers which cannot be explained away by overzealous air con.
The pioneers of ornithology rock (tonight's set includes "The Great Skua") are never less than compelling, the haunted, lidless gaze of the brothers Yan and Hamilton focusing the attention, their stirringly anthemic rock filled out these days by Abi Fry's John Cale-like viola drone.
"Waving Flags", their articulate counter-argument to Mail immigration paranoia, is echoed by a vintage Polish flag. A heart-bursting "Carrion" makes death by drowning feel valorous, almost erotic: "Oh, the heavy water, how it enfolds/The salt, the spray, the gorgeous undertow..."
On their traditional set-closer, "Spirit of St Louis", Leeds-bred Noble amuses his home-town crowd by falling comically into the photo pit when trying some foot-on-the-barrier heroics. He isn't even drunk.
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