Lightspeed Champion, The Joiners, Southampton
Glasvegas, UCCA, Canterbury
He's super, he's furry, but he's not much of an animal: Devonte Hynes doesn't do sex or booze – but he did reinvent rock'n'roll
Sunday 17 February 2008
The impassioned suitor approaches the frumpy secretary. He removes the pin from her hair bun, shakes her tresses free, removes the unflattering horn-rimmed spectacles, gazes into her eyes and gasps: "But Miss Attwell... you're beautiful!"
In so many ways, that is the story of Devonte Hynes. The man who essentially is Lightspeed Champion was once a member of Test Icicles, the metal-techno lunatics, and admits that he formed the band as a "joke" and that their records were "shit". True as that may be, Test Icicles were one of the most influential shit jokes in recent history, having spawned the nu-rave movement more or less single-handedly.
They split too soon to reap the rewards, and for the movement's big 12 months, Hynes watched the aftermath from the sidelines. You'd see him around London occasionally, wallflowering at parties, his head growing gradually, through beard growth and a big fur trapper's hat, till its silhouette was huge, like the Elephant Man.
Tonight, he still has the big furry hat, but he's bothered to have a shave, and when he takes off the milk-bottle glasses, it's striking how pretty he is. ("But Mr Hynes... you're beautiful!). This story is about a different kind of blossoming, though. Lightspeed Champion's debut album Falling Off Lavender Bridge, with its lo-fi orchestral melodies and bedroom-bound despondency laced with gentle humour, has made friends Test Icicles never could. The appeal of his Lightspeed persona is almost Morrisseyesque. (Hynes is a teetotaller with a phobia of sex, so the comparison bears fairly close scrutiny.)
"We're going to start off with a new song," he tells Southampton. "Hope you enjoy it. It's about prostitutes." This, aside from being somewhat redundant (aren't all Lightspeed Champion songs new?), is a nice illustration of Devonte's deadpan charm. And the lyric that follows – "the next guy who comes through my door might strangle me" – highlights the deceptive sharpness behind the slacker demeanour. See also "My drawings are starting to suck/My best friends are all listening to crunk" (which deals with the cultural expectations of what a young black man is supposed to be into).
His band may be anything up to a six-piece (it's difficult to tell whether the people loitering on stage, like the guy in a Ninja Turtles bobble hat who looks like Sid from Skins, are actually members or just mates), but Hynes, with his vulnerable, motherable presence, is a one-man show.
He's a subtly skilled raconteur, reminiscing about his amateur acting days performing a "shitty homosexual drama", then introduces the next song as being "about a shitty homosexual drama". Seamless. He makes a Heath Ledger joke, gets booed for it, then laughingly asks, "Too soon? Too soon." Textbook.
Between the lovely latest single "Tell Me What It's Worth" and the closing "Midnight Surprise", he muses, "Is it sacrilegious to turn Jeff Buckley off for Star Wars?" and then, by the simple catalyst of asking what everyone's favourite Star Wars film is, almost causes a mass brawl. It's always the quiet ones you have to watch.
Just when you thought the concept of "emotion" in alt-pop had been irreversibly annexed by American emo bands with pained vocalists, overlong song titles and a "merch" deal with Hot Topic, along comes something to blast that notion clean out of the water. It's called Glasvegas.
"They start with that song that sounds like an old song," say my notes. It's only later that I realise that all Glasvegas songs sound like old songs. This isn't a problem. It may be true that many of the new century's smartest bands have been retro-futurists, returning to a previous era's idea of what the future might sound like, and taking it on to that hypothetical parallel universe. Glasvegas go back to a previous era's idea of what the past ideally should have sounded like, a never-never pop world where the Crystals and the Stooges were two sides of the same dime.
From the off, there's something very mid-Eighties about Glasvegas. Moments before they appear, a smoke machine, backlit with one red spot pointing upward from the floor, fills the stage, and it occurs to me that I haven't seen this much dry ice at an indie gig since Nigel Lawson was chancellor.
There's no escaping it: Glasvegas are very Jesus and Mary Chain, even more so live than on record, the feedback coming to the fore. (Although, when they sculpt the feedback into a lead instrument, they have more in common with JAMC's successors, My Bloody Valentine.)
What sets Glasvegas apart from both bands is the emotional resonance of James Allan's uncomfortably candid lyrics, and the lump-in-throat passion with which he delivers them: "My good friend ecstasy doesn't work, it makes you worse/I'm feeling so guilty about the things I said to my mum when I was 10 years old/I'm feeling so guilty about any old shit/And how I think my missus is fucking every guy that she looks at ..."
These aren't kids (kedds, as they would pronounce it). Solid Scots with tall, slightly quiffy Smiths-fan flat-tops, they're grown-ups, if not exactly old as such: an unkind person might speculate that this explains the smoke and red gel. And they aren't fakers either: the fact that every song is sung in an uncompromised Glaswegian accent somehow makes their sincerity all the more convincing.
It must be admitted that they're dying like Thomas à Becket here. Allan attempts some banter about how nice Canterbury is, but he's drowned out by the chatter of freshers trying to cop off with each other. One girl, who is listening, uncharitably heckles, "Subtitles!"
But these are the baby steps of a soon-to-be-adored band. This, I imagine, is what the legendary early Dexys gigs must have been like. Pearls before swine, and what pearls they are.
Glasvegas's pop classicism (think Brill Building, think Greenwich-Barry-Spector) and their textures (guitars like a vat of clear honey, drums like a big tub of ice cream) are delicious, and there's a hymnal quality to their songs which more than justifies how worked up some people are getting about this band.
At the end, they stop fannying about, 'fess up, and actually play "Be My Baby". Influences on one sleeve. Hearts on the other.
For more information and tour dates go to myspace.com/lightspeedchampion and myspace.com/glasvegas
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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