Despite having dedicated social media and YouTube followings, and achieving a decent level of commercial success, Bastille – a London-based four-piece fronted by singer-songwriter Dan Smith – is not the darling of most critics.
And the first of two live shows at Brixton Academy (“The biggest room we’ve ever played,” says Smith) only adds considerable weight to the many reproaches levelled at their music. Beginning with “Bad Blood”, the title track from the 2012 debut album, the band lurches between indie, pop, emo, nu-metal, club-friendly dance and plenty more. Usually, to be indefinable would be a positive description. But for Bastille, it is just a label for a sound that tries hard to tick many boxes, and ends up leaving them all blank – like a bad Eurovision song.
Throwing out one of their most popular radio hits early on, “Things We Lost in the Fire” has the crowd – mostly clean-cut ex-public schoolers in their late twenties – singing, clapping and jumping around. Most appear completely entranced – eyes fixed on Smith as he flicks the hood of his jumper up and down depending on how urban he wants to look – but it is difficult to understand why. Despite adding a string section, the result is less effective than the recorded version. It is a song that Florence + the Machine would make ethereal and epic (if it was not so repetitive) but in Bastille’s hands it is flat and frankly, dull.
“Overjoyed”, featuring Smith on keys, is next, with the band concentrated around the percussion section, followed by some new songs. Most are forgettable but one that is memorable for all the wrong reasons sees the band venture into what can only be described as Sean Paul territory. The result is truly, truly terrible – to the point where the band loses the crowd, some of who stand looking at each other in wide-eyed disbelief.
They win them back with “Daniel In The Den” (“One of our oldest songs, but we’ve never really played it [live] before,” says Smith). Play it more, Bastille! It is one of the few tracks that allows Smith’s musical skills to breathe.
Smith and the band have talent that translates to the stage. Smith is not an uncharming frontman. They have potential and a following. But their plastic sound presents a puzzle – why do they settle for second, or even third-rate radio-fillers when they appear capable of much more?