Once upon a time, in the context with which it might be applied to the annual NME Awards Tour, the word "indie" meant independent; both by means of distribution and by the involved bands' personal outlook. Now, of course, it's a lifeless, disembowelled marketing buzz term applied to anything involving loud guitars, a little token electronica and mostly young, male practitioners.
Still, while a Thames-worth of muck is dredged on an annual basis in an effort to feed the machine, the NME Awards Tour is usually well-curated enough to give us a choice selection (although not always: see Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong and the Sunshine Underground). This year's vintage is a strong one, with only the first act on the bill having failed to break through the hype barrier to a real world of popular appreciation.
Bucking one time-honoured indie trend by being a woman, and very much the flavour of this month, Florence Welch's band, Florence and the Machine, make a folk-pop sound that even calls upon the use of a harp on occasion. Accidentally kicking a pint from a hand at the front of the crowd at one point, she's like Kate Bush with shouting instead of singing – not an unpleasant prospect, but perhaps not so attention-grabbing when a good proportion of the crowd is still queuing outside.
Most of the audience is in place by the time White Lies emerge, and it would have been a shame for any who missed this unexpectedly fine set; unexpected because the hype has been shovelled on to this Ealing trio for the past few months. Yet they're something akin to Echo and the Bunnymen, or maybe Interpol, if the latter had half-way delivered on their promise to become an epic, stadium-ready band.
Dressed in black and peddling songs called things such as "Death" and "To Lose My Life", the band otherwise known as sub-Editors (a journalist's joke if ever there was one) offer something rousing, aided by singer Harry McVeigh's admission that they know their debut album will hit No 1 within two days. Big things have begun here.
The ghost of Ian Curtis hangs around for the next band, Friendly Fires, but only in so far as lead singer Ed Macfarlane wears an austere grey-shirt-and- trousers combination, and dances in a wild bodypop that calls to mind Curtis's later, sadly real, epileptic impressions. And that's the end of that comparison, because FF – a familiar outfit since at least last summer's festival season – put an irresistible smile on most faces with two of 2008's best songs, "Paris" and "Ex Lover", and a closing version of "Jump in the Pool", which found itself augmented by horn players and carnival drummers.
It was stirring stuff, although Macfarlane's camp jiggle might have been a bit much for the hardy Glaswegian males who were here for Glasvegas alone. Plenty has been written of the NME's seeming pet project this past year, and this set neither offered new songs nor a fresh take on a band who are unreconstructed but epic. The truly uproarious welcome of a home crowd notwithstanding, it hardly seems as if this ever more confident band needed the platform these NME shows will bring. For them, success seems almost a fait accompli.