Snow Patrol, Bloomsbury Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

The army of sensitive, multi-million-selling souls who Snow Patrol are lumped in with show no signs of slowing down.

The lineage that began with The Verve and David Gray has ended with Coldplay ruling the musical world. But tonight's intimate show, on the day they release their most ambitious album A Hundred Million Suns, suggests it's time to separate the pack. Just as Keane have reserves of deep English melancholy, Snow Patrol are more ambitious and independent-minded than most of their apparent peers. Even their new, steelier record is too limp to call rock. But live, their easy-going humanity wins through.

Gary Lightbody's lyrical integrity is in the first new song he sings alone, "Set Down Your Glass", about trying to preserve a present he knows will crumble. This romantic conceit runs through the water-damaged books and fire-snatched mementoes in later lines. But what brings you in close enough to hear this, when the records can sound like one whine, is Lightbody's Derry stand-up persona. "I know some of you – I want to see your hearts bleeding on the floor," he demands of the balcony. "Let's have a smile while your doing it..." Angst is contained in the songs. There's no faked attitude to speak to adolescents. Apart from a couple of stray students, it's a middle-aged crowd. This is adult-oriented rock, hanging on to the last word by a fingernail.

But when Lightbody splays his arms wide on "Crack the Shutters", he looks winningly awkward, not Christ-like. Electrocuted jerks and bends of the body are those of an ordinary thirty-something man stretching to his limit to hold a stage. He tries to keep a cap on the soaring emotion that is his rivals' default position. The ache of "sensitivity" that makes such liars of Coldplay is replaced by ecstasy on the delicate upward march of "Chasing Cars". "Run", meanwhile, the song that turned them into global stars, is exultant. It makes them sound like a post-punk band in 1978, setting out to write the biggest pop song they could. It sounds, in fact, like a less gauche Bloc Party (with whom they share producer Jackknife Lee); not Coldplay, Blunt or Gray.

The choppy, jerked-short rhythms of "Please Take These Photos From My Hands" and attention to organ, guitars and crashing percussion on "The Storm" confirm Snow Patrol's ambition. Everything's relative, of course. Even the Belfast swagger of the closing "Take Back the City" is rock music for straights. But it's honest and thoughtful, too.

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