"We never ever, in our wildest dreams, thought we'd be playing Wembley Arena," Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol's frontman, tells the crowd tonight. It's fair to say that nobody did. From their humble beginnings in 1994 on the Scottish indie-band circuit, when they trailed behind ex-label mates Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol have gone from obscure indie outfit to the stars of this year's biggest-selling album. With Eyes Open having sold 1.3 million copies, Snow Patrol have succeeded - in commercial terms, at least - in stealing the "No 1 album of 2006" crown from the Arctic Monkeys.
Yet tonight, Lightbody doesn't seem so self-assured. Opening with a trio of songs from their 2003 breakthrough album Final Straw, after "Spitting Games" he confesses to feeling nervous. Then, halfway through the set, after almost tripping over, he tells us that he's "not the coolest man on earth at the best of times". He's more awkward than confident pop star performing before his biggest audience to date. And when the lanky 30-year-old judders across the stage or writhes over his guitar, the display of abandon doesn't fit comfortably with the clean guitar sound of the inoffensive, stadium-friendly anthems that his band now plays.
Lightbody's over-the-top praise and thanks to everyone, from the producer of their last two albums, Jacknife Lee, to support acts Elbow and Fields, verges on sycophantic. Judging from the crowd's enthusiastic reaction to his every utterance, there's no need for such appeals to already enamoured fans. When the most anticipated anthem of the night, "Chasing Cars" (which made both UK and US charts, partly thanks to its use in the American TV series Grey's Anatomy), arrives halfway through the set, it is greeted by an instant standing ovation from the seated areas. Lightbody beams as the crowd take over the singing, and when he raises his arms, thousands robotically reciprocate.
Drawing on their early indie-alternative years, Snow Patrol offer up the lo-fi "Starfighter Pilot", their first single, "for anyone who's been with us nearly a decade", but there is little acknowledgement from the crowd. "Starfighter" jars with the sound of their newer songs and, noticing the lack of enthusiasm, Lightbody and the bassist Paul Wilson exchange awkward smiles. But the fans are quickly won over by the single "How to be Dead".
The Northern Ireland-born singer comes back down to earth to recall Snow Patrol's Scottish roots, from the band's inception at Dundee University (where they started under the name Polar Bear) to the years they spent on the independent Jeepster label. Introducing "You are My Joy" by the Reindeer Section - the supergroup that, in 2001, Lightbody formed with the Scottish indie luminaries Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai and Arab Strap - he shows himself still clinging to his role in the Scottish indie scene. Tonight's rendition may not retain the soul of the original, but the trumpet provides a richer texture that makes a welcome break from the polished guitar anthems.
With "Beginning to Get to Me", they come closest to justifying the accusations that they are a poor man's Coldplay, as Lightbody does his best Chris Martin impression, scaling the high notes. "Run", which brought Snow Patrol long-awaited fame in 2003, has the crowds singing the chorus with such emotive joy that it would take a heart of stone not to be swayed. But the true highlight is when Miriam Kaufmann joins Lightbody to take over Martha Wainwright's haunting vocals in the duet "Set the Fire to the Third Bar". With the emotional weight and melody of a Kate Bush song, it is intoxicatingly intense and genuinely moving.
They finish energetically with "Tiny Little Fractures", and it is clear that the projected live camcorder shots of the band that have all the while been flickering on the back wall suggest a bunch of egos that are not matched by the self-effacing antics of the performers on the stage.
Snow Patrol may be the band of 2006, but it seems that stardom has yet to turn them into stars.Reuse content