This forms half of London's night of rock - MH's deadly rivals Kerrang! have, somewhat provocatively, chosen to throw their 25th birthday bash later the same night at Sin. To see The Futureheads, as I do,between such decadent, Jägermeister-fuelled parties only emphasises the Sunderland quartet's difference.
"The least you can do is show some restraint..." This is the voice of Ross Millard, and those nine words from "Decent Days and Nights" sum up The Futureheads better than 900 from me. In comparison to what happens before it and after it, this end-of-tour show is not unlike the scene in Blackadder II when Edmund's puritan relatives come to visit, wearing sackcloth, to sit on spikes and eat raw turnip.
In musical terms, though, sometimes I quite like sitting on spikes and eating raw turnip. Reviewing their album, I recently described The Futureheads as "Roundheads to Franz Ferdinand's Cavaliers", and without wishing to recycle my greatest hits, in the flesh that description seems even more fitting.
There's a pleasing discipline and decorum to The Futureheads. In my notebook, I've written down, "Englishmen in hot weather, wearing shirts". Some of them are even less suitably attired for the most humid night of the year. In his knitwear tank top, National Health specs and schoolboy haircut, guitarist/singer Barry Hyde looks like a cross between Graham Linehan in Father Ted and Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore, but, unlike certain other self-consciously nerdy bands, you get the impression he'd look like that even if he wasn't in The Futureheads.
The Futureheads' self-imposed rules (no guitar solos, effects pedals and the like) is analogous to Dogme, the Danish cinematic school launched by Lars von Trier in 1995 (as you may remember, Dogme attempted to purify film-making by enforcing unity of time and location, banning special effects and filters, rejecting cliché, and so on). It's interesting to note that the band's MySpace entry lists as formative influences American hardcore bands such as Fugazi, Shellac and The Minutemen (music's minimalist equivalent of von Trier's coterie). It's worth pointing out that their second album, News and Tributes, loosens those shackles, but only a little.
These limits mean that, in turn, there are limits to their greatness, and to how easy it is to love them. You know that The Futureheads will never say, do or wear anything contentious.
On the other hand, perhaps counterintuitively, these limitations are highly conducive to creativity. Their precision pulverising, welded to impressively tricky time signatures, is sometimes AC/DC-heavy in a way which, surely, even Viking Skull would respect. In full flight, they're a joy to behold.
Given everything I've said so far, the word "joy" might seem incongruous. But the impression that The Futureheads are scowling fun-haters would be incorrect.
The most famous example of their sense of fun, their call-and-response version of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" (possibly the most thrilling indie cover of a pop hit, in an admittedly weak field), is dropped in early on, as if to say, "If you only came to hear that, you may go home now." Nobody does.
With a name such as Vincent Vincent and The Villains and a reputation as rock'n'roll revivalists, you'd expect a little more in the way of period props from this London quartet, whose early reviews spoke of Brylcreemed hair and brothel creepers.
Were that ever the case, they've had a make-over not dissimilar to John Travolta's attempt to become one of the sporty jocks in Grease. In their striped, short-sleeved shirts and sensible hair, they could still, at a push, have walked out of the 1950s, but they'd have been clean-scrubbed frat boys, not dirty rockers.
The trappings, such as they are, are subtle and understated. The f-holes in Vincent's guitar (below) are the start and end of it. The bass isn't an upright. This, though, is for the best. The Stray Cats have already cornered that market. Where the 1950s finds its echoes in VV and The Vs, then, is in the music: the Lonnie Donegan skiffle rhythms and the Duane Eddy twang, and the mean-ass melodies which recall Johnny Kidd and The Pirates and (naturally) Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps.
There's also, however, a touch of 1980s indie about them, a bit of Housemartins jangle. And they aren't entirely a one-speed motor. They can, when they feel like it, switch to a Del Shannon/Roy Orbison collar-up ballad, or some Shivaree/Chris Isaak atmospherics, with Vincent hoarsely crooning about "the ghost of two lovers in the back row, kissing..."
Next time David Lynch is casting a bar-room scene and he needs a band for a cameo, he knows who to ask.Reuse content