The Futureheads, The Garage, London

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The Independent Culture

In the shadowy darkness of London's indie mecca The Garage, four young men from the North in tightly rolled shirt-sleeves are playing clipped guitar music to a rapt audience.

In the shadowy darkness of London's indie mecca The Garage, four young men from the North in tightly rolled shirt-sleeves are playing clipped guitar music to a rapt audience. It is eerily like a gig from the early 1980s, as if the insistent brightness of the slick present has been switched off, and the pervasive greyness of Thatcher's decade has returned, along with one of the stern young bands who filled the black-and-white pages of the old NME.

Sunderland's The Futureheads are certainly heavily informed by that post-punk era, with clear musical nods to the angular jerkiness of XTC and The Gang of Four (whose Andy Gill partly produced their debut album, Decent Days and Nights). But what connects them to the similarly influenced Franz Ferdinand, and separates them from the studious pastiches of 1980s-adoring New York bands such as Radio 4, is a sense of giddy fun that has nothing to do with the past. Wherever their music began, The Futureheads tonight play exciting, idealistic music that captures the hope of their own youthful moment.

The first song, "Le Garage", is over in a whirl of spinning bodies, sawed guitars and yelps almost before it has begun, part of The Futureheads' most basic manifesto: to fling out ideas in concentrated form, then move on before boredom sets in. With only one 30-minute album and a cover version or two to select from, this causes short, sharp gigs, with no time for flab or indulgence. This sense of urgency also infects their lyrics, which have a morbid fear of repetition, and a romantic desire for action.

Reflecting a home town they've described as "hard-graft", these are songs without slack. As they sing in "Alms": "You fell asleep. It was not late. You missed the point." The Futureheads are also much more musically skittish than any simple post-punk definition can catch. On "Carnival Kids", deep harmonies, Barry Hyde's neurotically jerky lead vocal and a barbershop quartet a cappella section are fed into an angular, full-pelt racket, the sort of funk white boys played before ecstasy. By the next, unnamed song - "It's about a murder," says Hyde - they have reached a state of angry, desperate commitment, a genuine emotional momentum.

For "First Day", the thrashing guitars of another 1980s influence on the band, the hardcore US punk of Fugazi and Shellac, are referenced. But The Futureheads are no more in thrall to that austere reaction to punk's big bang than they are to XTC's eccentricity. Instead, their youthful talent lets them square the circle around both, finding the life in all the music they love, and communicating it in a passionate, funny performance. The people around me respond, not by dancing, but by keeping their faces riveted on the stage, as if they are seeing and hearing something unmissably exciting. I feel the same way. This isn't retro; it is the sound of a young band discovering itself, and sharing the thrill.

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