The Maccabees, Rock City, Nottingham
SBTRKT, Koko, London
You're never too posh to mosh. Just ask the 6th Laird of Lochbuie and his chums
Sunday 11 March 2012
This is the year The Maccabees make their move. The Brighton band, whose names are not Jasper, Cornelius, Tarquin and Fernando but might as well be, tried the shameless trick of releasing their third album, Given To The Wild, in the first week of January when nothing else was out, enabling these nice, privately-educated boys to crack the Top 5 and, therefore, the Big League.
Because heaven knows they weren't going to achieve it via sheer force of charisma: this is a band with almost nothing to say, and almost nothing worth saying about them (but bear with me, because I like a challenge).
Given To The Wild is not-unenjoyable. Produced by Mo'Wax and DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy, who knows his way around indie-dance with his eyes wide shut, it's a liquid, pellucid thing, guitarist the 3rd Earl of Rochester's top-string twiddles trickling over Kaiser Wilhelm III's drums like a babbling brook over pebbles. And it has one, and only one, attention-grabbing smash in the form of staccato New Wave "Pelican", of which I can't decide if it's the best song The Futureheads never made or the worst one that they did.
Oddly, "Pelican" failed in its "smash" duties, barely scraping the Top 75, but it's greeted with hysteria by The Maccabees' young crowd. To give you an idea of the age of the average Maccabees fan, when singer Le deuxieme Comte De Chambord dedicates a song to Dean Jackson of BBC Radio Nottingham, a gaggle of girls next to me squeal "Oh my god, he's my biology teacher!" Fortunately for the 6th Laird of Lochbuie, the personality-free frontman, the excitable indie kids afford him a very generous exchange rate, allowing him to parlay his mostly-incoherent mumbles for screams.
It's telling that The Maccabees, whose real names are not Henry, Josh, Troilus, Agamemnon but might as well be, spend much of the show performing before a blue screen, the old cinematic technique for superimposing outdoor backgrounds onto studio-shot footage because they're so blank you could project pretty much anything onto them.
I prefer their more meandering moments, like the restful "Feel To Follow", but the gig kicks off when they go for the jugular with "Love You Better", whipping up a big, blustering sound which bypasses Arcade Fire and was last seen heading towards U2. The Maccabees are the band in spring 2012 to get the teenagers bouncing around. Before the last drumbeat, I've forgotten them.
As a Welshman who was force-fed Cymraeg at school, you'd think I'd be used to vowel deficiency, but the recent rash of consonant-heavy names – MGMT, HTRK, BLK JKS, STRFKR, CHLLNGR, PVT, MNDR – has been almost supernaturally irritating. As with so many heinous trends, I blame PRML SCRM, and I find myself wishing they'd take a hint from the name of the legendary Shoreditch take-away, and FCKF.
SBTRKT, aka Shoreditch DJ-producer Aaron Jerome (and, live, sidekick Sampha), is another sufferer from Irritable Vowel Syndrome. There's no escaping it: the six consonants are projected on the backscreen for much of the show. We're meant to pronounce it "Subtract", the concept being that Jerome wishes to deduct his personality from the entity, leaving the audience to concentrate on the music.
It's this kind of thinking which, in generations past, led to the epithet "Faceless Techno Bollocks" (or FCLSS TCHN BLLCKS), which in turn became a T-shirt slogan worn with ironic pride. Onstage, he takes facelessness to a literal extreme, preserving his and Sampha's anonymity behind a variety of tribal masks.
It's not an original idea, but paradoxically, this self-effacing stance helps SBTRKT's sophisticated electronic soul – both urban and urbane – make a connection with the crowd. The audience take over and fill the personality vacuum, imitating the "woooh" synth noise on their Little Dragon collaboration "Wildfire", the one which sounds like an effeminate ghost, en masse. It's hilarious.
Nevertheless, it's noticeable that there's a flurry of excitement when an actual human being, the bun-headed, besequinned singer Roses Gabor, steps out in front of Jerome and Sampha's consoles and kits for the superb "Pharaohs". If this is FCLSS TCHN BLLCKS, it's VRY GD.
Public Image Ltd (with Johnny Rotten) headline BBC 6 Music's 10th birthday bash, with Gruff Rhys and Anna Calvi also on the bill, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (Fri). Pierrot-painted cabaret songstress Emilie Autumn takes her Fight Like a Girl tour to the Bristol Academy (Sun); London Electric Ballroom (Fri) and Manchester Ritz (Sat).
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