The Magic Numbers, Mountford Hall, Liverpool

Echoes of the Beach Boys on a night to warm the heart
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The Independent Culture

The Magic Numbers early, Mercury-nominated acclaim has always been balanced by a feeling that they don't quite belong. Though the summery, complex harmonies of last year's eponymous debut drew in fans from Brian Wilson down, rock'n'roll has never seemed the band's natural home. Two pairs of siblings (Romeo and Michele Stodart, from New York via Trinidad, and West London rhythm section Sean and Angela Gannon), they were bashful, suspicious guests at their own, hyped media party.

Their abandonment by fair-weather friends the NME with new album Those the Brokes has been predictable even as that record has revealed their true weaknesses and strengths. Singer-songwriter Romeo's harmony-laden song structures are more obsessively elaborate than ever; the proportion of subdued, bereft ballads still higher. It is a more depressed, pensive record than their summery, hippiesh reputation suggests. Because of this, EMI's massive sales push has met suspicious reviews and sluggish sales. Those the Brokes, in fact, revealed a more delicate, enduring talent than their debut's careful Sixties replicas.

But today's ruthless music industry means collapsing sales could still destroy them. This tour opener, though, makes such worries seem a world away. Liverpool has never tired of the harmony-soaked, sun-drenched Sixties pop of Love and the Beach Boys. So The Magic Numbers return is greeted with open affection.

For the most propulsive new track, "This is a Song" and "Take a Chance", Michele swings her guitar and flings her long hair like she is in Led Zeppelin, injecting unsuspected aggression. When Angela Gannon, the band's uncontested pin-up, walks to the mike, the screens show how each individual Number counts to this crowd. Their eagerness to bellow out every word of familiar songs also shows depths of loyalty London's would-be taste makers don't take account of.

Those the Brokes' more intimate moments caused crowd chatter, but the fast folk jangle of "Long Legs" restored interest. "Runnin' Out" then reaches the synthesis they need. A relative explosion of urgent noise at first, it ends in an intricate close harmony coda, Romeo and the two women interweaving voices as only family and friends can.

"Love Me Like You", last year's big hit, sees Angela lead mass handclaps, and Liverpool begin to party. The hushed fusing of voices on "Wheels on Fire" is, though, closer to The Magic Numbers heart and art. That said, "The Beard", the encore they refused to record, reserving it for gigs, is a partying hoedown you would never expect, stirring tough-looking men into wild dukes, and plugging into Liverpool's Irish roots.

The Magic Numbers may be feeling their way to an identity on record and suffering from media whims. But tonight showed they have the muscle to survive.

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