Pop music: The changing face of Brit guitar rock
Idlewild, Travis and Catatonia The Irish Centre, Birmingham
Friday 27 March 1998
The Irish Centre, Birmingham
When Travis say that Tied to the 90s is about a "crap decade", the union flag only slightly wilts, because tonight's bands aren't formulaic off- shoots to the phenomenal success of Oasis, and together they prove that British guitar rock can be a changeable beast. First up on Steve Lamacq's Evening Session on Radio 1 is Idlewild, a group of guys who on appearance fit the blueprint of Brit poppers with art school style (cf Blur), but save themselves by unpretentious thrashing and jumping about. There isn't the anarchic abandon of old punk, but these guitar dervishes create a force like being caught in a hurricane. Retching, wielding beer cans and playing with their teeth, they somehow still manage to make the face of thrash-punk attractive.
Travis's entrance is heralded by a Nina Simone track, and the crowd go into their practised drill of mosh pit formation. The force of three guitars makes for a solid sound, and what they lack in variety (they show various influences, from The Beatles and Pink Floyd to Nirvana), is made up for by an exciting performance. The lead singer is no Liam-clone, and chats comfortably to the audience (subjects: fashion, Birmingham, Celtic Football Club). This, together with some dark lyrics and Pixies-like guitar experimentation, creates a vibrant atmosphere. Although they occasionally try too hard to be infectious, by relying too much on sing-a-long phrases, their new EP, More Than Us with it's 25-piece orchestra could be the next Bittersweet Symphony.
Cerys from Catatonia swaggers on stage with two glasses in one hand and a Welsh-flag embossed on a pair of pants. She has a bolshy tongue-in-cheek attitude which would make adolescent boys weak and grown men scared.
Catatonia's lyrics pack whacking punches. Cerys stalks the stage like a Teletubbie, has a kittenish voice which could none the less fill Albert Hall, and a style range from the breathy and dark Portishead-sounding, Way Beyond Blue, to the pop anthem of Mulder and Scully.
The mix of age groups - the older ones looking like they have worn the same clothes since they were teenagers - suggests that Radio 1 has succeeded in reaching a diverse audience. Steve Lamacq's Evening Session, the stalwart of cutting edge indie bands, has a commitment to live shows, and has included live jams from Bentley Rhythm Ace, 60 Ft Dolls and Belle and Sebastian on the tour bus.
"I've always loved the idea of going on the road with a band and doing the show from the bus, living that whole rock and roll life, and now I'm doing it," says Lamacq.
He may have been ensconced in the bus broadcasting, but he expressed the ability of these bands to translate their excitement to the audience. "Hitting the road is not, as many say, a form of escapism - but it has been a chance to escape."
Steve Lamacq's Evening Session 6.30-8.30.
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