“I hate the neighbours, they hate me too”. As a choral sample from 16th century composer Thomas Tallis faded into a simple, soothing piano figure, Everything Everything’s gig at Alexandra Palace opened with a twisted lullaby for post-Brexit Britain.
On record the title track of the band’s fourth and latest album, A Fever Dream, sounds slightly contained. Not here. Through escalating beats, manipulated vocals and nauseous guitar loops, the song slipped from a deep sleep into a delirious dance-trance.
Like many songs during the Manchester four-piece’s set, “A Fever Dream” offered a direct engagement with social ills as well as an exhilarating escape from them. Brazen, exuberant poppy choruses contrasted with twitchy, brooding verses and lyrics typified by dark wit, from a “pencil pusher with the pencil pusher blues” to the liberal elite being mauled to death in Waitrose.
At times the band sounded brasher and rockier than ever. The anti-intellectualist sentiment of “Run the Numbers” was echoed in its snarling, unsophisticated guitar riff, while lyrics detailing the deluded denial of the establishment (“we didn’t think that it could happen and we never will”) were mirrored by a descent into a bombastic guitar orgy on “Ivory Tower”. Later “Night of the Long Knives” invoked impending doom: its splintered bass groove honing in on an all-consuming chorus-drop as a distorted, detuning synth mimicked an air-raid siren.
Frontman Jonathan Higgs demonstrated exhilarating vocal acrobatics, jumping between a breathless head-voice, nasal semi-rapping and a strained helium-filled falsetto that threatened to burst at any moment. Despite minimal audience interaction, Higgs - appearing as cult-leader in his luminous orange trench-coat - made a compelling frontman.
Alongside the heavier, riff-happy guitar-driven numbers were softer, more experimental moments. “Put Me Together” started similarly to “A Fever Dream” as a cradle song to polarisation and neighbourly loathing before disintegrating mid-way through in a fragmented breakdown section.
"White Whale" and "Good Shot, Good Soldier" bared further vulnerability, the latter hanging on a grand, emotive refrain and a breath-sucking climax where the instrumentation dropped out to leave Higgs exquisitely exposed as if falling through the air (without his parachute on).
The band found time to celebrate their hyperactive, mathy origins with the frenetic rhythmic shifts and geeky guitar hook of “QWERTY Finger” representing their 2010 debut Man Alive. Otherwise the set drew heavily from A Fever Dream and its predecessor Get To Heaven - the hunkered, fidgety rhythm of “The Wheel (Is Turning Now)” and juddering guitar solo of “Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread” only outdone by a devastating finale of “No Reptiles”.
Combining lyrics that hint at an atrocious act of indiscriminate violence with surreally comic yet affecting appeals for compassion, the song built and built through spiralling swathes of synth and guitar but never exploded, leaving the audience reeling in a euphoric crescendo that never was. In their biggest headline show to date, Everything Everything proved they are a perfectly perverse pop band for these precarious times.
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