Eschewing the kind of cool style you might expect from their hip electro indie-pop music, the five musicians of Hot Chip take their pews behind their keyboards and guitars and play meticulously, like maths students at work. Each of the London-based quintet is a graduate (four from Oxbridge), and they neatly apply their brains to the music.
Their diminutive singer, Alexis Taylor, certainly does nothing to dispel the nerd image. Early in their set he strips off a sweater to reveal a blue vest with a big orange motif that clashes with the red of his Harlequin-patterned bloomers. And when, in the encore, he comes to the front of the stage grasping the microphone, his unembarrassed dancing and oversize glasses recall Napoleon Dynamite, the nerdy hero of the comedy film who wins the respect of his schoolmates for a shameless breakdancing routine to Jamiroquai.
What is most striking about the band, whose members swap from guitars to keyboards with ease, is their total control over their craft. "No Fit State", from their 2006 Mercury Award-nominated album The Warning, builds up very satisfyingly to a dance number, keyboardist Joe Goddard's lower vocals blending well with Taylor's. Like the American electro-rock band LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip merge bleeping synths with guitars, creating a club vibe while drawing poignancy and emotion from it. A perfect example is the glorious melody of "And I Was a Boy From School", also from The Warning: Taylor's exceptional soft vocals float past effortlessly, perfectly in the tone of the song's plangency.
But the majority of tonight's set showcases their third album, Made in the Dark, out in February, and boasts a more guitar-led sound. After the more rock-y "Out at the Pictures" comes "Wrestlers", in which Goddard who, with his rounded shape, beard and curly mop, does not cut the most likely MC figure behind the keyboard gets the applause for his spoken vocals, "you gotta fight dirty", against Taylor's falsetto.
Although they could roll from one party tune to the next, Hot Chip tend to play each song to its end then pause before starting the next. The incredibly catchy "Over and Over", an ode to the delight of musical repetition ("like a monkey with a miniature symbol, the joy of repetition really is in you"), which scored them a nomination for an Ivor Novello Award in 2006 and is a party playlist essential, sends the crowd into full party mode. The choice of follow-up song, whose slow pace brings the crowd to a sudden standstill, is therefore curious. Hot Chip certainly know how to make people dance. If they'd wanted to, they could have brought the house down. They have us in their palms.
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