Maximo Park / Arctic Monkeys / We Are Scientists / Mystery Jets

Nottingham Rock City on Tue 31st Jan 2006

Here we go then. Another year, another backslapping awards ceremony funded by the latest magazine price-hike. Sure, this one’s determined by the readers - no expert panel of judges - but the results are still predictable, as people only vote for the bands that the magazine sold them in the first place. Still, if you do manage to blag your way into the awards ceremony itself, at least you know you’re going to have a good night knocking back the free booze in the company of indie’s glitterati (but not The Glitterati themselves – they were the musical equivalent of being tied up and forced to eat the inside of John Travolta’s fetid drainpipes after filming wrapped up on Grease).

For the rest of us in the real world, the upshot of this strange media process of handing out gongs to confirm that the marketing has worked is the usually wonderful NME Awards Tour and, if you’re in London, the series of one-off NME Awards Shows running up to the ceremony itself. Normally showcasing the prime of current acts stealing the headlines or braced on the starting block in preparation of doing so, somehow this year’s line-up, despite looking good on paper with the massive Arctic Monkeys draw, doesn’t quite live up to the heady experience everyone expects it to be.

The coveted opening slot, occupied each by Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand in the two preceding years (and even further back, the likes of Coldplay and Starsailor), is usually a band’s precursor to massive mainstream success. So it’s sad to report that this year it’s wasted on the distinctly average Mystery Jets.

With all the instrumentation they have on stage, it’s hard not to expect something huge, but their visual quirkiness fails to extend to the music, which is vacant and forgettable. Former single ‘You Can’t Fool Me Dennis’ is an eccentric number with small charm, but there’s simply not enough going on for any distinct impression to be made. The most they’ll be remembered for is breaking the pattern of great openers upon which this tour has built a reputation.

We Are Scientists continue on a tenor of indifference, until suddenly ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ breaks out from nowhere like a wild prisoner fleeing its prison, and in one foul swoop injects life and passion into the previously stultified crowd. The momentum carries forward with bassist Chris Cain’s genuinely amusing between-song banter and by the closing notes of ‘The Great Escape’ it’s clear we’re witnessing a band that know how to overcome their largely generic material with a really good performance.

The wild anticipation for Arctic Monkeys is definitely there, but people repress it for as long as possible so as not to offend Maximo Park. When the lights do finally go down, the whispers of excitement are in an instant converted into tumultuous, ear eroding roars, as if everyone’s desperate to prove that they too are in on the latest craze.

The opening chords of ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ kicks things off with a sing-a-long that’s as subtle and heartfelt as a football terrace chant – no surprise there – and one small-featured bloke in a trendy yet utterly indistinguishable polo top decides he’s having so much fun he decides to repeatedly punch the floppy haired indie kid standing next to him in the face, before the poor boy’s girlfriend starts crying and some other guys quickly break it up. That’s some hype for you right there.

The Arctic Monkeys are a great band with great songs and they’re great at playing them live. But all the baggage that’s come with their cannoning into the spotlight has left them with what appears to be a sour taste in the mouth. Lead singer Alex Turner seems distrusting of the adoration the crowd sycophantically ooze, and when a girl screams, “I love you!” he replies, deadpan, “I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way”.

The spotlight on him is so bright that he reclines into himself, giving as little away as possible. It makes for a slightly stunted performance, which is our fault, not his - with everyone banging on about his band so much, it’s a pressure for them to constantly live up to the expectation.

Still, the songs are fantastic and the tempestuous motion in the mosh-pit is a sight to behold. ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ and ‘Still Take You Home’ stand out, but it’s ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ that caps their set. Their sound is unique, but that unique sound isn’t broad, meaning quite a few songs sound a little too similar to justify the chalice of innovation they’ve had handed to them. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the calm after the storm.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for tonight’s headliners Maximo Park. Whilst their contemporaries Bloc Party, The Futureheads and all the rest of that distinctly indie lot have had their careers on a constant upwards trajectory, Newcastle’s finest have not quite managed to keep up. Album sales have been slow burning and they haven’t yet managed to deliver a defining single that lodges them deep in the minds of all who listen (‘Apply Some Pressure’ was close, but no cigar). This tour was meant to change all that, give them their moment in the limelight, show us what we’ve been missing out on and prove their real worth. Then Arctic Monkeys happened. Talk about bad luck...

There is a visible crowd reduction by the time Maximo take the stage; it seems a little rude that people don’t stick around to see what they’re all about. Lead singer Paul Smith is a wild front man and a joy to watch cavort about like a mime artist re-enacting the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Lyrically the band are potent, and with Smith’s constant explanations of what each individual song is about, it’s clear that his focus lies in the realm of Morrissey-esque poeticism. Unfortunately, the rest of the band aren’t working in the realm of Marr, and the show does little more than to confirm they don’t have very many outstanding songs. Musically they are flat and uninspiring, something that no number of wacky faces or scissor-kick jumps from the singer can hide. It’s a real shame, as they have a knack of touching a part of you that makes you really want to love them and overcome their problem, kind of like looking into the soppy eyes of a puppy who’s just had his two back legs broken. There is massive potential, but they’re yet to fulfil it.

So another NME Awards Tour comes to an end, and over these next few weeks we’ll be able to read all about how fantastic it was in the magazine. But tonight witnessing a succession of bands who have all been forced on a pedestal by the media and hysteria, there is a lasting feeling of hollow dissatisfaction. Through the all the hype, the substance has been removed and the bands are left with a severe case of vertigo. It’s as if the show is just as much of a backslapping charade as the award ceremony itself, and it’s a real shame.

article by: Alex Hoban

published: 03/02/2006 08:58


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