Virginian indie-popsters Wild Nothing are supported by two contrasting acts at The Lexington this evening.
The first are Night Beds, a duo from Nashville. Londoners tend to get spoilt for choice when it comes to gigs, a feeling that can quickly shade over into complacency or even apathy. So it's always refreshing to see an act for whom the act of playing live on stage is still really, really exciting. And Night Beds are clearly very excited to be here tonight: this is their first time performing outside the US, and excellently-named singer Winston Yellen's Southern drawl quivers with nerves (and maybe a little jetlag) during his between-song chats.
Night Beds' music is necessarily sparse: Yellen plays electric guitar and he's accompanied solely by a drummer who, er, drums. A brief burst of Fleetwood Mac's Silver Springs aside, Night Beds' set isn't big on memorable hooks but, much like Bon Iver (whose falsetto vocals Yellen occasionally evokes), Night Beds specialise in music that meanders in the best possible way. Their subsequent visits to the UK might fail to re-capture the endearing novelty of tonight's performance, but it's likely that they'll come back with a fuller band and a fuller set. Promising.
Up next are Tops, a four-piece from Montreal. Where Night Beds' music is passionate, earnest and - gulp - 'authentic', Tops' songs are sophisticated, urbane and glossily synthetic-sounding. And, despite their alarming (to this thirtysomething reviewer, at least) youth, they seem utterly unruffled by the experience of playing live: over a casually funky rhythm section, guitarist David Carriere plays jazzy, choppy chords over which demure vocalist Jane Perry smears 80s-style keyboard notes.
Perry's vocals owe something to Feist and (more obscurely) fellow Broken Social Scene associate Lisa Lobsinger, while the band's music recalls fellow 'sophisti-pop' practitioners Saint Etienne, Tennis and Twin Sister. A harsh commentator might point out that Tops are a little late to the yacht rock party, but that doesn't stop their set from being hugely enjoyable; meanwhile, their sure-footedness in front of a (by now packed) crowd is really impressive.
Up next are Wild Nothing. Their most recent album Nocturne was met with positive, but not exactly enthusiastic, reviews. It's easy to see why: Wild Nothing specialise in the kind of common-and-garden indie rock that tends to be taken for granted.
But what common-and-garden indie rock. Nocturne doesn't have a duff track on it and, for those listeners not fixated on originality or innovation, it's addictively repeat-playable and among the year's best.
The Lexington isn't exactly Wembley Stadium but tonight's show is a sell-out. Yet that mark of popularity is offset by the behaviour of a fairly typical London gig crowd: average age closer to thirty than twenty; largely static aside from a couple of people going mental at the front; appreciative but whoop-averse.
Initially this seems to rattle Wild Nothing frontman Jack Tatum: he forgets his lines during Only Heather, fucks up a guitar part during Chinatown and suffers the indignity of having what looks like a foam sock put over his microphone when it starts giving him electric shocks mid-performance.
But, as the show progresses, Tatum seems to relax and begin to enjoy himself. The Wild Nothing live experience isn't massively different from the recorded experience, but several of their songs (especially those from their comparatively lo-fi 2010 debut Gemini) benefit from the added muscularity of a full band.
By the close of the set, Tatum is enthusing about his love for London and "British music, and ... whatever", while an encore performance of Gemini highlight Summer Holiday finally wakes up the audience. A qualified success, then.