“Haven’t you all got work tomorrow?” cries Broken Records’ frontman Jamie Sutherland, drily berating the mid-week crowd at Brighton’s The Hope with a trademark Edinburgh twang. “Fuck it!” comes the reply, and both sides reward themselves by launching into another rollicking, folk-rock ceilidh.
From the off, this is a gig drenched in the frenetic. The Edinburgh six-piece (reduced after cellist Arne Kolb left in the summer) are crammed onto a tiny stage, but refusing to be contained: their blend of celtic folk, Balkan-knees-up and Killers-tinged epochal rock looming huge in the cramped quarters. Broken Records are layer on layer of impulsive, animated indie whose songs span an impressive arc from Slow Parade’s Jeff Buckley-esque, low-burn angst to the rousing, stadium-filler pomp of A Darkness Rises Up. Somewhere in between they touch on the edgy pop of latterday The Cure in early single If the News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It. And both tracks have more than a tinge of a certain Canadian troupe…
“You hear all the usual bollocks about sounding like Arcade Fire,” explains Sutherland, speaking to musicOMH before the show. “We were hyped up when we first came out a couple of years ago. We just wanted to write as clear and concise pop songs as we could.”
And if you don’t hear the pop in their mix, you do hear that clarity of purpose – especially when performing live. “We don’t like to fanny about,” he grins. “You get a more immediate reaction to the faster tunes, and we just want to build a good show.”
And that immediacy is perfect for The Hope’s tinderbox confines. Broken Records are raw but refined, wielding aggression without brutishness and landing each moment with a fierce lightness of touch. “There’s nothing but love and lager on this stage,” they holler, fittingly, after the superb Nearly Home, a perfect blend of soaring strings and Sutherland’s despairingly bleak lyrics.
Their performance is tempestuous, building every moment to crescendo but holding at the peak – a feat built through counterpoint; through the clash of cacophonous drums and plaintive violin; through sonorous bass and falsetto vocal. It’s these moments, where they blend so many parts, that earn the Arcade Fire references. And if there’s more that separates them than unites, they certainly share that ability to make a ‘big’ sound. But even on the quieter moments, there’s a grandness. In the taut memories evoked in The Motorcycle Boy Reigns, Sutherland matches the gravelly showmanship of Brandon Flowers – but switching Flowers’ looming Nevada vistas for windswept, heathered moors.
But in that very scale comes the kicker. Because Broken Records, for all the flattering comparisons, and despite their undoubted ability in a live show, are two records in and still yet to command their own big stage. The albums have had mixed reviews and they’ve played second fiddle to some big-name 4AD labelmates but, as Sutherland himself acknowledges, being warm-up for The National isn’t enough for a band of this ambition. “No one expects anything. You play half an hour, watch the headliner, and go get drunk.”
But anyone watching this kind of show most definitely will expect. It’s time Broken Records began to deliver.