When you rise through the ranks of medium-big British indie bands you always face the same choice – are you in, or are you out? Will you throw your energy to the stars, yell to the back of the arenas, balloon and swell into Mondeo-man arena rock? Or will you tighten, turn inwards, keep your head down, your face screwed up and pop your thinking cap on?
On their last record, 2009’s In This Light And On This Evening, we still weren’t sure which way Birmingham’s Editors would wobble, but the time has clearly come to put a stake in the ground, for tonight Editors are an ‘out’ band, their widescreen ambitions realised and their ‘U2nification’ complete.
Frontman Tom Smith has become very much an ‘out’ performer and when he’s not pulling high-slung guitar shapes his Bono-isms are pretty effective. He’s always had a strange affectation of twisting his hands above his head, but now they’re spread wide, offered out to the audience in gestures of unmistakable giving. His shirt unbuttoned to the middle of his chest, he grabs mic stands, bending and twisting them, and he writhes and squirms, pushing constantly at the fourth wall and the audience. It’s very compelling, and suits the scope of the new material, which owes more than a nod to the aforementioned Irish quartet.
New single A Ton Of Love, making an early-doors appearance tonight, is a textbook example; Smith’s voice seems to carry more than it used to, filling this east London warehouse floor-to-ceiling. He’s not just an indie singer now, he’s a rock frontman with all the pipe-power that implies as he bellows “DESIRE!” across the chorus. It’s assured and very compelling; in fact when he straps his guitar on at last for the one-two punch of Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors and breakthrough single Munich, it’s almost a step down in energy. Conversely bassist Russell Leetch really should keep his instrument in place, as a rare step from behind the four strings to play keys and do odd crabways-handclaps and lunges across the stage, is weirdly uncomfortable.
It’s fair to say Editors, expanded now to a five-piece, are on-form as a live band. Tonight they sound huge, mostly driven by the widescreen nature of their box-fresh The Weight Of Your Love album; tonight’s gig is billed as a ‘release party’ and there’s no doubt that the new material and its energising effect is the star of the show, to the extent that some older songs – especially the slim pickings taken from their 2005 debut – sound a little thin. Other catalogue moments – An End Has A Start and Papillon for example – benefit from the muscular mood, the latter in particular becoming a corker of a prog-out finale.
All that said, there is something broadly unsatisfying about tonight’s show, something dragging against the wind, something difficult to pin down. Maybe it’s that widescreen rock needs widescreen rooms, not hipster wind tunnels? Maybe Editors themselves are not quite comfortable in their new role as the Simple Minds it’s okay to like? The sight of Leetch’s awkward stage excursion is certainly one that pulls against Smith’s Michael Hutchence swagger. Such moments are metal weights on the taught rubber skin of the show. Fortunately they only hamper, rather than kill momentum. But, on the learning curve of big rock acts, Editors are now comfortably over the hump and cruising smoothly and with some style towards being your dad’s new favourite band.