Now in their second year, the XFM Winter Wonderland nights at Brixton Academy are ostensibly a platform from which to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness, but of course they also offer an ideal opportunity to sample an incendiary mix of bands at the vanguard of the new British guitar music scene in one convenient festive package.
Having said that, this particular ball was actually set rolling by the kids from Rock School, who performed a rather brilliant Led Zeppelin cover. Despite having an average age of 13, there’s nothing “Grandma, we love you” about this lot; the band’s guitar technique was astounding and their enthusiasm was a perfect antidote to the antics of certain ex-Libertines.
Following on from this surprisingly bright opening were Liverpool quartet The Dead 60s, who brought to mind the likes of Madness and The Clash with their Ska-influenced sound. But though their quirky effects and catchy rhythms were mildly diverting, you would hesitate to call it exciting. Faring worse was next act Magnet; looking isolated on stage he completely failed, with both his music – which lacked anything in the way of structure or any discernable pop hooks – to engage the audience.
Fortunately things rapidly got back on track with a breathtaking set by Editors. Whilst Tom Smith’s distinctive baritone vocals are adept at conjuring the darker human emotions, songs such as Munich and Bullets sound anthemic and life-affirming in a venue like this. This was an exhilarating performance, oozing menace and power via Leetch’s bass and Lay’s incessant drumming; they sounded immediate and relevant in a way that bands like The Dead 60s don’t even come close to achieving.
As a sated and satisfied crowd drifted towards the bar, those that stayed put got to take in a brief set by Brighton band The Kooks; though not quite living up to the Supergrass comparisons they’ve been tagged with, their melodies and musicianship left the audience curious to see what they would have done with a kinder slot.
With standards set pretty damn high by Editors, Maximo Park launched into their set with enthusiasm, racing through their mixed-bag debut A Certain Trigger at breakneck speed. The band performed with great energy though, with Paul Smith on top frenetic form. Ultimately, though always entertaining, they were let down by the strength of some of their material.
Next up, Hard-Fi‘s Richard Archer worked the crowd with an aggression that bordered on rage. “Make some fucking noise,” he screamed and the crowd obeyed without question. All this bravado would grate if the songs didnt match up to the posturing; thankfully there is little to worry about on that front. Questionable Seven Nation Army covers aside, tracks such Living for the Weekend already sound like classics.
Closing proceedings, everyone’s favourite Britpop revivalists the Kaiser Chiefs were in a typically boisterous mood, their set turning into something of a sing-along session as front man Ricky Wilson jumped off monitors, ran across the stage and even made a misjudged attempt at crowd surfing that ended with him embracing the grime on the Brixton Academy floor and having to be rescued by a bouncer. Unfazed, Wilson bounded back on stage as the Kaisers motored to a confident closing.
Though it may have taken a while to warm up, the night was certainly a success – on musical terms. However for all its worthy associations (proceeds to Shelter and so forth) one couldn’t help but notice that the majority of gig-goers streamed past the homeless lining the route to the tube without a second glance. Some things require more than music to change.