Traditionally an autumn event targeted at the returning university crowds, the NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot tour specialises in student music of the moment. You know, bands that indulge in catchy chorus after catchy chorus, bands that sound great after a couple of pints, bands that your mother might approve of.
Over the years the likes of Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park (told you) have played to beer stained student unions and grubby venues all over the country, usually bolstering their record sales as well as making a buck or two on T-shirts.
Which made the appearance of The Maccabees on the bill this year something of a surprise. With their dark, edgy and urgent sound, they don’t easily fit into such a category. There are no big, obvious hooks or particularly sweet melodies here – this Brighton based quintet deal more in brash, bold and highly energetic post-punk (Think Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Interpol, The Strokes… anyone good) that might leave the casual listener somewhat in the lurch.
But while they may lack that appeal to drive-time programmers or Mr One Album A Year, there’s no doubting their immense quality, and tonight, proved themselves to be a thrilling and formidable proposition in the flesh.
The mile-a-minute charges of About Your Dress and X-Ray arrived early on, and quickened the pulse to an alarming rate. The rest of the set provided little respite, too – each of their numbers was delivered with an intensity and enthusiasm that was a joy to witness, not least on the likes of First Love and Latchmere, which were perfect examples of water tight musicianship and just rising to a another level on the live stage. When they left after just half an hour, it was a huge disappointment.
Headliners The Fratellis, on the other hand, are the perfect student band. Unsophisticated, edgy as a sphere and with a repertoire of songs that still sound OK being blasted out of tinny radios in halls of residences across the land, are tailor made for such a slot. And this evening, unfortunately, in spite of a fancy backdrop and expensive lighting, they did very little to dispel such accusations.
Appearing a little tired and annoyed with the lacklustre crowd (“Can you all wake the fuck up a wee bit?” demanded bassist Barry Fratelli – ever thought it might be you?), they sailed through their set with an audible lack of any sort of passion or verve. It all sounded awfully hollow as well – an extra guitar might be in order to beef things up, but perhaps there was more to it than such technical details.
Thing is, they don’t really have any songs. Sure, Creepin’ Up The Backstairs was a promising enough opener, but apart from that and Chelsea Dagger, their best track by such a long street it was verging on embarrassing, they came across more like a pub rock band you might see in Slough. On a Wednesday night. Ones that might promise to bring you the sounds of The Beatles and Status Quo, with a couple of covers thrown in – Smoke On The Water, perhaps, if they were allowed back for an after hours encore. In a packed Astoria on a Sunday night, therefore, their musical deficiencies were cruelly exposed, and their perplexingly highly regarded status made to look nothing short of bizarre.
Only time will tell whether they’ll stand the test of time and ever-changing tastes and trends, but with such distinctly average and uninspiring performances, the people’s band of 2006 will soon find themselves battling an army of deserters.