Say what you will about the quality of NME as a magazine, and we do, but it can’t be denied that their annual awards tour shindig always attracts a higher calibre of bands. Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party have been amongst the previous attractions, and this year just happens to include the most talked about band in Britain right now.
First though, the Mystery Jets had the unenviable act of warming up an audience already baying for the homecoming of Arctic Monkeys. They appeared to have their own group of hardcore fans in the audience already though, happily chanting “Zoo Time” in homage to opening number of the same name.
Mystery Jets have already garnered vast amounts of column inches for their backstory – lead singer Blaine Harrison has spina bifida and performs on crutches, while his 55 year old father Henry is the band’s lead guitarist – but this has sometimes threatened to overshadow the group’s music.
It’s an unclassifiably quirky mixture of styles, with Blaine Harrison the undoubted star of the show. Sat behind his keyboard, he also contributes drums and guitar, while Henry seems to be rapidly becoming a cult figure, responding to various appreciative shouts from the crowd with a grin and a thumbs up.
Sometimes, their music seems to be searching in vain for a melody, but when they hit their stride, as on new single The Boy Who Ran Away or set closer Alas Agnes, the results are spectacularly good. Their forthcoming debut album should be one of 2006’s most intriguing listens.
We Are Scientists also fall on the quirky side, at least visually. Bassist Chris Cain could be the only man in rock to make a moustache and glasses combination look cool, while he and lead singer Keith Miller have a bickering comedy double act routine worked out between the songs.
Those songs are pretty frantic affairs, and while not particularly original, Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt and Can’t Lose are both highlights. They’re certainly more effective live than on debut album With Love And Squalor, where the unrelenting pace can get a bit too much, and in The Great Escape, they’ve got a potential classic in their repertoire.
Next up, Maxïmo Park, who have been headlining all through the tour, but who dropped to second on the bill for one night only tonight. It was a generous gesture that was appreciated by the crowd who treated them to a rapturous reception and chants of “Max-i-mo” throughout the set. Lead singer Paul Smith can do scissor kicks like no man alive and as he raced through opening track Graffiti he effortlessly oozed charisma.
Those who dismiss the Geordie band for being just another group in the mould of Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand are missing the point. There’s a sadder, poignant edge to many of their songs, such as I Want You To Stay, with its aching chorus of “nothing works round here…” and the magnificent Going Missing.
Crucially, they’re also great at creating hook-filled guitar pop to throw yourself around to manically – songs such as Limassol and Apply Some Pressure sound superb live, and it’s quite easy to see how they’ve pulled off the headlining duties with such aplomb on this tour.
In Sheffield though there could only be one headliners, and it was the return of the local heroes that everybody was waiting for. If the initial buzz of watching Arctic Monkeys as they were on the cusp of something huge has abated now, that still doesn’t stop them from being one of this country’s truly great live bands.
Everybody in the crowd sang along word perfect to set opener View From The Afternoon, before going absolutely wild for I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. For anyone concerned that they may already have used up their best songs, we were also treated to brand new track Leave Before The Lights Come On, which with its plaintive refrain of “I’ll walk yer up, what time’s the bus come” stands up there with Alex Turner’s best songs.
Bass player Andy Nicholson grinned like a Cheshire Cat throughout, which is understandable when you’re watching a bunch of teenagers bellow out “it’s getting tense, could get tenser, could all go a bit Frank Spencer” back at you, and although there were mass chants for the boys’ cover of Girls Aloud‘s Love Machine, they teased us with the introduction but refused to play the full song (“oh is that all you like us for, a fuckin’ Girls Aloud song? Well you can have A Certain Romance and fuck off” said Alex with tongue firmly in cheek).
We were even treated to Mardy Bum, a song unplayed so far on this particular tour, which was greeted with near ecstasy by the faithful, while the community spirit was bolstered still further by a mass singalong to Still Take You Home. No doubt there’s a huge backlash on the way after the band’s meteoric rise over the last six months, but it’s already assured that of all the NME Awards Tour’s alumni, they’re going to be bigger than the lot of them.