It’s the first big hurdle in a band’s career: picking a name. Sometimes they get it just right and it suits them to a tee.
Take tonight’s NME Awards Show line-up. First up are the ambiguously named punk posers Sharks, and the night’s headliners are Girls, whose name makes them sound like a female fronted electro-pop act. With Frankie & The Heartstrings there’s no such confusion. Bequiffed, suited, booted and with a cheeky twinkle in his eye, front man Frankie Francis is so many different cliches in one, he’s gone full circle and is startlingly contemporary.
They make a shaky start but soon get into the swing of things. Francis looks like the class geek on his first acid trip as he begins awkwardly stalking the stage, clicking his fingers before warming up and spinning around in a thrilling whirl. He’s wonderfully foppish – part Kevin Rowland, part Edwyn Collins – and for the few moments that he lets his distinctive yelp slide, he proves he can really sing.
It’s not all image. The Sunderland boys sound like they’ve raided Joe Strummer‘s record collection and blended it with the indie-punk sound of their fellow townsmen The Futureheads. A mash-up of ’80s indie and Motown harmonies, it’s retro by numbers but somehow manages to sound fresh and exciting. Single Hunger is a perfect example – angular indie-funk with a chant-along chorus. It’s a blessing and a curse, as so much of their energy seems to go into crafting a foot-stomping hook that, frustratingly, the ends of their songs just fade out.
Their last song of the night, Fragile, is also classic Frankie. “If you’re gonna break down, just break down, but if you break on me there’s nothing to see” he croons, before shattering the crowd’s ’50s American diner fantasies by uttering his thanks in a thick north east accent.
San Francisco four piece Girls do nothing to restore the dream. Their colourful backstory of hippy cults and drug-addled teenage years is far from wholesome, but has provided them with a dreamy, if rather downbeat canvas to work from.
Their album Album, released in 2009, contains some heartbreaking, lo-fi slices of ’60s inspired pop, but sadly they’re lost on stage. The likes of Lust For Life and Laura verge on jaunty, with plenty of jangly guitar and early Beach Boys-esque musings from lovelorn singer Jason Pierce. They sound like Super Furry Animals injected with a sharp dose of sunshine, but the delicate, intricate workings of Album don’t translate live and there’s a lot of talking and shuffling towards the bar. There’s no attempt at onstage banter, they’re completely unengaging and that filters into the music too.
The highlight of their set is encore track Big Bad Mean Motherfucker, a wall of noisy, My Bloody Valentine inspired reverbed guitar. It sees them looking and sounding meaner and sharper and, just as the show draws to a close, it feels as though we’re finally getting somewhere.