“This one’s about iPods,” announces Ben Esser. It’s already difficult enough to forget that this gig is sponsored by iTunes, what with all the posters, laminates and the over the top announcements before every performance, but Esser makes sure everyone’s aware of it between each song. He does so in a sarcastic, almost arrogant way which begs the question: Why do it, then?
Playing songs from his recently released Braveface album (“You can buy it on iTunes”) he never really engages the crowd. Walking on wearing a sparkly, Michael Jackson-esque military style jacket, it looks like he’s ready to put on a show. But things soon descend into the perfunctory. He’s not helped by the muddy sound, which ruins Leaving Town and the title track. Only Stop Dancing and Headlock make any impact on the crowd, but even then it’s a polite sway rather than the all-out riot Esser and his band are hoping for. At one point the keyboardist pleads with the front rows to get involved, but in all honesty there’s not much to be excited by.
It’s this atmosphere of general malaise that Graham Coxon walks out into; fresh from those triumphant Blur gigs where guitar noodling was jettisoned in favour of playing the hits. Playing the hits is something very far from Coxon’s mind this evening, however. There will be no Freakin’ Out, no Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery, no I Wish, no Standing On My Own Again. Instead, the folk stylings of the recently released The Spinning Top are played, in order, with only Far From Everything missing. That’s over an hour of one album played, for the most part, sat down and supported only by a bass player, drummer and two backing singers.
That’s not to say that Coxon isn’t an incredibly talented musician and an oddly loveable performer, but in a venue the size of the cavernous Roundhouse, the subtleties of the songs get lost. It’s also obvious that some of the songs are simply not that interesting. Opener Look Into The Light is pretty enough, but Coxon’s weak voice means he’s no Nick Drake. It’s only when he stands up and plugs in his electric guitar that the audience start to get excited, hoping perhaps for a break from the recent material, only to be disappointed. To be fair, the relatively raucous Dead Bees is brilliant, the only song that really gets the blood pumping.
There are moments of beauty of course, not least the delicate In The Morning, the recent single Sorrow’s Army and the jaunty Perfect Love. Unfortunately, it’s impossible not to shake the feeling that this was a missed opportunity to really show that Coxon can exist outside Blur, that he has the songs and the stage presence to be a proper solo artist. The fact is, he does have both, he just chose not so show either tonight. In a venue of this size, and with a packed crowd ready and waiting, he… froze.