On the back of their just-released album Dead Media, Hefner have been touring the UK and tonight finish at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Supported by bass-driven electro-funksters Appliance, the crowd had time to arrive and warm up. The place didn’t look sold out, but it didn’t look too far off it either. Perhaps if Hefner had played the Empire on the back of their far more poppy last effort, We Love The City, they’d have had a larger audience.
Whatever, the assorted specimens who turned up for this gig reminded me of the kind of audience Madness or The Frank and Walters used to attract – dominated by huge, up-for-it lads who weren’t at all shy of linking arms and kicking their legs up while holding their beers rather precariously – and unwittingly – above the heads of petrified little girls.
For a band establishing a reputation for being almost as shambolic as Badly Drawn Boy (although he does it all on his own), Hefner cut a curiously competent collective stage presence, with front man Darren Hayman alternating between keyboard and guitars while singing in that distinctive voice of his about love, environment and… astronauts (that would be Alan Bean, whom he’s apparently met).
It struck me at the time that he’s probably the closest London has to its own Jarvis Cocker, for Hayman’s stories are wittily written, don’t shy from being challenging and deal with themes with which one can easily identify. All of this is of secondary importance, however, for the main thing one is clearly meant to do at a Hefner gig is sing along and jump about.
The Day That Thatcher Died, their final song of the evening which features the quite wonderful coda “Ding donng, the witch is dead”, was all the more incendiary for the build-up it had, but, like the other big stomping numbers (none of these being from Dead Media), they seem to suddenly end when one least expects it. If Hayman has to work on something it is ending songs properly!
Dead Media is clearly a curious beast for the band at this point. In one between-songs gap, Hayman thanked the audience for listening to “the new stuff” and promptly rewarded them with some more oldies. With any luck, Hefner’s next album will return to the upbeat pub rock of We Love The City and the band will achieve their deserved place at the table of indie success stories.
A gig at London’s ICA follows next month and, if you’re up for a fun night out with some unashamedly political folk with instruments, you could do worse than trot along.