Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Soft Pack @ Borderline, London

12 February 2010

The first annual HMV Next Big Thing festival featured over 60 artists in 25 gigs in five venues across London.

Some of these acts – such as BBC Sound Of 2010 winner Ellie Goulding, Marina & The Diamonds and Two Door Cinema Club – are already making a name for themselves, but this was a good opportunity to showcase an eclectic range of talents.
Like some others in the festival, The Soft Pack are not exactly a new band – they’ve already released several EPs over the last couple of years, changing their name from The Muslims at the end of 2008 – but the release of their debut eponymous album at the start of this month has upped their profile. After performing a few gigs here last year (including supporting Franz Ferdinand), the San Diego four-piece are back strutting their stuff.

A retro garage band with a streak of surf rock, these Californian dudes sometimes suggest a punked-up version of The Beach Boys. Their lo-fi sound may offer echoes of The Modern Lovers, The Ramones and The Strokes, but there is a distinctively West Coast laid-back quality to their music too. Their taut 50-minute set was an accomplished, no-frills performance of material from the new album plus a few earlier songs.

Kicking off with a fine account of current catchy single C’mon, they entertained the sell-out audience without breaking sweat. A series of mainly two-minute pop-punk tracks such as Down On Loving, Answer To Yourself and early single Parasites were executed with the minimum of fuss, with the chilled-out Mexico bringing down the tempo with its suggestion of the Pacific surf rolling onto a beach. The irresistibly driving riffs and rhythms of Pull Out and More or Less stood out from the crowd: with a few more songs like these the band could really be a force to reckon with.

As a live outfit, The Soft Pack deliver the goods but they could do with a bit more urgency. Matt Lamkin’s voice is strong enough but he is an uncharismatic performer, seeming subdued and abstracted, not engaging with the crowd. Matty McLoughlin’s guitar has a nice twangy sound, while bassist David Lantzman and stand-up drummer Brian Hill make a tight rhythm section. It would just be nice to see them let their hair down a bit more.

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