For such an unassuming bunch of people, The Zutons have quietly become one of the biggest bands in the country. Support slots with the likes of U2, REM and Oasis have obviously helped spread the band’s profile, and recent album Tired Of Hanging Around showed a new found confidence and swagger which helped result in a sell out gig at Sheffield’s Octagon tonight.
Larrikin Love were first up though, a band who, despite only releasing a couple of singles have already built up a massive buzz around them. It’s not hard to see why either – their music is a deranged mix of punk, ska and reggae with even a side helping of folk thrown in. They’ve got the energy of early Libertines, and the manic atmosphere of The Pogues. They are, in short, brilliant.
Lead singer Edward Larrikin was the focus of attention, a man who redefines the term ‘pale and interesting’. Looking slightly awkward and blessed with the cool insouciance that Alex Turner pulls off so effortlessly, he stalked round the stage barking out inspired, Morrissey-esque lyrics such as “England has nothing more to offer me” or “everything I adore came well before 1985” from the wonderful Downing Street Kindred. Whether he was crouching on the floor or playing with guitarist Micko Larkin’s effects pedal, the lad is a definite future star.
It’s the songs that make them so compelling though – the aforementioned Downing Street Kindred is an obvious highlight, followed quickly by the infectious Happy As Annie, with its memorable “children, please beware” chorus. Yet they can also easily pull off a sea shanty like John O’Ryan’s Polka Dot Shirt or the reggae tinged Meet Me By The Getaway Car and sound like veterans rather than the frighteningly young scamps that they actually are.
The closing Silver saw namechecking of Marilyn Monroe, Beethoven and Michael Flatley with a ridiculously addictive ska-like melody (which slightly nodded at the Arctic’s Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But) – another reason to place your orders now for the August release of the debut album The Freedom Spark, which is already shaping up to be one of the most rewarding listens of the year.
Any other band may have been nervous about following an act like Larrikin Love, but not The Zutons. Sauntering onto stage and launching into the opening Zuton Fever, they immediately proved what a tight unit they’ve are. Whether it be the excellent rhythm unit of Russell Pritchard and Sean Payne, or the unobtrusive rhythm guitar of Boyan Chowdhury, each person has a part to play in giving the live sound a real verve which makes the songs sound even better than they do on record.
Visually, most attention is on lead singer Dave McCabe and saxophonist Abi Harding who make a great double act. Harding obviously throws her all into the show, when not blowing into her sax she’s dancing round the stage, encouraging the audience to sing and clap along or contributing backing vocals. McCabe may be a bit more restrained, but he’s still a charismatic presence and his voice sounds even better live than it does on the records.
The setlist was split pretty evenly between the two albums, with Pressure Point causing an outbreak of frenzied dancing and You Will You Won’t being a singalong highlight. The newer material went down equally well, with future single Valerie already sounding like a classic and both Hello Conscience and It’s The Little Things You Do almost raising the roof.
The bittersweet acoustic strum of Remember Me was another highlight, before the entire Sheffield audience joined in with the harmonies of the wonderful Don’t Ever Think Too Much. The frenzied Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love meanwhile, featuring some great vocals from Harding, could well be the finest moment yet.
After a truly mindblowing psychedelic swamp-rock instrumental (only interrupted by one overcome fan rushing the stage to give McCabe a bear hug – “I thought that sort of thing only happened to Robbie Williams” quipped McCabe afterwards), the houselights went up to the sound of the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm. There was no curbing the Octagon’s enthusiasm tonight though – one of the most purely enjoyable evenings to be had in Sheffield for quite a while.