Perhaps to their frustration, after 16 years as a band, and with a bulky back catalogue, The Wave Pictures seem destined to remain a cult band, and haven’t yet mananged to break out of small venues. Outside the 500 capacity Islington Assembly Hall stand a measly four people when doors open; it’s full for the night with 400 by the time the trio grace the stage.
Up first is Tuff Love, their band name an apt summary of their style – the bassist’s “bitch” slogan T-shirt adding to the strong aroma of “tuff” girl power, even with a male drummer. Girl power and ripped jeans bring clean, focused rock songs and a good start to the night. The second support, The Proper Ornaments, are unprepared following the rumored disappearance of their drummer. With the drummer back and suitably clad in yet more denim, they try a stab at The Wave Pictures’ quick wit – “Thanks for that rapturous applause” – it falls short for the indignant faces of the Proper Ornaments. What they lacked in general attitude and getting-there-on-time etiquette, they made up for with their smooth, tuneful pop that shows clear The Velvet Underground inspiration and the more recent Swim Deep similarity.
A new song, Fire Alarm, starts The Wave Pictures’ set off – “This song’s about… a fire alarm” David Tattersall proclaims, giving the audience their first laugh of the night. Following this, a story about his unwell goldfish, appropriately dedicating their next track, The Goldfish, to his pet – a seemingly impromptu ballad that encapsulates perfectly The Wave Pictures’ very image; individual, light hearted pop with clean guitars and eccentric lyrics.
They bring out their “secret weapon” in the form of their drummer, Jonny Helm, to simultaneously sing and play on Atlanta, a sombre track from their most recent album City Forgiveness. They reveal their weapon again later in the show where Helm sings a fan favourite, Sleepy Eye. While the room was abuzz for Atlanta, the slow and simple Sleepy Eye brings everyone to silence, helped by Helm’s loud and striking voice as he stands by the microphone, holding a can of beer and looking like someone out of a school talent contest. Tattersall tells us that he wrote this song when he was just 15- years-old – and it shows; the lyrics add to the school talent show feel. The difference is made by Helm’s many years of practice; his voice is mesmerizing and adds flair to the naïve lyrics.
The whole night has a feel of a band who know what they’re doing – after 16 years they know how to put on a show: what songs to play in what order, what witty comments to make and how to sound as best as they possibly can while still sounding clean cut. Where they fall short is where they have the opportunity to shine; highlights such as Tiny Craters in The Sand, with a gentle melody similar to that of The Smiths, was dragged out much, however pleasant the sound. While The Wave Pictures have the charming ability to entertain the audience with the wit that seems to ooze from the still humble band, Tattersall and the much quieter bassist, Franic Rozycki, also have the rather less charming habit of adding minutes of instrumental solos in a number of their songs. While this may work in a larger venue, the audience standing in the small Islington Assembly Hall is bored by the over elaboration.
But when they work they’re pretty much the perfect indie band. The Woods is a perfect example of brilliant British songwriting: “Where the fear is bland like English food and warm like English beer.” It’s another case where The Smiths are strong influences. It’s so much better than on record, which seems to be the established pattern of The Wave Pictures; the venues remain stubbornly ‘intimate’, but live performance is their forte, and tonight they shone.