Live Music + Gig Reviews

XfM Winter Wonderland @ Brixton Academy, London

9 December 2006


Brixton is not famous for sleigh bells ringing, bluebirds or meadows full of Snowmen. It is however, a good place to go and see a bunch of kids singing, and while tonight might be Winter Wonderland by name more than nature, throwing together a line up which reads like a mainstream indie fan’s wet dream isn’t a bad way to bring on some frolic and play – in the Eskimo way of course.

If anything, tonight is more of a showcase event, distilled nuggets of each of the band’s repertoire, designed to produce maximum enjoyment within a minimum, time-limited set. For some, it’s a doddle: roll out the hits and be glad that you don’t have to look at the usual quizzical faces when you churn out the filler. For others, it’s a clear testament that the wave they are sailing on is well overdue to break.

Of course, life is made more difficult if you have to play first. After all, Captain are clearly the quick sausage roll before we sit down to the proper dinner. Upon entering Brixton Academy, they’re ambling through the remains of Glorious and their set to a crowd of die-hard barrier huggers and the bar staff, content but clearly not doing anything to suggest that they are more than the drab, indie-pop by numbers that you put on before the big hitters arrive. What could, and should, sound epic and joyous, is more lackluster and pedestrian. But, can you blame them when they are stuck as the orange in you’re stocking before you get to you’re proper presents?

Just Jack is in a similar position. A late addition, what he lacks in notoriety he makes up in effort: coming across like a cross between Craig David and Mike Skinner. Stars in Their Eyes and recent single Writers Block have the laid back R&B groove, underpinned by kitchen sink rapping. Backed up by bongos, acoustic guitar and a cello, Jack is less gritty than Plan B, more soulful than The Streets and less sappy pop drivel than David. Plus, he seems genuinely happy to be here, which considering his job is to be the pre-dinner booze that gets you on your way, is all the more to his credit.

He also seems to be unfazed by a more or less indifferent crowd and his early slot. His tracks may sound more Radio 2 than urban sprawl at times, but there is a real self-assurance and laid-back charm to him. In current company, he isn’t going to get the attention he deserves and the chance to show people what he can do – give him his own stage and we may have our next social commentator yet.

All of this should then, in theory make Boy Kill Boy look more like the chart-toppers they were threatening to be and less like the small army of bands who seem to have all the ingredients to do well but never get anywhere near. Unfortunately, we are still very much on the hors doeve, all be it probably some kind of fancy salmon topped thing. They have the big tunes (Civil Sin, Suzie), the swagger and the nous to look like something flash, but ultimately it all blends into a guitar/keyboards melee that is painfully samey. It’s a case of a band trying to be stadium fillers before they have managed to turn the pub into an army of devoted fans and treading on the toes of bands like The Killers who have already been there, done that and sold millions of records.

Moving swiftly on. If you are one of those people who likes the turkey but none of the trimmings, there is a good chance you like The Automatic. Owing to some kind of mass and highly contagious ear infection (probably), they are popular. People near us are screaming at them, and as far as we can tell, this is where the big bands come on and steal the show. Or, more accurately where the bands who are big for one song prove to four thousand people exactly why. Live, The Automatic are half dirge, and half theatrics to mask the dirge. They even do a rap-metal cover of Kayne West’s Gold Digger with hyperactive tosser Penny rapping: it’s easily as bad as you would imagine it to be. Of course, they then play Monster and everyone goes mad. You can count the number of bands who have lived healthily on a one hit wonder on one hand, let’s hope for everyone’s sake that The Automatic either pick up or shut up.

Which is something you may well have considered about The Feeling. Yes, they sound like Supertramp are twee and pretty camp. They also are about the most fun you can have in South London surrounded by mediocre “serious” indie bands. They are a glass of celebratory bubbly that washes away the blandness in your mouth and make you light-headed. They cover The Ga Ga’s Video Killed The Radio Star and, just as you think you should be cringing you have a bloody great grin on your face. Sewn, Fill My Little World and Never Be Lonely are slices of indie-pop, perfectly delivered into the hungry mouths of Brixton a dose of which someone should give to the band who are supposed to top them, The Kooks.

Massively successful debut, music school background and Topshop charm taken on board, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that The Kooks are without doubt the most eagerly anticipated band on here tonight. However, if running through your unit-shifting radio friendly album by numbers is as good as it gets, then Brixton is going home disappointed. Well, at least I am – Brixton is going mental. The mass appeal of The Kooks is enough that they could easily sell this venue out for their own tour, and whether you can cope with Luke Pritchards drawl and his bands predictable sing along choruses, it’s hard to deny that they have the masses wrapped around their little finger.

So while The Kooks are almost the main course for most of the crowd here, there is still more in the way of trimmings. After a “surprise” appearance by mock-rockers Tenacious D, performing three acoustic tracks, Kasabian swagger up to their instruments and launch into forty minutes of Stone Roses meets Oasis space rock, finally looking like they might have the balls and bravado to justify the roar that greets them.

By now it’s the getting wrecked after dinner part of the evening. They have their inevitable roof raising hits (Club Foot, LSF), but can also come back at you with psychedelic, trippier moments and full on dance rock crossover (Stuntman), more than suited to the bright lights and vast expanses of Brixton Academy. Front man Tom Meighan berates the crowd for being quiet, teases them into joining in and does his level best to leave everyone blown away. It’s a fitting end to a mixed bag of seasonal offerings, turkey’s treats and the possibility of some tempting tips for the new year.



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