The first act is something of a surprise. He’s called John Mouse, and was not mentioned in any of the publicity (that I saw) before the gig. He walks on stage alone, sings loudly “god” and then stops. There’s a slight sense of confusion from the audience, but completely undeterred he carries on, “god, put you on this earth. To save me”. He explains, with a strong Welsh accent, that normally he has a band with him, but they’re all in London and pretty miraculously for the first support act of an evening, silence soon falls as people stop talking and start to focus on him. Not afraid to make eye-contact, even during the hilarious track ‘Sex With You’, Mouse is brimming with confidence. His final two songs are especially daring, doing “karakoe” to his own songs, and unbelieveably it really works. He bounces off stage during ‘Got You Shaking Your Head (Like David Gray)’, disappearing upstairs and then reappearing at the back of the crowd. It’s a funny, endearing, entertaining performance, and the way he seemingly doesn’t care at all what we think, only adds to that.
Next up are Strange News From Another Star, who are fronted by Jimmy of Future Of The Left. They also take time to engage with the crowd, even leading in to ‘Tell Your Mother I’m Back. Again’ by asking one of the people I’m with, “what would your mother say if you brought me home and introduced me to her?”, to much amusement. At times their Mclusky-esque thrashing is verging on the overly testosterone fuelled, but that’s brought down with ancedotes, including a wry story about asking a member of Pret A Manger whether the cheese “is dolphin friendly”.
Los Campesinos! make their way on stage and with very little fuss start playing. The crowd remain mostly still, ‘no matter’ I think, things will pick up. Unfortunately they don’t particularly. Sonically, LC! are still very good, they’ve made some clever, slight changes to their older songs - some really interesting syncopation on ‘Miserabelia’ and they get away without Harriet’s beautiful violin playing, replacing it with an echoing, stretched guitar melody that fills the gap without compromise. But something still isn’t quite right.
When they suffer a slight technical difficulty in between two songs, Gareth tries a little to keep us entertained, but seems mostly content with the silence. This happens a couple of times, his anecdotes and jokes feel a little forced and at one point, when he says, “I’m finding it hard to take this singing thing seriously” the ripple of laughter from the audience is more polite than genuine.
Again, I should point out that it was mostly of a very high standard, ‘To Tundra’ is as powerful live as you could hope, the sharp opening rhythm blares out, and the bass vibrates through the crowd, but there’s always been something more to LC! concerts than just how they sound. If I compare tonight to the (many) times I’ve seen them before, it just isn’t in the same league. I was expecting a sweaty, exhausting and amazing evening and I didn’t leave the venue, thinking ‘yeh, that’s why they’re my favourite band’ which is normally what happens. At times, things pick up and it feels more like all those other times. The inevitable crowd-pleaser ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ livens the pace, although the usual throw-away comment about beer is mumbled out, and they follow it up with ‘The Sea…’ which brings things right down again.
There’s an encore tonight, unlike on Sunday, when the applause petered away pretty quickly, so that’s a little reassuring, but even then, as “one blink for yes, two blinks for no” is shouted out, something still isn’t quite right. Personally, I love ‘Hello Sadness’ (read my review of it here for evidence), but I’ve seen a fair amount of people who haven’t. It’s been preying on my mind for a while, whether a band can remain as consistently good as they have done, let’s hope this is just a temporary blip.