Friday, 8 January 2010

656 HOT HOT HEAT, The Departure, The Fever, Birmingham Academy 2, Monday 2 May 2005

Now the gigging year really starts! This, the first of up to 7 gigs scheduled for May, was our first at the Birmingham Academy, Hot Hot Heat's closest stop on this tour. Possibly the last though - the directions took us into the city centre through a bus-only lane (we're still waiting for the driving summons!) and to a poorly signposted car park. The venue itself was crap too - a sideroom on a balcony of a larger venue. As this was a sold out show, surely they could have moved it to the larger hall! Terrible eye-line too, as the stage was stuck diagonally in the corner, like the equally crappy Camden Underworld.

Got there as New York's The Fever were finishing off their set. A Martin Fry (ABC) lookalike fronting a band of jerky New Wavers with nothing terribly original to offer on this evidence. They'd been tagged as NYC's Franz Ferdinand, but seemed a pale imitation - more like NYC's Futureheads!

London's The Departure, main support, were a much better proposition. Opening with old single "Be My Enemy", they immediately impressed with some sly, sinister, soaring rock with an edge. Recalling the driving pomp of Marion or Idlewild, and the disco-bass base of mid-period Psychedelic Furs, they were nevertheless a band more than the sum of their influences. The Suede-alike vocalist could probably do with a style makeover (lose the wedge haircut and accountant's brown tie!) but it was good to hear a new UK band who didn't sound like XTC, a point I made to said vocalist afterwards, who fessed up to a love of the P-Furs!

Took a position over by the bar, stage left, for 9.30, Hot Hot Heat's appointed time. The stage darkened and dry ice billowed but the band kept us waiting for another 10 minutes before finally appearing to rapturous applause (and screams! Sheesh!). They initially struggled with poor sound and their set was smattered with errors endemic of a long tour promoting new CD "Elevator". However their ragged charm won out in the end, vocalist Steve Banks (sporting a veritable shrubbery of curly hair!) a jerky, energetic yelping presence throughout. Also, the new material, initially darker and less immediate than the joyful pop of their XTC-influenced previous album, made more sense "live". The sneer of "Dirty Mouth", the adventurous layered structure of "Island", but most of all the infectious bounce of sure-fire Summer smash "Picking It Up", a "Wake Up Boo!" in the making. Pop! with a capital P.

The awesome, defining "Bandages" closed the set, after which we really didn't need an encore but got one anyway. And the journey home was much easier too. Overall, ragged but lots of fun, and a great way to kick off this heavy-gigging May!

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