“And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come over next year…” That was my closing remark, when the Hi-Fi rhythm section Drew Parsons and Brian Nolan brought their own brand of powerpop dynamism to a scratch Lemonheads line-up, brilliantly backing up Evan Dando at Portsmouth’s gig 834 back in November 2011. Well, despite Drew’s belief that they’d be back over the following year, they made us wait a further 2, totalling 8 ¾ years since they’d last crossed the pond (gig 685, back in October 2005!); not that we’ve been counting or anything! As for what the boys have been up to since then… not much really, vocalist Stacy Jones and guitarist Jamie Arentzen have only been playing in the backing band (Stacy returning to the drum-stool to do so) of the world’s most talked-about pop star Miley Cyrus! Hey, it’s a (very lucrative, I’d imagine) paying gig, playing in arenas and stadiums, so fair play to you, boys!
In fact we’ve got Miley to thank for this gig in a roundabout way, as her “Bangerz” tour is currently in the UK, so with a gap between dates, the boys decided to sort a gig of their own! I jumped on tix as soon as they went on sale, before they (eventually) sold out, and Tim and Tracey therefore picked Rach and myself up just after 5 for the usual hit-and-miss run into London. Tim decided to drive all the way in, which initially looked a shrewd shout as we parked up just off Charlotte Street, about a 10 minute walk from the venue. However a chunk of Oxford Street was cordoned off due to an “incident”, necessitating an increasingly frustrating hike around the rabbit warren backstreets behind Oxford Street, eventually arriving at the venue ¾ hour after parking the car! Yikes! So we missed the first support band, and headed to the bar for much needed refreshment while main support The Hype Theory were on. They were terrible – a clumsy, ham-fisted retread of oddly dated sounding millennial Nu-punk, with an overpowering drummer, and a female vocalist berating the crowd’s indifference.
Our mood was however lifted by spotting Jamie in the crowd, so I tapped him on the shoulder and we caught up awhile (well, as much as the onstage noise would allow) with one of the nicest, most chilled blokes it’s my pleasure to know. He eventually drifted off to get ready, and we took a spot stage left, spotting a spectating Miley and her entourage in the cordoned-off side-stage area next to us. Come to see what her boys are capable of when they really cut loose with the rock, no doubt…
Just after 9.30, the Hi-Fi bounded enthusiastically onstage, as is their wont, Stacy announcing, “we’re American Hi-Fi, we’re a rock’n’roll band from Boston, Massachusetts,” (nice to see that’s not changed!), then burst into the ringing opening riff to “Surround”, the leadoff track to that classic first album, 13 years old and still sounding fresh as a spring waterfall. That was it, the years fell away and I was down the front, finding a surprisingly easy pocket of space in which to rock out throughout, and being acknowledged by Stacy and Drew midway through that first number. A blistering “Scar” followed in short order, then “The Breakup Song” cranked it up an even higher notch, and at this point they were threatening to unmoor this revered venue from its’ foundations!
The Hi-Fi were totally on fire tonight: always at their best when tightrope walking right on the ragged edge, often threatening to tumble into chaos but somehow managing to pull it all together, they gave a perfect demonstration of that tonight, kinetic and committed, sawing away at their guitars for all they’re worth. “Hi-Fi Killer” was an incendiary yet tune-laden delight, before Stacy paused for breath, stating, “it’s really special to be playing for you guys tonight,” then announcing new material due in the Autumn with new single “Allison” (“We’re putting it out after this show so you’ll find it on the world wide web”), the turbocharged guitar riffs proving them new apples haven’t fallen far from the Hi-Fi tree of rock.
We only got a couple of the new numbers tonight (“they’re harder to play!” lamented Stacy), as the Hi-Fi delved increasingly into their classic debut. Some wag called for “Wrecking Ball”, Stacy retorting with, “I can play drums on that!” before “Another Perfect Day” required a couple of starts (“oh, that’s the wrong chord!”) but was brilliantly anthemic, Stacy introducing Jamie for the perfectly-delivered “All The Young Dudes” middle-8 riff. “Blue Day” was a loose-limbed itchy jump-about fest, Stacy admitting he’d tried to rip off the Charlatans when he wrote this one! This startlingly swift set rushed by in a breathless amphetamine blast of pace, power and
crushing powerpop riffery, drawing towards a conclusion with the inevitable “Flavor Of The Weak”, Stacy warning, “here’s one we’d better not fuck up,” but then totally nailing it, the crowd filling in the middle 8 hook to Stacy’s delight. A roaring, soaring and thoroughly absorbing “Wall Of Sound” ended a magnificent set, the boys not missing a beat overall despite their 8 year absence.
Before the encores, a tuning lull gave me an opportunity to congratulate the onstage Stacy on his recent nuptials, drawing a, “well thank you David Rose!” response from the man, and the story of Jamie’s Best Man duties, which prompted a, “Speech! Speech!” chant directed at the bemused guitarist. The encores were amazing, “The Art Of Losing” an all-inclusive call to arms and possibly the best number on show, delivered with a swagger and a grin. Final number “Happy” was preceded by fulsome praise from an effusive Stacy, who’d allegedly never expected this kind of response (“we thought if maybe 30 or 40 people came along that’d be cool…”), and saluted the enthusiastic crowd response at length at the end.
That wasn’t it thought – it never is when there’s a Boston band involved! Jamie, lovely guy that he is, dashed backstage to grab me a set-list (a couple of the boys had forgotten to bring theirs on, Stacy needing to refer to Drew’s throughout!), then we had pix and conversations with him and Drew, also meeting Stacy’s lovely bride Kristen and grabbing a quick word with the predictably-besieged frontman before heading off, breathless and totally elated. This was a pain to get to, but totally worth it, a resurrection of sorts for one of the most dynamic and incendiary live acts it’s been my privilege ever to see “live”. Brilliant though The Hold Steady were on Monday, I reckon this even topped that, and might just end up being my Gig of the Year. Yup, there, I said it. And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come back over again… when the album is out!