We Are Scientists, Goldheart Assembly
Alex Nelson 19/11/2010
I've always sort of thought We Are Scientists were alright. Ever since the furiously caustic guitar break squalls of 'Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt' came tearing through my speakers, I've always been a casual fan. Indeed, I assumed their debut album was 2005's 'With Love And Squalor', an album which has been assigned the arguably great label of 'a good album to have on in the background, perhaps when tidying the house or something.' On closer inspection 'Fun, Safety And Learning (In That Order)', is WAS' actual debut album of 2002, perhaps an indication of my casualness; although many people I have spoken to since have seemed equally surprised by this fact. And I don't know if everyone would be happy with the label afforded WLAS, but in my world it's something of a symbol of steady quality.
First to perform tonight in front of the seemingly half empty UEA music hall are Rewards. While we only manage to catch the last few songs of their set, it's long enough to notice that 1. most of their songs are based around triggered samples, so it's barely live music at all 2. a lazy comparison to MGMT could be made if you were looking to fill a word count and 3. some of my friends made a slightly more energetic comparison to American electro-pop obscurists Chairlift, who were also lazily compared to MGMT by some of my more distant 'friends' back in the day. So it all sort of comes around. In short then, very MGMT.
Goldheart Assembly take to the stage to a surprising amount of woops and cheers from the crowd. Upon a quick MySpace inspection unprofessionally in lieu with putting my coat on and heading out the door for the gig, I was worried to see an indefinable amount of acoustic guitars, beards, ukuleles, and long tweed coats. Like a staccato Mumford & Sons, their Edith Bowman introduced live videos signalled the arrival of yet another young band looking to reach the dizzying heights of the Jo Wiley endorsed Radio 1 playlist. When the band arrive on stage tonight though, I breath a slight sigh of relief as they have decided to ditch their novelty folk revival instruments in favour of their meatier, electric cousins. Suspiciously, the most enigmatic member of the band - Portasound, ukulele, glockenspiel, vocals, misc. player (it says here) Thomas Hastings - is forced to the back of the stage for the duration of the set, Thrashing about on his axe like a young Malkmus at the height of Pavement's stoned slacker rock jams, his comparatively lewd antics don't quite fit in with the rest of the bands mild tempered professionalism as they forget to have fun and focus on making a quick buck (yes, their album is STILL available to buy at the merch stand, as they so helpfully keep reminding us). He even breaks out the drumsticks and going all second percussionist on us, Bob Nastanovich style.
The band rattle through their set of Beatles 'inspired' (ahem) ditties with little aplomb. The set does break pace slightly towards the end, and it's a nice enough surprise to hear more electric renditions of the songs which seem to keep the majority of the audience transfixed, but it's not to win this reviewer over unfortunately.
And finally, it is time for my 48th (probably) favourite band to take to the stage. The lights dim, then come back on, and We Are Scientists launch into the jingle jangle chorded intro of early set highlight 'Nice Guys' quicker than you can say 'hey, that's not Andy Burrows of Razorlight fame on drums!' Indeed, session drummer Adam Aaronson has been drafted in for this tour, and he keeps the beat and provides the backing for something that has become somewhat of the 'Keith Murray And Chris Cain Show' in recent years, as original drummer Michael Tapper left in 2007 to pursue 'other things.' The leading duo intersperse the set with their trademark comedy banter; Keith requesting no offence be taken by bass player Chris as he asks for less of him in his monitors (and out front; a measure taken a little too seriously by the sound guy, who proceeds to muddy the sound and subject the band to the old UEA sound system curse). They charge through a batch of songs strewn with the sort of catchy hits you had forgotten about until now.
The band play well throughout the evening and it's all very professional. Songs like 'Chick Lit' and 'It's A Hit' jump out of the speakers with the expected force they deserve - the crowd responding well to their danceable drum beats and spiky guitars - and there are no toppling mics, broken strings or feedback freak-outs to contend with. And that's just the problem.
The band are pretty much pitch perfect for the entirety of their time on stage, but it's all feels a bit standard and 'meh', as if the band are just going through the motions for another city on another tour. That being said, for die-hard We Are Scientists fans this is probably the show of a lifetime, as the band tread lightly on new album 'Barbara', and aside from a few songs a casual fan like me is yet to recognise, draw heavily on cuts from 'With Love And Squalor' and 2008's 'Brain Thrust Mastery'. Strangely, the band bring in the guitar assistances of Rewards' axe-man as Keith Murray abandons his instrument completely to jump among the mosh and meet his adoring public. WAS' then leave the stage and returning again quicker than you can say 'they've played all the hits... what could follow now?'
After dumping their most famous songs like 'The Great Escape' and 'This Scene Is Dead' mid-set, it's hard to see what We Are Scientists could possibly do for an encore as they return to the stage to hastily ('oh, the setlist was folded at the bottom, there's actually two songs left) strum through what are presumably a couple of choice cuts from the new album. You'll have to forgive my casual fan ignorance on this one.
So all in all then, a technically proficient gig with minimal to no faults, but not one that will stick around in the mind of this reviewer for long.