The Maccabees, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Big Pink, The Drums
Tim Miller 16/02/2010
Nearly five years ago, my best friend from school sent me an almost indecipherable text message to say he was backstage at the NME Awards Tour and had just drunkenly introduced himself to Brandon Flowers. Back then, NME magazine were championing the best in what everyone still loosely accepted as rock, with perhaps indie leanings, and they were getting it pretty much right: on the line-up that evening were The Killers, Bloc Party, The Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs. Three now globe-bestriding acts all starting to crack the path to success, and one bright star that would quickly burn itself up.
It is difficult to see many similarities five years on. Indeed, you could be forgiven at first for mistaking this for the NME Radar Tour (née New Music Tour) - it's not, although The Drums, The Big Pink and Bombay Bicycle Club have just two debut albums between them, both released last year. Only headliners The Maccabees -a long time favourite here at God is in the TV - have been ploughing a furrow for some years, and realised the well-received potential of 2005's Colour It In with their second album last year, Wall Of Arms.
Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks I'd always had down as a more adept, more amenable Preston off Ordinary Boys, a sentiment I actually indifferently applied band-wide to the Brighton act, probably directly due to that city's overshadowing of its snottier half-sibling Worthing... where The Ordinary Boys were from. Unfair perhaps, but The Maccabees' lite-punk of 2005 never struck me as anything standoutish from the wave of indie upstarts. Four years on, however, their coming of age follow up seems to have captured the imagination of many in the last 12 months, and they storm the Bournemouth O2 Academy tonight as accomplished headliners.
Their usual fare is bolstered by a punchy brass trio, which accentuates the South coast five piece's more mature second album material, and adds sheen to the singalong singles. Weeks is in good form as headlining ringleader, and thanks the crowd copiously for their hospitality, seeming quite taken with the grand interior of Bournemouth's 02 Academy, and merely the opportunity to be leading the line tonight.
Of all the bands on show though, the crowd themselves are most taken with Bombay Bicycle Club. Again, GIITTV have been pinning hopes on these hallowed youths for several years, and last year's debut release I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose collected the promise of several prior EPs and compressed it into 11 deceptively brilliant, if a touch frosty, lo-fi indie songs. For some reason tonight, their storming live favourites - Evening/Morning, What If, Magnet and Always Like This - are teasingly eked out at what seems a deliberately slow pace. While the smooth-skinned indie boys and girls go mental regardless, whether it's inexperience, nerves or just a tour joke, what should be a cracking Bombay Bicycle Club live set passes by in fleeting fits and starts.
In fact, for young guitar types, BBC might well find themselves usurped in 2010 by The Drums, whose summery jangle and dark pretention has got the industry in a bit of a tizz. Unfortunately, they come on stage so early tonight that around 300 people are still queuing outside in the gathering gloom, me included, and their opening half hour is entirely missed.
It's the harsh white noise emanating from The Big Pink's speakers as they stalk on stage that greets us late arrivals, and goes on to dominate their set. They are undoubtedly the NME Awards Tour's gamble: far removed from the rest of the bill, their hypnotic pools of noise sometimes hint at The Cure and Primal Scream, though with lashings of bold shoe-gaze on top. Their debut album was a curious thing: dark and gloomy songs the size of planets about love and hurt, but if they were difficult to love on first listen, on stage they come across far more impressively.
The Big Pink duo are no fresh-faced pups either, having racked up previous with record label experience and playing time with Alec Empire. But vocalist and guitarist Robbie Furze wields his weapon and raises his arms frequently as though The Big Pink are the sole reason anyone's here tonight, beckoning adulation and preening like a cross between Jack White and Julian Casablancas. He's thoroughly into this rockstar thing, and The Big Pink's uninhibited set - finishing with the ubiquitous anthem of the night Dominos - is without doubt the most intriguing and convincing.
Those two words, though, are adjectives that are levelled less and less against everything the NME does now. The roster for the NME Awards Tour tries to stay true to the magazine's traditional leanings, carting around variations on the Noughties-defining 'four sweaty boys with guitars' theme. But the NME's predicament is plain to see: what can you do when your readers vote Lady Gaga the Best- AND Worst-dressed pop star?
The trouble is that it's hard to see any of these bands being hugely important or stratospherically popular the way The Killers or Bloc Party are now, five years on, and the NME have lost their previous all-purveying tastemaker privilege to say otherwise. Even though these bands sound exciting, different, young and full of life, the evening still doesn't manage to invigorate or inspire as much as it should. The worry now is that when Jack Steadman, Orlando Weeks, Jonathan Pierce and Robbie Furze look back on their spot in the limelight, the little that it really means to have starred on the bill for the NME Awards Tour 2010 might be one of their proudest moments.