The scene around Rock City at 7pm on the night of the annual NME Awards Tour feels very familiar. Queues stretch back towards the underground car park where cars regularly emerge and subtly try to run you over, dishevelled-looking touts try and conduct their business away from the beady eye of the law, and four tour buses occupy prime spots in the Rock City car park – the four acts ready to inspire a new generation of gig-goers are waiting to take the stage.
Except this year is different. There is precious little to inspire even the most excitable of music-lovers here; a series of sub-par performances accompanied by poor sound and an exodus before the headliners have even taken the stage.
Not that Peace could do much more to improve their performance in the opening slot. Their baggy-inspired indie contains all the elements to put them on the same path as the Foals and Bombay Bicycle Clubs of the world, and the section of the audience who manage to get in early enough to see them seem appreciative enough of melody-laden songs such as ‘Wraith’ and latest single ‘Follow Baby’, one of several songs hampered by terrible sound.
The issue with Peace occupying this slot is that the NME has used it in the past to take a risk – Florence and the Machine and Azealia Banks for example – and the cross-section of performers on show today (seventeen white boys with guitars) is fairly damning of NME’s commitment to diversity of new music.
Palma Violets are another act hampered by technical issues, in their case a faulty guitar, which means they have to cut their set short to the relief of the two-thousand strong crowd, who frankly have done well to survive the endurance test served up by the London four-piece’s array of tedious, sub-Libertines rock and roll ‘anthems’. ‘Best of Friends’ is a decent enough song but quite how a single half-decent tune and an admittedly good imagine has elevated them to ‘Next Big Thing’ status is beyond this listener.
It is actually a hard-fought battle between Palma Violets and Miles Kane for the title of most derivative act of the evening, one which the Wirral-man just snatches by virtue of being 0% individual. He walks onto the stage clad in a Sergeant Pepper’s-inspired uniform, does his best to rally the uninterested crowd in a Gallagher-esque fashion, and does well not to spontaneously morph into Paul Weller half-way through the set, especially after playing ‘You’re Gonna Get It’, a track co-wrote with the Modfather himself. There are signs of progression in a couple of the new tracks given an airing, drenched in reverb and groove-heavy, and one can only hope Kane decides to move out of his comfort zone with his next release.
A quick word to NME about the line-up – Django Django are a fine band, interesting and innovative, but know your audience. The confused looks on the youngsters’ faces as the foursome launch into a hypnotic rendition of ‘Hail Bop’ is potentially the highlight of the evening, but leaves a strange disconnect between headliner and audience that doesn’t create an enjoyable atmosphere for either party. Indeed, there is an odd cross-section of attendees – youngsters at the front brought up on Zane Lowe who want to go crazy to indie-rock anthems, elder Britpop enthusiasts who are in thrall to Miles Kane’s revivalism, and arty types who nod their heads studiously to Django Django’s electronic-fused pop but seem scarred by the three acts previous.
The Scottish-Irish-English group do their best to win over said crowd and display an impressive stagecraft finely honed by extensive touring. Signature track ‘Default’ is rapturously received and at times they seem like a youthful Hot Chip – one hopes that they can build their own audience and carve their own niche in a similar manner.
Despite their best efforts, the crowd thins quickly and further emphasises the folly of the line-up choices. In the past ten years this gig has almost always sold out very quickly and crowds would have left with the final notes of Two Door Cinema Club, The Maccabees, The Cribs or The Killers ringing in their ears. This can genuinely be an inspiring night of the year for music lovers and one can only hope that next year’s renewal will return to previous heights.
…Jonnie has been listening to Foals – ‘Holy Fire’