The Maccabees/Laura Marling @ Birmingham Academy, 7/10/07

I have to say I didn’t used to like The Maccabees. In fact I didn’t dislike them. I nothinged them. They were another one of the wearying stream of bands that have nothing but a tenuous USP to distinguish them – the one with their dad in, the ones that used to be banned everywhere cos their mates were a bit lairy, the Young Knives (um, do they even have a ‘thing’) and the ones that are from Leeds but aren’t the Kaiser Chiefs.You know what I mean? A constant flow of bands tumbling off the treadmill that are fine and maybe reasonably good but can anyone really get that excited about them? (As an aside – someone reading over my shoulder just mentioned the Kaisers’ vid for ‘Everything Is Average’. Tom Lehrer would have something good to say about that).

The point I’m slowly creeping up on? Well, to that list I’d have added The Maccabees – the ones who sing about a swimming pool.

Anyway, enough waffle. I got to the Academy to find a fairly impressive crowd split in two. Half were appreciating the country/folk stylings of the beautifully voiced Laura Marling; half were noisily ignoring her around the bar at the back. I only caught the last couple of Laura’s set but what I heard was good enough to make me look up what she’s done and I’d recommend you do the same. Go on, what’s the worst that could happen?

Stepping on to the stage next was Derek Meins. Wild of hair and eye, he stood at the mic, thrust out a hand and broke into a theatrically proclaimed poem. I’ve absolutely no recollection of what he was saying – it could have been an impassioned call to arms, it could have been a shopping list, all I can say is that I was transfixed and so was the crowd. It would’ve taken a brave person to heckle. He followed this by taking up his guitar and singing, which seemed a little conventional after the opening salvo. The short set was completed with another couple of poems and songs. I gather he’d performed before Laura Marling too. Anyway, Derek Meins was ace, definitely check him out.

So to the main attraction, suitably warmed up. Now this isn’t the time or place for my rant about why gigs can be rubbish if you’re tall. However, when a band decides to go for the mysterious backlit look with those light cannon things pointing out at the audience it’s the poor sods like me who spend their time squinting painfully without a clue to what’s being played on stage. I think it might have been a new song – I remember some squealing guitars and a generally more atmospheric sound that didn’t tally with the energetic pogo-friendly rock I was expecting.

That was to come though. X-Ray got the enthusiastic crowd jumping and things didn’t really let up much from then on. The light show, you’ll be pleased to know reverted to something much more bearable. Singer Orlando wandered about the stage singing into the mic with the stand above his head (the mic was still in place), his style of singing being the currently quite fashionable ‘indolent child’ style. That’s not to say he was a moody sod though – a warmer and more effusive character you couldn’t hope to see on stage, even when soaked by a well-aimed drink.

Actually, that soaking came at the low point of the show, with Orlando taking up an accordion for a run through a new song that didn’t quite work for me. It was worth a go though, there’s nothing wrong with trying something different. Felix, the energetic guitarist, took vocals for that one and it was pretty much the first time in the evening that he stood still for any length of time.

The rest of the set was solid, by-the-numbers indie rock, delivered with energy and charm. The crowd clapped, sang, crowd surfed and threw underwear at the stage – a couple of thongs and a pair of mouldy grey boxers since you asked – which just goes to show that just because I hadn’t ‘got’ the band before wasn’t to say that no-one else had picked up on their charms.

The show squeezed in all of debut album Colour It In along with the previously mentioned new tracks. The band said that they’re ‘saying goodbye’ to that first album on this tour before going back to the studio to record a follow-up. The required encore closed with Happy Faces, which seemed apt as I followed the sweaty fans out afterwards.

So am I a convert? Well yes and no. They put on a good show of solid indie rock n roll and everyone went home happy. I’m not entirely convinced that they stand out that far from the crowd but I’ll be paying more attention when the new album arrives. Orlando and Felix are an entertaining, charming and polite (the ‘thank you’ count was off the chart) pair and that’ll help them. They’re just lacking some killer songs to make the band as a whole something to really love.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.