NME Tour – Birmingham Academy, 6/02/08

In past years getting tickets for the annual NME tour was a case of hammering the phone lines as soon as they opened. Tickets sold fast and with good reason – some timely booking secured acts such as Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park when they were on the cusp of national recognition. However, last year was a low ebb (Mumm-Ra anyone?) and this year’s bill didn’t seem to get the juices flowing either; tickets were still available on the door.

To the bands then. I admit I missed The Ting Tings, the band I was most curious about. If anyone reading this got there earlier than me then feel free to tell us about them below.

I saw Does It Offend You, Yeah? back in June and was impressed but thought in some ways their stagecraft was lacking. I’m pleased to say they’ve improved – a lot. There was a definite buzz before they came out, built on by a menacing intro of caterwauling feedback and strobes flashing across the stage. I don’t know whether half the crowd chose to jump to the opening salvo of Weird Science or if the sheer force of it hoisted them off their feet. All I know is that the boys put up an irresistable wall of sound.

Current single ‘Let’s Make Out’ sparked the night’s only mosh-pit action and, while Doomed Now doesn’t quite growl like the others it’s the most danceable track in their arsenal with heavy drums, elastic bass and James’s great, vocodered vocals.

Morgan seemed a little tamer than before, although upper-cutting himself on his guitar the night before might explain that. If he was comparatively reserved it’s James that deserves plaudits for his performance – I didn’t rate him much before but he’s developed a much stronger presence and scores points for speaker stack climbing.

Set-closer We Are Rockstars has now been honed to a fine point but still hits like a sledgehammer. The final breakdown and build-up was perfect and the dirty riffs punched through satisfyingly. At their best, they’re a visceral, exciting experience and can only get bigger.

For me the jury’s still out on Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong. In terms of crowd reaction and excitement they certainly didn’t rate above DIOYY? The die-hards immediately in front of the stage aside, once the crowd’s initial curiosity had been sated there was much more chatting than clapping between (and during) songs.

Joe Lean & Co seem to be among the bands currently affected by hype’s double-edged sword. In the short-term I’m sure any band would welcome plenty of exposure and they’re not to be criticised for being promoted effectively. However, when the pay-off is an audience’s disappointment that you can’t meet the unrealistically raised expectations, well, that’s less welcome. That said they cut some good moves and sounded decent, I’m just not certain that a less-catchy Kooks with an occasional 50’s dusting is what music needs right now. We’ll see about them…

And so to the main event. The NME’s sponsorship of The Cribs has raised eyebrows and tainted the band’s popularity in some quarters. Are they really deserving of the headline tour and slew of award nominations? Is Ryan Jarman really the 4th coolest person in music when, judging by his appearances on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, he’d have trouble outwitting his mic stand? In short is it all about who you know, not how good you are?

The proof is in the pudding and the pudding in this case is a setlist containing a sprinkling of fine, solid songs. The bands dynamic pivots on the interplay between twins Ryan and Gary while younger brother Ross spends almost as much time stood on his drums as playing them.

Our Bovine Public, Men’s Needs and I’m A Realist showcased the best of their most recent album and the back catalogue was raided for Hey Scenesters, Martell and Direction.

Banter with the crowd was kept to a minimum but this didn’t dent the crowd’s interaction with the band – I’ve never seen so much clothing thrown on to a stage before. Ryan gamely donned a jumper but it’s what happened to all those shoes I’m wondering about.

You don’t get a lot of sophistication where The Cribs are concerned but that doesn’t matter because know out some good, unadulterated rock n roll fun. The battery of shortish, energy-filled tunes had the audience singing and jumping along till near the end when Ryan, by now stripped to the waist, dived into the crowd while Gary tried to play two guitars with a cymbal(!) from Ross’s partly collapsed drum kit.

The night ended on an unexpected note. No, we didn’t get an appearance from Johnny Marr who turned up on stage in Glasgow and Manchester, but the sight of The Cribs silhoutted against a blue-lit stage during Be Safe while Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo delivered his monologue from video screens was a lasting one and a fine note to end on.

Published by Chris Unitt

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