Cardiff Solus - 12 May 2009

When I originally thought about going to see The Maccabees, at what is the middle sized venue in Cardiff's Student Union, I was expecting to share an intimate experience with perhaps another 200 hardy souls, indulging in polite conversation between bands and sauntering easily to the bar to quench my thirst. Imagine my surprise therefore on arriving to find you couldn't put a Rizla paper between the thronging mass of nearly two thousand who had largely arrived well before the support act had even taken the stage. Whilst their new album "Wall of Arms" had entered the charts this week at a very respectable # 13 it was still an astonishing turn out, especially given that the problems encountered by their original drummer Rob Dylan Thomas had effectively meant an enforced twelve month hiatus for the band.

Support band Mumford & Sons came out of the same London folk scene that gave us Noah and the Whale, and were also listed by the BBC in the top 15 acts to watch in 2009. Visually they resemble well manicured Hillbillies and a couple of them looked like they hadn't seen a razor for a year or two. However despite my early reticence they actually turn out to be make a very pleasant sound that included traces of bluegrass, gospel, country and more traditional folk rock - think Bob Dylan, Steve Earle or pre sanitised Kings of Leon.

Pix Kate Greswell

However it was clear who most of the crowd had come to see, and when five skinny boys from Brighton saunter onto the stage the air literally reverberates with the roar of approval from an already adoring crowd. A thumping drum and big bass hook introduces their opening number “No Kind Words” and instantly the audience is eating out of their hands. The whole audience appears to be word perfect and relishes the opportunity to punch the air and bellow out the “Hello, Hello, Hello” refrain back to the band.

The momentum is kept up with “Lego”, that again shows the unique style and vocal dexterity of singer Orlando Weeks. Whilst most of the band dresses in the quintessential indie rock uniform it was refreshing to see that guitarist Hugo White seems to have gone for a style last seen in early eighties Duran Duran videos. However that is not to decry the musicianship of either him or the rest of the band, as they are a tight, well-drilled, and ultimately confident unit. The complexity of some numbers requires them to prove their musicianship and they don’t come up short. Hell, they even brought on an accordion for the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin “Accordion Song".

Their debut single of 2005 “X Ray” highlights the way that they can alter the tempo of a song mid-stream without loosing either the overall direction or impetuous. For some reason I can hear faint echoes of XTC (circa “Drums & Wires”) in several of their numbers, but given their fresh face appearance it difficult to believe they were influenced by a band who peaked before they were born. And so the night continued with a good mix of old and new. “Tissue Shoulders”, “Toothpaste Kisses”, “Can You Give It”, “Kiss and Revolve” and “Love You Better”, all three minute slices of pop perfection, but each with a subversive darker underbelly occasionally bubbling to the surface.

If I was to be slightly critical it was that they omitted my personal favourites “About a Dress” and “Latchmere”, especially as the latter must be unique in rock history as it was written about a wave machine. However this is a minor quibble and the exclusion of such strong material must speak volumes about the bands self-confidence. They finish with the beautiful “Precious Time” and encore with “First Love”, and the fact that they take their name from a Biblical tribe seems all the more apt given the religious fervour shown by a Cardiff audience who hung on their every utterance all night.


Thanks to Holly at Chuff Media for sorting this out