RENT BOYS AND TWIGLETS: a love story -
The Drums, Big Pink, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees
NME TOUR, Cambridge Corn Exchange 19/02/10

The guttural call of the fashion industry plucks out little darlings ready to repeat past crimes on style. These dandy’s tend to start bands - due to a thread of inspiration - and every year it seems a handful of these make it on to the annual NME tour.

The NME tour hasn’t been known for its diversity in the selection of bands, or revolutionary choices in music or anything like that. So going here is either about, having a good time; or posing.

Most do both, some are just carried away by the pendulum that swings to elude them.

The bands tonight- The Drums, Big Pink, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees are somewhat oiled up beefy versions of the sort of bands that played this tour last year: although they all show some sort of progression in the indie world: by playing homage to genres like shoe gaze or surf-rock.

The band first up, The Drums are what you’d called a “buzz band”, the hype that surrounds them is the product of the glee that people in magazines felt when they discovered that there are pop-songs still being made that pack sunshine in a can. However there is also something very suspicious, and also typical, about the buzz around The Drums; evident of course from the eager men scattered around the entrance of the Corn Exchange with pens and folders bugging you about joining the Drums mailing list (which I in fact did), like a charity worker or door-to-door-salesman, and the convenient factor that you're only allowed to leave the Corn Exchange for a smoke at the time of 8.15; the time that the Drums set had finished.

But this of course is either major cynicism or just typical of packaged-rock bands, bands that are solely given fame through hype and photo-boosted publicity.

As they take to the stage its evident that the Drums have literally nothing to show for the claims that their the “ones to watch” in 2010 or that outrageously positive review in the NME- 9/10 (not to mention my review here…. Ahem I‘m sorry, I was windswept and fooled by their loveable pop). The sound they make on the stereo is very different to the performance. The lead singers voice lacks any consistency in style; at times he sounds like a droll Ian Curtis and at other moments a teenage male Cindy Lauper.

Their performance is embarrassing: prancing and flopping about the stage like rag-doll rent boys, the lead singers dancing is as inconsistent as his vocal style, verging between all the obvious childhood heroes but failing- in limp arms spasms and bad hip-shaking.

The guitarist looks like a toddler trying to hold a fender strat upright with struggle due to the straps length, not to mention the fact that the keyboard and bass are both being played through a backing track. The Cambridgeshire bohos are a frozen mass of heads as the size of the Corn Exchange simply emphasises how small the Drums look. By the end of the set hair styles are intact and the frankly un-inspired mass leaves in an orderly cue.

I wouldn’t regret saying that it's like Busted all over again. But hey, it's fine - people like this sort of stuff, it’s the inevitable product of the music industry. Being subjected to it, due to believing differently, is another matter.

Loved by the NME and loathed by almost every other magazine, Big Pink are the twilight darlings of the neo-shoe gaze movement. They strut their greasy-mofos and unlike the Drums can actually play their songs similar to how they sound on record.

Big Pink's dark grooves and grungey soundscapes fill the Corn Exchange successfully but everyone is stationary and disinterested, up until they whip out their one hit, Dominoes. At this moment- everyone seems to be the best of friends.

This is the shortest of the sets tonight and we are once more subjected to the Shockwaves and ‘skins’ commercials on the screens.

Bombay Bicycle Club are the band that finally gets the night going. Looking like a bunch of lads out of ‘Ferris Bueller…’ they don’t appear to be the most charismatic or ‘cool’, but stir the crowd with their smooth hypnotic pop- jittering between slow sing-along moments and heavy strumming- backed up by strobe lighting.

A short, stocky secondary schoolboy-looking lad in a black polo is there on drum-programming, roadie and general idolizing duties - obviously roped in from some after-school club or sixth-form social circle.

Each twist and turn in their songs is crystal clear, but so dead-on and rightly-timed down to a t, that the set also seems a wee bit uptight.

This leaves Maccabees then to take-over from the warm-up acts. The difference in the crowd when they take to the stage is then remarkable, it's as if this is solely a Maccabees gig and the somewhat dreary masquerade before Bombay Bicycle Club were the appetizers.

It is clear that their landfill-indie roots, are as the NME say, buried, as the live sound that used to be a clash of clean guitar clanking is now a combination of celebratory horn arrangements, adding a triumphant sound very like Arcade Fire all with the smooth yet soaring vocals of front man Orlando. He stops now and then to thank the crowd, he is polite and softly spoken with a modest charm that’s embracing and sweet but also etherises all the pre-teen private-school yuppies with braces and Jack Wills hoodies into a blanket of swooning - perfect for Cambridge then.

The “boys-next-door” image is however just the exterior to a selection of songs that not only have substance, but grandiose charm that not many bands pull of successfully (Big Pink and Broken Records being good examples).

However old favourites (well…not old) Toothpaste Kisses, About Her Dress and X-Ray blend in to the set nicely, not to demonised by the Wall Of Arms material. With hast the crowd become more passionate but still retain their poise, the ‘mosh’ therefore stirs like twiglets lodged in shaving foam but all is brought together with a mighty sing-along of “Love you better”. Not many tricks are pulled out the NME -publicity hat and all remains quite familiarly tame and, after a somewhat rowdy encore, The Maccabees do a cover of, what I‘m told is the old Tango advert music; before this they cautiously announce “you may not like this cover, but we’re going to try it out…it brings back some memories”, all another addition to the modest downplay that shakes the hand of level headed Cambridge….. Not so much rock ‘n’ roll but hey…..the bouncers were happy!

Words Joe Aybak

Pix Steve Bateman - more here