BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB + THE BIG MOON + LIZ LAWRENCE – THE BRIGHTON CENTRE 01.02.2020
Named after a chain of Indian restaurants in their part of North London, Bombay Bicycle Club first came to the public’s attention after winning a competition to open the 2006 V Festival. They released a couple of EP’s and a single, and generated a considerable buzz with their folk tinged take on indie rock, before they had even left school. After committing full-time to music in 2008, they signed to Island Records and released four successful albums between 2009 and 2014.
Having announced a hiatus in 2016 to concentrate on individual solo projects, the band are now back and touring to promote their fifth album, the excellent ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, released on 17th January. The venues for the UK leg indicate the level of interest in the band’s return: two nights at the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace in London await, but first it’s a visit to the Brighton Centre, which itself can accommodate an impressive 4,500.
Opening tonight is Liz Lawrence, a solitary figure on the massive stage, strumming on a Telecaster guitar to a pre recorded track. She’s a friend of the headliners, and is providing backing vocals on this tour, but it’s immediately obvious that she’s a writer of quality songs that stand on their own merit. The instrumentation is quirky and interesting, and she triggers additional flourishes from a sample pad. The big auditorium is filling up slowly, but Liz diffuses any awkwardness at the end of the first song with a bit of friendly banter with the audience. It’s chatty enough for us to learn that her link to Brighton is the acquisition of her whippet called Lyra, who is named after the heroine from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ novels.
Her tunes are catchy and melodic, with plenty going on, and the witty lyrics cut through with a clear and engaging delivery. It’s difficult to pick stand out numbers, but I like the contrast between the dancing synth lines and staccato rhythm guitar on ‘USP’. This is followed by ‘Navigator’, which has a gorgeous vocal hook, and ‘Want’, which launches with a superb progression of chunky barre chords that sounds like something Courtney Barnett might come up with. By this point I’m thinking that I’d really like to hear these songs played with an actual band rather than a magic foot pedal, and sure enough Liz announces that she’ll be doing just that at The Prince Albert on the 18th February – Snap up your tickets HERE. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to check out her current album,’Pity Party’. If you appreciate well crafted songs, I suggest you do too.
Liz Lawrence setlist:
‘Life Again’, ‘The Good Part’, ‘USP’, ‘Navigator’, ‘Want’, ‘None Of My Friends’, ‘10 Breaths’.
I’ve come across The Big Moon before, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again. They played an in-store at Music’s Not Dead in Bexhill recently, promoting their second album ‘Walking Like We Do’. That night they charmed a packed audience, generating a long queue of eager purchasers in the process. With plenty of radio play and a bit of TV too, it was pleasing but not surprising that the release made the top 20 in the UK album charts.
Onstage, they are four young women with cascading hair and very obvious musical skill. They all sing, and I know from my previous encounter that there’s plenty of swapping of instruments. Juliette Jackson, the main songwriter, is centre stage and takes the lead vocals, starting the set on a white Les Paul guitar. She is flanked house right by Soph Nathann, playing a natural finish Telecaster, and house left by Celia Archer on a white Precision bass. Fern Ford’s drum kit has a Roland SPD sampler pad mounted between the rack and floor toms.
Opening number ‘Sucker’, from the first album, has a gorgeous chiming dual guitar hook, and lush backing vocals. It’s difficult to succinctly categorize the music, but a rich and varied indie pop will give you the general idea. There’s plenty of light and shade, and a lovely vocal figure of “I wouldn’t change my mind”. ‘Don’t Think’, from the current album, builds nicely with some sampled keyboard and intricate hi-hat, swelling to an expansive chorus backed by some tasty guitar work. ‘Cupid’, another from 2017 debut ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’, has the feel of an indie classic with a huge chorus of “ooooh” backing vocals, twanging and thrashing guitars, and a magnificent descending lead vocal reminiscent of The Pixies at their finest. For ‘It’s Easy Then’, opening track from the new LP, Celia moves to keyboard and Juliette takes the bass. Drummer Fern isn’t being left out of the multi-instrumentalist tag, whipping out a trumpet at one point.
For a band with so many great songs, playing a short set, it’s a surprise and unexpected delight that they throw in an excellent cover version of Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’. This really suits the band, who go to town with some fantastic harmonies. Celia is pumping out the familiar keyboard motif, Soph has taken over on bass and is really moving the song along with a super fluid low line, while Juliette rips some blistering lead from a blue Jaguar guitar. They look like they’re really having fun, and we are too. ‘Why’ has a pretty oriental sounding keyboard hook, contrasting nicely with bursts of dirty lead guitar. Final song, ‘Your Light’, has “hit” written all over it. If you haven’t come across The Big Moon yet, it won’t be long before you do.
The Big Moon setlist:
‘Sucker’, ‘Don’t Think’, ‘Cupid’, ‘It’s Easy Then’, ‘Praise You’ (Fatboy Slim cover), ‘Why’, ‘Your Light’.
The interval allows sufficient time to get a drink from one of the many bars. The venue is a slick operation, and despite the huge number of patrons it can accommodate, it still maintains a spacious and relaxed ambience. Back in the hall, the vast black cloth that the support acts played in front of has gone, revealing a stage set that looks like an art installation. Four light boxes resembling square picture frames hang above a tall drum riser. There are no obvious backline amps other than what looks like two 8×10 bass cabs lying on their side. My eyesight isn’t what it was, and the unusual aspect makes me imagine a passing giant has lent the band his guitar combos for the night.
Bombay Bicycle Club come on to a huge cheer. They are dressed like a team, with all the band members and supporting musicians wearing white shirts and dark trousers. The light show bursts into life with a red wash, while LED arrays send chase patterns scurrying across the stage and venue ceiling. Jack Steadman, on lead vocals and guitar, is centre stage. He is a wiry figure, fizzing with agitated energy, and has adopted an interesting look of shaved head and round glasses. House left is guitarist Jamie MacColl (grandson of Ewan and nephew of Kirsty, in case you were wondering), also favouring a close cropped haircut. House right, Ed Nash is wrangling a bass sound of colossal proportions, while Suren de Saram thunders around the kit from his high vantage point. For the tour they have an additional keyboard player and a backing singer. We’ve already been introduced to Liz Lawrence, and she’s also supplying some extra guitar.
Opening number, ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ is nothing short of glorious, getting ever more expansive as a lead line dances over a dreamy vocal. I usually prefer to experience live music in a more intimate setting than this, but I have to say the sound quality, visuals and atmosphere tonight are all fantastic. The arty lighting goes purple for ‘Is It Real?’, another track from the new album, and I’m entranced by a chiming section of dual guitar and some amazing bass flurries.
For ‘Overdone’, from 2014’s ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, the lights are strobing and the supporting players get busy on extra percussion. My heart skips a beat as Ed unleashes an absolutely sublime burst of fuzz bass that sounds like it could trigger an earthquake. For ‘Feel’, from the same album, the band are joined by a three piece horn section. The lead line and rhythm have a distinctly Indian feel, and probably sound like the music you’d imagine a band called Bombay Bicycle Club might produce if you hadn’t heard them before. The backing vocals are soaring, fills thunder around the toms, and the two guitarists bounce face to face, trading riffs. It’s a joy, and the crowd are loving it.
The horns stay on for ‘I Can Hardly Speak’, and ‘I Worry Bout You’ has a deliciously intricate rhythm. Bass player Ed is triggering samples from a pad, and then gets into a rather delightful call and response figure on tambourine between him and the keyboard player. Introducing ‘Your Eyes’, from 2011’s ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’, Jack tells the audience that this is the biggest show of the tour so far, and asks us to “Show us your hands”. He gets a loud cheer and an enthusiastic clap along by way of reply.
Whilst being aware of Bombay Bicycle Club and their music, I feel I have severely underestimated how popular they are, and in how high a regard they are held by the younger indie crowd. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention in 2009, but a section of numbers from the debut album ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ gets a response that is little short of ecstatic. ‘Evening/Morning’ is particularly impressive, with a roaring bass break and a false ending with a long pause that whips the audience into a frenzy. Being quite a bit older, my wife and I find it mildly amusing to hear 30 year olds getting nostalgic over an album from a decade ago, and singing about ageing. ‘Good Day’, from the current record, is a cracking song though, with a really witty lyric, and again it elicits an enthusiastic clap along from the audience.
The set is moving towards a conclusion now. For the last song, ‘Carry Me’, Jack explains it’s about how love carries us all, and invites audience members to lift up someone they love. Needless to say, many people are hoisted onto friends and partners’ shoulders, which looks very cute indeed.
There is no question of not doing an encore, and the band returns to a huge cheer to play the superb title track of the new LP, ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’. In tough times, there is always music to fall back on. They finish with ‘Always Like This’ from the debut album, a track which I noticed has an impressive 84 million plays on Spotify. It clearly chimes with the audience, and we hear people singing it as we leave the venue, in a shop up the road, and on the train home. It’s been a great night out, and fun to share it with such a big, happy crowd.
Bombay Bicycle Club setlist:
‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing but You)’, ‘Is It Real’, ‘Overdone’,’Feel’, ‘I Can Hardly Speak’, ‘I Worry Bout You’, ‘Your Eyes’, ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’, ‘Home By Now’, ‘Cancel On Me’, ‘Lamplight’, ‘Evening/Morning’, ‘Good Day’, ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’, ‘Shuffle’, ‘Luna’, ‘Carry Me’ (encore) ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, ‘Always Like This’.
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