The NME Awards Tour kicked off in Newcastle on Thursday night and I was lucky enough to have won some tickets, so after queueing for an inordinate amount of time amongst thousands of 14 year-olds and being charged an insane amount for two beers the lovely Cat and I stepped into the breach.
First up were The Drums who all looked a picture of completely uninterested ‘New York Cool’ apart from singer Jonathan Pierce who flailed about like an outrageously camp Ian Curtis for the entire set. They’re an odd beast, The Drums – after loving ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ so fervently, each song I’ve heard after that seems a variation on a theme rather than a different idea, and that quickly manifested itself in their set as well. It was samey, not entirely in a bad way, but enough to make you forget which song is which. My main gripe was the fact that they used recorded whistling and handclap sounds from their album tracks rather than actually doing it onstage, which just seemed a bit confusing and lazy to be honest. It was all over rather quickly and the crowd seemed receptive enough, but as far as warm up acts go, they weren’t the best I’ve seen.
The Big Pink were up next, arriving onstage in darkness and smoke to the lilting sound of Cypress Hill’s ‘I Wanna Get High’ before launching into a set at least twice as loud as the previous one, blasting out their 90s rock/shoegaze collage in a haze of panning spotlights and constant UV light. It was certainly quite a show, and bloody fun to watch, but the crowd were really only interested in one song, the rather irritating ‘Dominos’, and after that finished they quickly lost interest. It made me wonder whether when I was that age if I would only care about one song by a band – I really hope I wasn’t that fickle.
After a whirlwind changearound by the roadies, Bombay Bicycle Club shambled onstage, looking more like the crowd members around me than a band that got the reception they did. It might have something to do with their youth, but BBC got a huge reaction from the young’uns, despite not having any obvious hits or street cred. Whatever the reason, the band quickly whipped the crowd into a frenzy, concentrating on their heavier material (‘Magnet’ was brilliantly loud) and amping it up early in the set. The best thing about BBC is just how uncool they are, there was none of the pretense of the last two bands, they made no attempt to have an ‘image’ or to conceal their excitement, when the music got heavier they thrashed around like they were dancing in their bedrooms, laughing and smiling with each other. It’s nice to see a band who just love what they’re doing, and don’t want to project anything else other than that. It also helps when you’ve got a set of brilliant songs, without a moment of filler – ‘Evening/Morning was as spectacular as ever and ‘Always Like This’ worked its dance groove magic on everyone in the place. The band left to huge cheers and with smiles on every face in the room.
Headlining tonight’s entertainment was everyone’s favourite lovelorn rapscallions, The Maccabees, who bounded onstage, took up their instruments and proceeded to prove why they were top of the bill. I’ve watched the band a fair few times now, but this was as loud and energetic as I’ve ever seen them. They seemed supremely confident, knowing that they can use material from both albums and get a good reaction from either. I forgot just how loud and intricate some of their music is too; when three guitars are used at once you can really notice the change in noise, and when that’s further backed up by a mini brass section the sound just gets bigger and bigger. Bouncing between hits from both albums, we were kept guessing what was next. From the sheer speed of ‘X-Ray’ to the glorious high points of ‘Can You Give It’, all the songs we wanted were there. As it turned out though, one of the high points came from an album track I’d not given much of a listen to – ‘One Hand Holding’ helped open their set with an impassioned singalong from the whole band and an energy that characterised the rest. This was a band on top of their game and knowing it, belting out every song with the passion only a true belief in their work can produce, and as they finished their set with ‘No Kind Words’, a cover of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘Love You Better’ they proved to us and themselves that they deserved to be NME’s top choice for this tour.