If you can, try and cast your mind back to the late nineties. You’re in a nightclub on a Friday or a Saturday night, you’ve had too much to drink and you’ve lost your mates. You’re feeling a bit wretched and in dire need of a kebab and a taxi. Then one of those classic anthemic dance tracks fills your head and your ears – the dance floor heaves en mass; a sea of arms in the air flickering in the strobe light, and suddenly, for a brief musical second, you feel like everything is going to be OK. I’m not saying that Calvin Harris isn’t of his moment, but there was something about the atmosphere in the new O2 Academy that took me back in time.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an ‘electropop’ act – I think I just imagined a bloke and a keyboard – but the stage was a feast for the eyes. The trademark Calvin-fly-goggles dominated the backdrop which was studded with bulbs from floor to ceiling. The live band was made up of two drum kits on risers, a live bass, a live guitar and female backing/lead vocals along with the expected keyboards and assorted bit of electronic gadgetry.
Calvin wasn’t lost in all of this, though. He is an engaging performer. It’s easy to be dismissive of his disposable pop for the glo-stick waving teens – and whilst there was an abundance of ecstatic teens (and glo sticks!) in the audience – Harris’ delivery was less than superficial – he means business. That said, there’s something about him that is very endearing. Yes, he is responsible for one of the daftest fashion fads ever and yes, he’s come across as a bit of a berk thanks to his Twitter-rants but there is no doubt that he really cares. He plays to and for his audience, (lacking any of that self-indulgence that can sometimes ruin a gig) whilst clearly getting kicks for himself.
The place was completely packed out and the sound was as big as the spectacle onstage. This gig was LOUD. The teasing intro-baseline on ‘The Girls’ buzzed through the floor, and when the main riff kicked in the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy. Calvin covered most of the chart tracks from his two albums – giving little tasters rather than full renditions of the irresistibly catchy ‘Acceptable in the 80s’ and the pint-waving ‘Dance Wiv Me’ (“get away from the bar, tell your boyfriend hold your jar”). It was perfectly judged – giving just enough to keep the crowd happy and leaving them wanting more. My standout tracks of the night were ‘I Created Disco’ and ‘Stars Come Out’ – neither of them are particular favourites of mine on record but they translated so well live; sounding huge, with the sampled vocals on the former allowing Harris to work his magic away from the mic. Finale, ‘I’m not Alone’ went down a storm, with it’s low key intro building to yet another trademark riff.
So this gig wasn’t life-changing – but it was life-affirming. If Harris’s mission is to see every dance floor ‘go off’ and show everyone a good time then he succeeded by miles. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
Review – Angela Slater
Photos – Chris Barber