You’d have been forgiven for expecting the return of established local favourites given the lively sell out crowd that filled the cosy upstairs room of The Hare and Hounds last night. But the hipsters were out in force not for Brummie lads done good, but a scruffy foursome from New York that’ve played only a couple of dates in the city.
Quite how Darwin Deez have established such a loyal and enthusiastic following in Birmingham so quickly is open to debate, but what is clear is why. They put on a great show, with the help of a quirky gimmick or two, and boy do they know how to have fun.
But before the action truly began, Geordie support act Little Comets took to the stage, which was decked out with a curious washing line holding a tambourine a shaker and a saucepan. This odd detail aside, they got straight to business with a blast of tight indie pop. Their stripey jumper-sporting frontman made sure heads were turned his way and soon had an attentive sea of bobbing heads at his feet. The first item on the support act checklist thoroughly ticked.
Little Comets breezed through their set, making full use of the Hare’s excellent set up, and seemed to strike a chord with the room, being similar enough to the headliner, but with enough differences to make comparisons difficult. Their sound mixes plinky guitar lines and reverb with a crisp beat and some tasty sliding bass lines, which added up to a bright, bouncy and taut combination. This is set against their seemingly down-to-earth lyrics which add a Northern – or at least British – indie flavour.
There was a bit of a dip in interest in the middle for a couple of slower numbers, but that owes more to people not knowing their songs than anything else, and overall they left a good impression on everyone that caught them, especially with the last couple of songs which made full use of the suspended saucepan. If there was an action to sum up their set, it would be head bopping, but I predict dancing front rows in the very near future.
After the interval, Darwin Deez sauntered into view greeted with much love from the now packed room. Exuding a skinny charm all of his own, the cheery vegan frontman Darwin Smith – with his trademark curly locks and shoelace headband – wasted no time, kicking straight into one of the many memorable songs from the band’s eponymous first album. Segueing medley-style into the next two songs, Darwin Deez ploughed through the first part of the punchy, twangy set without so much as drawing breath.
And the pace would not relent as the band performed the first of their trademark dance routines. While most bands spend the time between songs tuning guitars and staring mournfully at the sticky floors, Darwin Deez get a sweat on with synchronised dancing to some cheesy tunes. Even the drummer, who in most bands is barely seen, gets a chance to strut his stuff centre stage. It’s a hilarious sight, and one that sums up the band’s insistence that gigs are made to be fun.
As each song kicked off I was reminded how consistent the album is, with plenty of the material sounding like a potential single, and little that could be described as filler. Even the increasingly bizarre dance moves — and at one stage an all out rap — didn’t feel like killing time, it felt like added value as any ‘dead air’ was quickly brought to life by the boogie.
Darwin Deez seemed to be genuinely at home in Kings Heath and were full of praise for both the venue and the crowd. Smith’s call and response singing and audience participation show a true desire to involve everyone in the room and definitely doesn’t come across as a cynical ploy to gain cheap favour. This attitude probably makes up for a slight suspicion that the music itself it neither groundbreaking or complex, but when you’re wearing a smile at a gig from start to finish, who really cares?
The band return to Birmingham — which is fast becoming their spiritual home outside their native Brooklyn — in March at the HMV Institute. Let’s hope they retain some of that Hare and Hounds magic, and more importantly, that they’ve got some new dance moves lined up for us.
Review – Ian Ravenscroft
Photos – Ian Dunn