Inner City Live @ O2 Academy, 12th August 2017

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Inner City Live

Inner City Live posed the question “when is a festival not a festival?”. The answer is straightforward – it’s when it is a gig with four bands. The topic of the move from the Rainbow Arena to the O2 Academy may well be subject to rumour control and conjecture but the fact is, it turned out to be a good move; at least from my point of view.

Inner City Live

The indoor setting, and the styles of the bands on show made for a much more intimate and immediate experience. I would have hated to have seen the people that made the effort to dress up in support of The Flaming Lips, all bedraggled in the damp of the unseasonal Birmingham weather. Electric suits and hats and various forms of Droog outfits were the order of the day and very splendid they were too.

Hoopla Blue

A typical concert will give you a headline and supports that generally have a lot in common, either in musical style, heaviness of approach or just genre. Because this was designed as a festival we were presented with four very different bands and four different approaches, climaxing in the surreal mayhem that is The Flaming Lips. The stage was heaving with gear, giant toadstools were spread around the venue and there was even a full sized unicorn under wraps at the side of the stage, but more of that later.

Hoopla Blue

Hoopla Blue have that Wild Beasts thing about them. You know what I mean – difficult to pin down, defining their own style, and trying to be different. It’s apparent from their tunes and their videos; but live it is much more obvious. In particular the vocal/guitar sparring and the use of different time signatures has much more impact live. As a result they are another on the list of bands that I need to see in their own right. Thirty minutes here was just an appetite-whetter.

Amber Run

In contrast Amber Run seem to be intent on not sounding different. They have quite a repertoire these days, characterised by extremely well crafted tunes, but their attraction seems to be fitting in with the half a dozen other bands that have that kind of epic, anthemic, pseudo-celtic drumming -based approach. The story runs that the band almost gave up some months ago. The cottage industry that is being in a band these days can be a grind and that can take its toll. I’m glad they kept going. Front man Joe Keogh would be a loss to the music scene just on his own, never mind the musicianship of his mates, and of course the tunes.

Amber Run

Public Service Broadcasting are a personal favourite. There is something ultimately attractive to me about their approach, and their idiosyncratic presentation of a post-war history that is recognisable, but only after they have reminded you about it. Ranks swollen by a brass section, including one particular mover on sax, they included several tunes from their current album. All were clad in the corduroy and tweed that has always been the signature look of the band.

Public Service Broadcasting

To date their subject matter has been treated with a nostalgic, even wistful touch. In contrast Every Valley hits at the heart of the political malaise in this country. J Wilgoose Esq. himself described the theme of the album, (the rise and fall of the coal industry in South Wales), as representative of “abandoned and neglected communities across the western world”, resulting in a “malignant, cynical and calculating brand of politics.” Wilgoose, Wrigglesworth, Abraham and the guys may dress like 1950s conservative students but they are wearing their politics on their sleeves these days.

Public Service Broadcasting

I love them. Their setup is so complicated that they inevitably encounter a few gremlins in every gig, but they all end up smiling and getting on with it. The horn section really added a lot to the tunes and I have to say there was a lot more dancing on show than in a typical PSB gig. The only down side was that Tracyanne Campbell appeared only in sound. It would have been great to see her sing Progress live.

Then the toadstools were deflated, the confetti cannons primed, the surface of the stage festooned with day-glo tape and the evil robot was made ready for the fray. It was time for Wayne Coyne and the rest of The Flaming Lips to saunter on, give us some story about screaming kids and conduct his band into the now very familiar Race For The Prize complete with the light show, CO2 explosions, giant balloons, and enough confetti for a thousand weddings.

It was the same “great stuff” they give at the likes of Glastonbury; probably very much the same set list that they have taken around the world for several years but no-one minded that. This was an event.

After going toe to toe with the now inflated evil Pink Robot, the band took surreal to another level resulting in my posting on the old social media “I have seen a grown man with angel’s wings riding a rainbow unicorn”. Not an everyday occurrence. Add Wayne Coyne walking over the crowd inside a big transparent ball, and the obligatory Do You Realise, and Inner City Live was complete.

Not quite a festival; more than a typical gig. I wonder if it would have been so successful in the outdoors?

Review: Ian Gelling

Photography: Stephanie Colledge

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