Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013

Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013Kodaline @ The Institute, Birmingham – Tuesday 2nd April 2013

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When just one person approaches a stage with a guitar, it’s often tricky to avoid the feeling that you have unwittingly stumbled into an open mic night where you will be forced to stand up. The quality of the subsequent performance tends to be the deciding element for the verdict as to whether that is indeed what you have done, but gratifyingly Gavin James‘s solo performance was anything but amateur. Displaying vocal control and soul that was nothing short of extraordinary, James serenaded the growing crowd with a clear sensitivity to exploiting the dynamics of his own material. This man was Dave Matthews with a better range. He delivered each song with verve, although several powerful peaks were just cut short by the limitations of only bearing one instrument, whereas in my mind I could hear the potential bass line and kick drum clearly. The audience, although fairly appreciative were demographically a little young to appreciate such a performance being delivered by a cheeky red-bearded Irishman, and even his unamplified, almost pitch-perfect cover of Ray Charles’ You Don’t Know Me only reached the ears of 50% of the room. His own haunting, tentative melodic hooks were not lost on several spectators though, and James’ bashful self-promotion and self-depreciating wit was enough to win over several by-standers and earned his final song a hearty applause. Readers, Google him.

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Following, and in complete contrast to approachable style of James, came polished four-piece In The Valley Below from LA. I’m often fond of calling LA ‘LaLa Land’ (not without good reason) and in this case the label seemed strangely justified. By neglecting interactions with their audience until after the second song, and even then without much enthusiasm, ITVB created a goldfish bowl effect: a clear separation between the audience and the stage. Their music was compositionally excellent, a nice slice of ambient electronic indie with soaring guitar riffs and intelligent, wrong-footing drumming but the chemistry of the performance was all wrong. The lead male and female vocals were giving more interest to each other than to the rest of the room: to all intents and purposes the gathered audience may as well not have been there, which, let’s face it negates the point of a live performance. Audiences want to participate, not be ignored. ITVB just need to gain a ready-made adoring fan base through iTunes who then won’t give a damn if they’re not being acknowledged by the band as long as their favourite songs are played. So, yep, download their music because it’s pretty good. Just maybe don’t go and see them until you’re totally obsessed with them, or you’ll find yourself quickly bored.

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As soon as I found out that the Kodaline boys were actually living locally I started to get a wee bit nervous. I didn’t much fancy the idea of them hunting me down, post-review. Thankfully the Kodaline lads proved to be of more serious stuff than just a Westlife-with-guitars set up, despite the substantial teen crowd. The band entered to enthusiastic whoops, and after a little clatter the band went straight on the offensive with the crowd-stirring Lose Your Mind, confidently projecting the ambient four part vocal harmonies they’re becoming noted for and even throwing in an appearance from a cheeky tambourine.

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Before moving into Pray, frontman Stephen Garrigan, looking like a tussel-haired, chiseled hobbit next to his taller compatriots, gently but joyfully greeted the ‘home from home’ crowd and the audience responded with a warm rush toward the stage. The set rolled on through a wealth of Kodaline’s painfully loaded anthems, although the theatrical power being produced by the careful ebb and flow of volume during several of the songs was diminished a little by the slightly odd yellow lighting that seemed to pan perpetually across the stage and into half of the audience. The yet-to-be released album title track In A Perfect World ran the risk of feeling a little repetitive, but was saved by the aforementioned tight harmonies, each blast of which felt like a fresh bullet between the eyes. As if to pointedly prove they were not one trick ponies, Kodaline then produced the happy love Ballard Mandolin, accompanied by harmonica. Another anthem later, a professed ‘summer song’ Brand New Day was offered which was a sweet flurry of a song, but not much to dance to.

Most unusually, what then followed – in the middle of the set – was a spirited performance of the current single High Hopes, which one would have expected to be saved for the encore. Baffled but delighted, the crowd watched Garrigan take up the piano in profile view to the room. Now facing away, this seemed to make it difficult for the frontman to engage with the singing audience during what is surely of the most emotionally charged tracks Kodaline have released to the public (although this might have had something to do with Liam Cunningham having his guts blown to bits on the video). Nonetheless, the track was beautifully played, and the band swiftly picked up pace with the next song After The Fall. By the time All I Want arrived the now-much-broader-demographic of crowd were singing along with clapping hands at the tops of lungs, with a gusto I only tend to see in churches or football matches (in many cases considered the same thing). People bellowed in poignant synchronisation “take my body, take my body… all I wanted was to find somebody, to find somebody!” and continued into the swelling whoas that followed. Although an encore was not offered, a rare acoustic performance was given on the stairs of the venue for the fans, much to the gratitude of those who had waited.

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During the latter end of the set I was caused to muse on the future of ‘anthem bands’ and why they seem to have fallen on hard times via the critic’s pen. I don’t believe that this interferes a great deal with fans’ levels of commitment, neither the larger bulk of album sales (I don’t see Coldplay, with whom Kodaline have been compared, being any the poorer for the criticism). As Garrigan bluntly observed in earlier discussions: “If people like the music, they buy it”. Yet a undercurrent remains that dismisses charged emotion expressed in music as self-serving sentimentality. Despite such cynicism, it is clear that Kodaline are offering something people want during their live shows. There’s so much fun to be had by unabashedly singing something melodic with a shed load of other people! It seems a national bout of catharsis is due, and if people are searching for an emotional vocabulary then this band have arrived right on time to deliver it with driving guitar, thundering drum beats and chorus hooks that people remember. So Coldplay was probably the last band to make the anthem style song trendy. So what? With Kodaline’s help, perhaps anthems could become trendy again…

Review by Jenny Bulcraig

Photographs by Steve Gerrard

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