Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012

Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012Maximo Park & La Femme @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 9th November 2012

Parisian La Femme’s synthy drum beat-bopper intro quickly established their unashamedly 80s electro-pop/lo-fi surf-erotica retro credentials writ large. As for their weird-kitsch dancing…OMG OMD! Come back Andy McCluskey – your choreograph carnage sins are forgiven. Weedy Argos keyboards trim-phone farted like the exposition credits theme to late 70s ITV sci-fi series ‘UFO’. The one with the fit flying-saucer interceptor fighter-pilot ‘Angels’ in baco-foil micro skirts and purple-bobbed Sylvia Anderson wigs (ask your dad!). An amorphous Frankenstein love-child of Plastic Bertrand singing merdy blues for rootless electro-orphans seeking an illusionary comfort-zone in binary nostalgia. And its nouveau naive bare-faced chic is proving to be rather popular – mon Dieu!

When Tyneside Tory baiters, Maximo Park, released ‘The National Health’ album last June with an initial limited-edition run of signed copies and free David Cameron fright-masks (allegedly) it was yet another reassuring reminder of their no-bollocks sincerity. Was it as far back as November 2010 when Paul Smith last played Birmingham touring his solo album ‘Margins’ at the Glee Club? A rapidly sold-out Institute tonight confirmed that devoted fans still have long memories and deep hearts swelling with affection for a band whose snappy-tight, no nonsense, vocal chorus anthems and clipped guitar frenzy defined a teenage generation. And, judging by this evening’s demographic, quite a few mums and dads as well.

With the diagonal Maximo backdrop logo bathed in Vimto claret and silhouetted Fresnel standing lamps about the stage lending an Italian art-house film studio tableau all was set for a night of Max to the max mayhem. Disappointment was never going to be an option. Two austere ceiling spots spill on to the inevitably be-hatted Paul Smith singing a cappella to subdued ballad teaser ‘When I was Wild’ from latest album ‘The National Health’. Is it an invitation to the dedicated fans to allow some space for the new material? ‘Do I really need/To give an introduction?/Must the artist bleed/Over the new production?’ Possibly, but time for introspection exploded in a Big-Bang plasmic blaze of light as Smith leapt so high in the air he must’ve been wired-up to a cattle-prod enema. Proving yet again the axiom ‘Maximo Park’s brand of guitar pop is distinctly British and pogo-ready.’ (CMJ)

The eponymous album title track ‘National Heath’ formally opened the show with its octane-fueled fury and Smith declaring, ‘BIRMINGHAM – we are Maximo Park!‘along with proffering effusive thanks for us having to queue in the crappy rain. ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ had an intriguing resonance with its staccato-sharp time-signature shifts so beloved by fellow Tyne-siders, Field Music. ‘Hips & Lips’ was mordantly doom-soaked in low red lighting and that keening, incessant guitar riff.

Time for some wishful, imaginary seaside romance with the sandcastle fragile allegory to love and loss, ‘The Coast Is Always Changing.’ There was a noticeably lesser crowd chorus engagement with some of the new songs which, on occasion, adhere more to formula than originality, but judging by those two kids on the end row balcony utterly caught-up in the magic – Smith could’ve revealed a ‘Vote Tory’ tattoo on his butt and got away with it. Not surprisingly, for many the highlight of the night was the ‘Going Missing’ with the Institute rafters duly high punched almost to splinters. Many another favourite was equally embraced. An outstanding, uplifting evening and Paul Smith’s lyrics really do deserve closer attention. See to it.

Review by John Kennedy

Photographs by Ian Dunn

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