The Long Blondes + XX Teens @ Birmingham Academy 2 – 15th April 2008

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The first thing that occurred to me when I arrived halfway through XX Teens‘ set was that I’d walked into a reverse game of musical statues – the music was playing but everyone was very still, including the band. XX Teens played a set of mildly diverting avant-rock and, although the crowd watched politely and bestowed smatterings of applause between songs, there was no real engagement between band and audience.

Perhaps this was no reflection on XX Teens – even the reaction to The Long Blondes was muted, with applause between songs giving way to a slightly awkward silence on a couple of occasions. I don’t know if everyone had had a hard day at work or what, but it felt like most people were there to watch and be entertained rather than get into it. The lighting deserves a mention too – static, bright, white lights do no-one any favours.

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However, if you’re battling poor lighting and a mostly apathetic crowd (the first row excepted) then you want Kate Jackson on your side. The Long Blondes’ front woman is a charismatic talisman whose ease on stage is a joy to watch, commanding the changes in style from shouty sing-along to half-pace jam in her stride.

About those changes in style – The Long Blondes seem to be transitioning from spikily produced kitchen-sink dramas to purveyors of slinky disco grooves. Occasionally they manage to find a middle ground between the two but at other times the contrast between the old and the new jars, for example when the rousing Separated By Motorways (an old set-closer) is followed by the gorgeous The Couples. I must admit to being disappointed by the new material but after this show I’m tempted to revise that opinion – the sass is still there, it’s just wearing different clothes.

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The set opened with newbie I Liked The Boys and early single Autonomy Boy, but it was Once And Never Again that first threatened to spark some life into those watching. From then on the new album was given centre-stage with the aforementioned …Motorways sneaking in along with You Could Have Both and Too Clever By Half before the band finished to Giddy Stratospheres. Of the new material, Guilt and I’m Going To Hell stood out, while Erin O’Connor, and Round The Hairpin left no lasting impression at all.

The crowd managed to rouse themselves sufficiently to call the band back for an encore and we were rewarded with a perky run through of ‘Lust In The Movies’. Kate generously told us that Birmingham wins the prize for best audience of the tour so far – for the band’s sake I hope that’s not true.

Setlist

I Liked The Boys
Autonomy Boy
Once And Never Again
Century
Here Comes The Serious Bit
Erin O’Connor
Separated By Motorways
The Couples
Round The Hairpin
You Could Have Both
Too Clever By Half
Guilt
I’m Going To Hell
Giddy Stratospheres
(encore) Lust In The Movies

Review – Chris Unitt
Photos – Matt Wilding

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