The NME Awards tour is a curious beast that demonstrates the evolution of the publication itself. No longer the energised creative and inspiring musical and political force it once was, the NME of today is run by an editor who talks of ‘growing the brand’, features adverts for Top Man and has articles that are at best just sound bites. The NME represents corporate indie. Whereas once the NME used to rally against ‘The Man’ now the NME is ‘The Man’. This tour is evidence of this. On the bill is one artist (Florence and the Machine) who will in two days time receive a Brit Award, and a band (White Lies) who have recently had a number 1 album that has probably been purchased by as many forty something fathers as it has rebellious students. Its hardly edgy or dangerous is it ?
So how do these artists stack up tonight in Brighton ?
With flowers draped across instruments and wire birdcages hanging to each side, Florence And The Machine take to the stage with the Dome still over half empty. This is the straw drawn for being the opener of the so called ‘lucky’ slot of the tour, previously occupied by amongst others Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and The Coral. It doesn’t seem to bother Florence at all. Last time Breaking More Waves saw Florence we were slightly critical of her ‘act’ being too contrived. Tonight we take that back. Florence is a bluesy, guttural, sexual, screaming banshee with songs that are intense and primitively tribal. She is the sound of forthcoming armageddon but with a harpist rather than planets colliding. With a borrowed bass player from White Lies added to her band, Florence thrusts and cavorts in skin tight jeans in a way not seen since Pans People last graced Top of the Pops. Prowling the stage like a monster, she eventually launches into the audience to elicit the first screams of the night from the teenage girls down the front, and possibly a few teenage boys. The pop punk riot of Kiss With A Fist and the galloping chorus of Dog Days finishes everyone off, and frankly if the other bands all cancelled now, many people would have still gone home happy.
White Lies have clinical stadium ambitions and this is clearly demonstrated from the off. Farewell To The Fairground has dry ice, flashing strobes, big power chords and hands in the air. However this attempt at big moody indie rock tonight lacks emotional power, and rather like the album is all very much an exercise in one track darkness. It’s only when Florence appears again to duet on Unfinished Business does the mood change slightly. White Lies play well and are supremely confident, and in Death have written the perfect Killers go goth pop song, but there is a sense of unpleasant emptiness about their set.
After the gloom of White Lies, Friendly Fires appear under a warm red glow and white sparkles. “Hello we’re Friendly Fires from St Albans,” they chirp. Without a moments hesitation they launch into a set of incessant, rhythmic disco that gets the kids dancing, but leaves some of the older members of the audience scratching their heads. With stuttering, choppy beats Friendly Fires know how to funk even if they don’t yet know how to always write really catchy tunes. Wired front man Ed displays a neat line in indie geek rubber legged dancing which matches the strange and outlandish percussion of the music. The concert hall ambience of the Dome may not be the ideal venue for the bands sound, a sweaty sexed up indie disco would suit them better, but the band are happy to be here telling everyone “We’re so lucky to be playing such a beautiful building.” In Paris the band have managed to combine their ability to get your booty shaking with a decent song that is suitably layered over the fringes of electro pop. If they can write a few more like that for album two they could develop their fan base further.
With all of the other bands instruments now cleared, the stage appears barren except for huge stacks of amps and a blank screen. Strings of red lights and a projection of an angel statue appear as darkness falls. A repetitive synth sound echoes the arrival of Glasvegas.
To say that Glasvegas are immense tonight would be an understatement. Where White Lies try to be cinematic and appear hollow, Glasvegas have a sound that is bigger, more widescreen and dirtier than you could ever imagine. The tension of the chiming guitars produces layers of My Bloody Valentine noise combined with quiff vintage melodies that is handled perfectly by the Domes sound system. It’s a sound that you have to shut your eyes to and immerse yourself in. Glasvegas produce a majestic elegant beauty, a second coming of sorts, blinded by bright white lights and brilliant noise. Never before has Breaking More Waves witnessed the strange beauty of grown men singing along to a song that is sung in a heavy Glaswegian brogue with lyrics about a social worker and it seem so right. It is easy to imagine an orchestra playing these tunes. For forty five minutes Glasvegas are utterly glorious. When Ice Cream Van explodes like a bomb towards the end they must have been very close to blowing the roof of the building. As the band leave the stage images of Elvis and Celtic football team flash up on the screens behind. Then its over. There is no encore.
However it appears that not everyone felt like Breaking More Waves. Many of the younger indie kids dressed in their Primark and Top Shop fashions have left the building before the end, confused looks on their faces. And there for just one special moment, in amongst the beer glasses strewn across the emptying floor, it feels like the NME actually got it right. It became the alternative again.