Sunday, October 15, 2006

"A pair of shoes, some old reviews that you kicked behind the door"

Hi all!

How is everyone this Sunday evening? I'm good, if still a little hungover from last night's frivolities, a little bit about which you can read, if you point your eyes below the blurry, mobile phone pic of Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys.

Hot Chip/Junior Boys @ Manchester Academy 2 (14.10.06)

Junior Boys and Hot Chip both make electro-pop with soulful flecks, so it was no surprise to see them on the same bill. What is surprising is that they couldn't be more different in their approach to their music. Junior Boys make seemingly irony-free, often lovelorn mini-epics that deal in earnest emotions, while Hot Chip prefer irony over sincerity. Maybe it's the ocean that separates them that makes the difference, but there definitely feels like Junior Boys just take their music that little bit more seriously than those Hot Chip jokers.

Tonight's gig pretty much refuted that last statement totally. Coming on at 8pm, Junior Boys were always going to have to work hard to whip the crowd into some kind of frenzy, but the lack of respect shown by certain areas of the hipsterish crowd was borderline offensive. I'm not one to tell people what to do, but if you're going to talk loud and at length, then you may as well not be in the hall. Just fuck off to the bar or something, just don't stand right at the front and do it in the band's face. Junior Boys' frontman, Jeremy Greenspan clearly noticed the chattering during the first half of their performance. Looking slightly perturbed by this, he trooped on regardless. Even the guy who greeted the band with "You fucking rock!" decided that he had no need to listen to the first five songs when talking to his friends was much more pleasureable.

In doing this, he, along with a pretty large portion of the increasing crowd, missed a sparkling 'The Equalizer' and a superb 'Like A Child' amongst others. It wasn't until a triumphant run-through of first album highlight, 'Birthday' that JBs finally got the attention and respect that they deserved, with most of the spectators indulging in a bit of frugging and handclapping. By the time they closed with a pulsing, up-for-it version of 'Under The Sun' that was almost unrecognisable from the one on Last Exit, most of the ignorant ones had either left or been well and truly converted. Job done for Junior Boys then.

Well, you'd think so, but I do have one gripe and that is that something is definitely lost in translation from studio to stage. The hushed grace of the records is kiboshed in favour of a more muscular, live sound. The meticulously programmed beats are replaced by a live drummer, who while actually very good, just can't bring some of the flourishes that pepper the beautiful, brilliant albums to life. While this lessens the effect of some songs though, it greatens the effect of others. The love-scarred, haunting 'Count Souvenirs' has its lyrical pre-occuations turned on its head with a stirring, sinewy backbeat that leads to an arresting directness, making it something like a deep house lullaby.

Greenspan mentions that Junior Boys will be back in Britain in February. I'll catch them again then and so should you, but, please, if you're going to talk, just don't bother, okay?

I miss the start of Hot Chip due to stupidity and actually wanting to sit down in the bar and have a drink, but as soon as I enter the Academy 2, to the thumping beat of 'Down With Prince', it doesn't feel like I've missed anything. The Chip are an odd-looking bunch in the flesh, decked out in the kind of wacky t-shirts often worn by students or Japanese kids (Al Doyle, in particular, looks a bit of a twat in his Hooters tee). This sartorial choice is what initially put me off them (I didn't really know what to make of them until I heard and fell in love with The Warning) and it certainly lends weight to the oft-held belief amongst detractors that they're just not 'real' enough. Over the course of the set however, the jokey facade slowly peels away to reveal hard-working revellers who sweat profusely to ensure that they bring the party in the best possible way.

'Boy From School' is the point where this hits home. Live, Alexis Taylor, Joe Goddard and crew stretch the song out and add new bits here and there, giving the ubiquitous track some much-needed freshness and a whole new resonance. They're really having fun too, gauging the crowd's reaction much like a DJ would. In fact, the whole set feels like a particularly good party mix, bringing the tempo down when needed and amping it up before they start to lose the throng. One of the songs where Hot Chip take it down a notch being a superlative, note-perfect reading of '(Just Like We) Breakdown', with HC realising that there's no need trying to improve on perfection and not tinkering with the song's blueprint in any way.

They also roadtest a couple of new ones. This can be a bit of a buzz-kill sometimes, but the songs sound so fully-formed and have future hit written all over them, so they pull it off expertly. 'Careful' and 'No Fit State' are turned into uproarious crowdpleasers, with Taylor throwing a few lines from New Order's 'Temptation' into the latter, always a safe bet when trying to hook a Manchester crowd. When they finally climax with a pumping, hands-in-the-air 'Over & Over', it feels like it's over far too soon. Hot Chip could have played all night as far as most of the crowd were concerned (even the guy I vaguely know who, despite the fact that I never have any, always asks me if I have any 'drugs'. He looks like he's probably had enough anyway), but the sheer effort that they put into every song tells me that their bodies probably wouldn't have been able to take it.

In the live arena then, both Junior Boys and Hot Chip veer from the path laid down by their excellent albums in different ways, with JBs clearly not taking themselves as seriously as their music suggests and HC working their nuts off to prove that they're more than just tech-geeks with a clownish sensibility. Pleasant and very much welcome surprises both.


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