Review: Spector and Of Monsters And Men @ Village Underground

Problem: how do you best promote your latest range of high-quality audio accessories? Of course, the obvious answer these days is to make them out of toy-grade plastic, slap on the moniker of a famous rapper, and ship them over to the discerning ears of pro-footballers and half-wits worldwide. Thankfully, the good folk at Logitech and Ultimate Ears had a better idea: to show you care about music sounding good, why not put on a night of good sounding music?

And what a night it was. Choosing Shoreditch’s fantastic Village Underground as the setting, the hosts lined up impressive visuals, moody-blue lighting, and top warmup DJ Rory Phillips to whet the appetite of the crowd. The scene then set, Spector began the evening’s proceedings, rattling through the hits from their “critically…reviewed” debut album, ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’.

Tonight, singer Fred Macpherson and his gang are in buoyant mood and on top form, injecting energy into the crowd and feedbacking off it even more. Tracks like ‘Celestine’ and ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ are played at full throttle, with spiky guitar chords, Rock ‘N’ Roll guitar solos and 80s-synth-pop sounds providing the recipe for a party. Over the course of the set, slower moments like ‘Grey Shirt & Tie’ and epic-closer ‘Never Fade Away’ show that under all the indie-punk energy and Macpherson’s braggadocio, there is still emotional depth. Above all, despite a live performance that is at times shambolic, Spector showcase why they are one of the most sought-after guitar bands on the live circuit at the moment, and deliver the crowd with an outrageously fun experience that the night’s hosts no doubt have banked on.

If the support came off as a somewhat of a rabble, headliners Of Monsters And Men are anything but. Despite taking what seems like an age to arrive on stage, the first bars of atmospheric opener ‘Dirty Paws’ are enough to make anyone forget any complaints they may have held. The Icelandic 7-piece band bring to Shoreditch an enchanting set that travels from joyous full-band chant-a-longs to stripped-back tales of romance, citing the best parts of Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons along the way (and with none of the grim melancholy or tediousness).

Experiencing Of Monsters And Men’s live show tonight is almost like experiencing a play. Two talented lead singers are backed by a supporting cast of wonderful instrumentalists, taking to the front of stage periodically to rally the crowd into chanting, clapping and dancing. Of the leading duo, Nanna Hilmarsdóttir supplies a charm that lead the troupe through their tender moments, while her counterpart, Ragnar Þórhallsson, provides a stunning power that cuts through the warehouse space on ‘Your Bones’, stunning the crowd into silence only to rally them back up again with the forthcoming single ‘Mountain Sound’. Despite perhaps being the lesser known of the evening’s two bands, it is clear that Of Monsters And Men have earnt their headline status through their brilliant musicianship and great connection with the crowd.

And so, the end of the night’s proceedings bring us back to our original question: is this new range of headphones any good? After two very special sets, perhaps the crowd no longer remembers, or cares. But, present any of them with a pair playing back either of these two performances, and I guarantee they’d say yes.

Review: XFM’s Next Big Thing – February 2012

As everyone knows too well, the month January, with its post-festive blues, might as well be written off the character. Just as well then, as last week it fell to XFM to kick off February, and indeed 2012, good and proper with their ‘Next Big Thing’ night down at HMV’s The Ritz, featuring their pick of ‘ones to watch’ over the coming 12 months.

Kicking off the proceedings was the hotly-tipped self-professed ‘entertainer’ Willy Moon. Arriving to the stage in an all-white suite flanked by two female musicians, Moon’s performance begun shakily, due in-part to technical difficulties, but more due to every crowd member having their own “what the f*ck” moment: the music fell somewhere between bluesy rock n’ roll fused with glitchy hip hop beats, this unlikely mashup being fronted by the gigantic ‘entertainer’ dancing like a dad at a wedding. Get used to this however, and you’re in for a treat: single ‘She Loves Me’ shows the audience that once Moon gets it right, any the cynicism seems to get left behind in favour of appreciating just what a rare entertainer this man really is, while the rawkus vibe of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ means Moon left the stage with more than a few of the audience converted to his strange vision.

Next up was Ren Harvieu, a lady who, if she didn’t have the edge on the other acts tonight by being a local lass, definitely won the crowd over with a blinding performance, taking the audience through bombastic Motown-laced jams, down to a chilling standstill and all the way back up again. Highlights included a spine-tingling stripped down cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Cryin’’, proving to all that Harvieu has the substance to back up the style, while the sultry ‘Through The Night’ served to blow the roof off The Ritz. Backed by her fantastically skilled and tight band, this is one act who we definitely haven’t heard the last of in 2012.

It was then the turn of Spector to stake their claim as a ‘next big thing’, and what a claim they made: with an opening barrage of spiky guitars and pop keyboards, the five-piece from London were relentless in serving the buoyant crowd their first real slice of fun for the evening. Forthcoming single ‘Chevy Thunder’ proved that this group might be so much more than ‘this year’s Vaccines’ and is no doubt a future indie-dancefloor classic. Tonight, it and the rest of the set are given the perfect delivery by frontman Fred Macpherson, who bounces around the stage with all the charisma of Jarvis Cocker but enough awkward banter to keep the crowd engaged through the second technical failing of the night. Closing the set, ‘Never Fade Away’ is an ambitious marker that these boys could soon be filling venues twice the size, time will tell.

The reaction of the crowd down at The Ritz showed that Dry The River took to the stage ahead of an eagerly-anticipated set, and for good reason: on a good night the band, who’s sound can only be categorised as ‘indie-folk with balls’, are easily one of the best live bands in Britain. Sadly though, tonight was not a good night. Whether it was down to illness, further technical problems or the difficulty of winning over the crowd, the set seemed somewhat lack-luster in comparison to previous performances. The anthemic opener ‘No Rest’ showed a glimpse of just what the London band are capable of, with its beautiful blend of indie rock and folk and capped by Peter Liddle’s heart-wrenching lyrics and vocal delivery. Meanwhile, ‘Lion’s Den’ starts off just as delicate but tonight descends into a brutal cacophony that would even make My Bloody Valentine jealous, and showing just how unique this band really are. Not the strongest of performances given, but the band certainly show enough promise here that in the past has earned then high praise from the likes of the BBC.

Rounding off the evening’s proceedings are Stoke-On-Trent’s All The Young, who tonight tick all the right boxes to prove that they are indeed worthy of headline status. Northern sensibilities? Check. That raw brit-pop sound? Check. The endearingly-arrogant sunglasses indoors look? Check. While it would seem easy to write the band off as another Oasis imitation, tonight All The Young prove that they are so much more than emulations of Liam & co. Opener ‘The First Time’ shows that alongside driving drumbeats and jangly guitars turned up to 11, the bold yet honest delivery of singer Ryan Dooley ensures the four-piece make a strong connection with the audience. Clearly spurred on by the strong reaction of the crowd, the band take this energy and run with it, keeping up the pace throughout with tracks like ‘Another Miracle’ and ‘Quiet Night In’. Even when the tone drops slightly with recent single ‘The Horizon’, there is clearly enough depth here to keep the audience hooked.

While the whole point of tonight is to flag up bands that are ‘ones to watch’, you needn’t worry about these guys. Instead, my advice would be to keep your eyes on Ren Harvieu on Spector. After all, you’re going to need to preoccupy yourself until those All The Young arena tour 2013 tickets go on sale.