Barclaycard Arena (? hell, it’s the bloody N.I.A. to me), Birmingham
Extraordinary, really, and not quite as expected. First time to the Indoor Arena without seats and it’s a corker, like a decent N.E.C., as droves of the Faithless faithful arrive, in all ages, sizes, shapes and forms, the atmosphere of a revivalist meeting. The arena so big and roof so high it feels like outside, with party coats laid out on the floor as support band ‘Until the Ribbon Breaks’, no me, neither, came on and did their stuff, a fascinating blend of electronica and beats fuelled folky-blues with occasional trumpet and lots of percussion, electronic and otherwise; largely well-received and one to hear their recorded stuff for clarity, I felt, the sound a bit muddy. Bang on 9 the lights go down, the floor fills and bank upon bank of lasers come up to, sorry, euphoria, the biggest cheers reserved for Maxi Jazz, diminutive and suited, a white T under the jacket. Bravely banging off with signature tune, ‘God is a DJ’, alternating between the quiet rappy bits as it builds inexorably to the chunky bits that sear the room with joy, this seemed promising. And it was, but somehow strangely sterile. They ticked all their boxes and the crowd went crazy to rote, an efficiency of purpose that seemed drained of spontaneity. ‘Insomnia’ came in 3rd and, for me, the highlight was then, with the next hour or so being more admirable than enjoyable. The band were shit hot and tighter than my buttocks, with the twinned drum and percussion ensembles grabbing most of my attention. I could probably have done without the sub rock god guitar histrionics, but he clearly was enjoying himself. Sister Bliss was there, obviously, but somehow not there, the swathes of sound in all the right places but without any identifying character beyond the records. The female singer sang her Dido bits very well, I was impressed, and the other rapper rapped. I’m told Maxi was less exuberant and in control than is usual, and despite his ability to draw the room up and down in mood, between peaks of crescendo, I never felt quite drawn in. The squeeze, a huge fan, bopped gleefully regardless, yet later conceded this had less atmosphere than previous shows, in both larger and smaller venues. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, it just wasn’t great. Maybe a bad night or maybe I was expecting too much.
Families, groups of friends, couples, free of any identifiable brand. Normal. The music snob in me might say civilians. Happy, smily people. With many in the room of an age far greater than either myself, or indeed Mr Jazz, there were also many much younger, and the mood was of a jubilee or a massive garden party. I found myself thinking of the Queen, or even the group, Queen. Is this how their concerts are? Slickly packaged pleasure guaranteed?
It made me think..
a lot. I would love to have seen them in their prime, pre fame and preferably outside. A bit let down, really.