O2 Academy ‘2’, B’ham
Lamb have always somehow passed me by, they being more my wife’s bag, and this is the 2nd time we have had tickets to see them. Unfortunately circumstances prevented the first and a rocking dose of sinusitis for her meant I was flying solo tonight. (I sent her a clip and her opinion follows……)
My hatred of the O2 Academy is on record, or at least of the main hall. I have, however, come to quite like the smaller ‘2’ and the even tinier ‘3’, tucked elsewhere in the same building. I had somehow thought Lamb a bigger draw, slightly surprised the attendance to be quite sparse, perhaps a hundred and fifty souls. Suits me, mind, no lover of crowds. Expecting the core duo of the records, Andy Barlow (keyboards/programming) and Lou Rhodes (vocals) to be all there were, I noted the drum kit, basses, upright and electric both, guitars and fiddles at the back of the empty stage, alongside the rack of keys, modulators and ubiquitous MacBook. Promised an 8.30 start, it was only moments later the lights dimmed, and 3 burly fellas bounded out, followed by a smaller female, keeping to the back. Thrashing straight in, the synth bass and electronic drum beat segueing seamlessly with the live equivalents, violin skittering in the background. The backdoor on the stage again opened and the fragile waif of Rhodes glid out, doll-like, in effervescent shiny pleats and black chiffon, vocals simultaneously tremulous yet powerful. We were told this was her first voice of the tour, it lost to a head cold in Manchester. No such problem tonight, she and Barlow delighting in that fact. As this was the promo tour for a new album, The Secret of Letting Go, much of the material came from this, with scatterings of earlier material offered also. The newer material tends less to the drum’n’bass trip-hop amalgam of old, tending more to soaring ballads, often led by heavily processed quasi-electric piano noodling, overset by bowed bass and violin backing, percussion and electronica then kicking in for stomach curdling “choruses”. I quite liked this ahead of it becoming a slightly overplayed trope, beginning also to find a little too much of the Stevie Nicks about Rhodes. But, never game changers, there was enough else about the show to make up for most of that. Gabriel we got roughly 2/3 in, it getting, deservedly, the biggest real response from the actually strangely reticent audience. This was followed by a little bit of audience participation, unexpected in this setting, making me wonder whether some of Rhodes’ solo folkier fare was bout to be unleashed. But it was just a request for extended choral aaahs, and it worked a treat over one of the slower and more anthemic tunes. There was also a powerhouse instrumental from the new album, Deep Delirium, I think, which thundered and skittered appealingly, letting the singer retreat backstage.
After about 60 or 70 minutes of the concert, Barlow suddenly announced they were going off stage for a couple of minutes, and they did. Interval, thought I, so when they came back and played for a further half hour or so, this I thought the second half. Now a much ballsier unit, using more of the human rhythm section and with Rhodes even strapping on a guitar, if more for appearances sake, this was an energetic thrash to the end. Gorecki, their ‘other’ big tune formed part of this, with Barlow coming to the front at one stage to play a hefty snare drum with military precision. Straight then into Trans Fatty Acid, all strobe lit shapes, hurling about the stage and instrumentation, a seconds silence and off. The bemused audience, uncertain if this the end or whether encores were still to come, clapped and hooted, a little half-heartedly, looking around at each other, watching the roadies unplug for the five minutes or so before anyone thought to raise the lights. Confusing to all these old souls, brought up with a clearer etiquette of how it goes. Oh, well, time for a pint before the train.
Older than I expected, a slightly bedraggled forty into fifties, some, like me, a tad more again. The clearly older couple in front of me became outed, by Barlow as hiss mother and her partner. Fair play, she was loving it, her son beaming and winking at her throughout the show.
It made me think..
I must stop banging on about age in my reviews, I am old. The audiences are old. Rock is over 60 years old and punk well over 40, making dance/electronica at least 30. But it seems to keep the old folk, myself included, happy enough. I could have done without all the stage led exhortations to go wild though, Barlow whooping overly frequently in somewhat undignified outpourings.