Celebrating the tenth anniversary of debut album A Certain Trigger by playing it in full at decent-sized theatres, indie stalwarts Maximo Park showed there’s still a hunger for their enthusiastic, infectious melodies.
That hunger still seems to reside in the band, too. Many album-in-full shows see bands play with a sense of detachment from their most famous work, making it pretty obvious that they’re only doing it to try to reboot their career or for the cash.
Maximo, however, appear to be tearing through Graffiti, Apply Some Pressure and co as simply a chance to take stock and indulge in some low-pressure hi-jinx.
If singer Paul Smith’s trademark scissor-kicking in Going Missing is a little more restrained than of yore, then he and the band show no restraint in attacking the songs themselves. Keyboardist Lukas Wooller shares Smith’s restless leg syndrome, doing the splits and clowning about behind his synths throughout.
The album takes up the second half of the show, which Smith calls “The longest encore in history” having preceded it with 11 songs from throughout their subsequent career. It’s bookended by Girls Who Play Guitars and Books From Boxes, two hits from second album Our Earthly Pleasures, but in between the set proves the Teesiders are still in rude health.
Recent single Leave This Island adds a layer of vintage Gary Numan-style paranoia to their generally sunny outlook, while A Year Of Doubt is beamed in from a parallel world where the five-piece became a breakneck rockabilly outfit.
Smith gives a shoutout to a sprinkling of fans using the gig to celebrate their Christmas party, and that festive spirit summed up the mood onstage.
After A Certain Trigger’s finale Kiss You Better, Smith announces “That’s it, we’ve run out of songs.” For now, maybe. Their days of adding erudition to the Top 10 may be over, but they’re a five-piece who seem to content to flourish in the margins, becoming ever more inventive in search of the perfect witty pop song.
O2 ARENA, LONDON
Recently announced as headliners of next summer’s Isle Of Wight Festival, anyone thinking “What, Stereophonics? In 2016? Really?” should be rest assured: Stereophonics are far from finished.
Having downsized from stadiums back to arenas nearly a decade ago, you get the impression singer Kelly Jones probably lives in an arena somewhere these days, waking up every day and strapping on the nearest Gibson guitar before playing two resolutely solid hours of heads-down rock & roll and yelling the occasional “Thangyew!” at his kids.
If that makes it sound like there’s something mechanical about how the veterans operate, then there’s something to be said for a band who are so machine-tooled in reliably entertaining audiences.
Yes, they’ll throw in a feisty chorus of Ace Of Spades in the middle of The Bartender And The Thief. Yes, people will wonder how they managed to craft a No 1 hit as graceful as Dakota among the blood and thunder elsewhere. Yes, the still-devastating story of young suicide of Local Boy In The Photograph will make fortysomething blokes well up.
But it takes a hard heart not to warm to see the usually reserved Jones muck about in the encore as guest Rob Brydon does his uncanny Tom Jones impression throughout Mama Told Me Not To Come.
And they can still offer surprises, notably by starting with recent single C’est La Vie, which may be the most dynamic song they’ve ever made: a stream of consciousness pouting glam monster that stands tall next to anything from its Bowie and Roxy predecessors.
Not all of new album Keep The Village Alive is as vital: the ballad Mr And Mrs Smith feels too purpose-built for making fans light up their phones in arenas and it goes on far too long. Ending the main set with the solid-not-spectacular Sunny brings the mood down.
But its setpiece song White Lies fits in nicely, and there are plenty of hits among the remainder of the 25-song set, including a fantastically trashy tear-up of More Life In A Tramp’s Vest.
It might not be easy to get excited about Stereophonics headlining festivals right now. But, come next June, you can guarantee they’ll deliver.
Named El Vy as they see themselves as a pair of Elvis Presleys (Elvii), The National singer Matt Berninger and Ramona Falls mainstay Brent Knopf emerged around the same time in 00s indie.
Back then, it was a tough call as to whether The National’s sombre balladeering or the art-pop of Knopf’s old band Menomena would break big.
In the event, of course, it was The National who went on to become unlikely arena mainstays while Knopf quit Menomena to pursue a career as a producer.
It’s Berninger’s rangy presence which dominates the stage show to promote their joint album Return To The Moon.
Back in a smaller venue, Berninger seems caged as he paces across the stage and looms into the front rows, even during slower songs like Careless, whose claustrophobia means it could easily be by Berninger’s dayjob band.
Less familiar to National fans are the clattering beats Knopf provides in I’m The Man To Be. Microphone problems mean the song comes crashing to a halt halfway through, only for the pair to perform it again as the gig’s finale as Berninger really lets loose in a whirlwind of limbs.
The most unlikely moment comes when the pair unleash their inner poodle rockers on a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ 80s classic She Drives Me Crazy.
Replacing the original’s funk and Roland Gift’s falsetto with fist-pumping Jovi-isms and Berninger’s velvet croon, it’s pure showbiz and the closest they get to really emulating Presley’s OTT persona.
It’s a shame there was no encore or any songs from the pair’s back catalogue, but El Vy left the building wanting more. Elvis would have approved.