The story of sir staying out on a school night:
A fairly surreal spectacle unfolded on Monday morning as a frozen man paced around the foot of Big Ben singing manically to himself. Fear not, I have not entered that place but was manfully battling bracing cold to round up shuffling sixth formers ahead of an A level politics conference. Attempts to distract myself from the cold brought mixed results; 1) spending the best part of two quid on a flavourless tea at Cafe Nero was an error although is did Quantum Leap style view of what my life could have been had I become a commuter, 2) Jiggling on the spot with hands firmly tucked into pockets in between greeting youngsters is the kind of behaviour that raises suspicions that a man in my profession can ill afford, but 3) Listening to every single song by The National on my ipod managed to successfully transport my thoughts away from the numbness overwhelming my limbs and onto the exciting fact I was seeing the premier purveyors of North American indie that very night.
Fast forward through a stimulating conference and a delightful couple of hours devouring the brilliant Jonathon Wilson's 'Inverting the Pyramid' (essential reading on the history of tactics for the football geek) and I was enjoying the atmosphere at Brixton academy alongside my fellow mustachioed chum and blogger Mr Craig Armer (the taches were for charity for those losing respect for me). As it happens sporting a ridiculous middle-aged 80s business tache seems to be the norm in 'trendy London' anyway as people who live in the capital appear unable to resist the overwhelming desire to dress as a Shoreditch Dickhead.
The support was a band I had never heard of but Craig was very keen to see. As with most things in life; Craig was annoyingly one step ahead of me in coolness as what followed was comfortably one of the better support bands I have seen. Full credit to The National who resisted the usual label urge to promote some raw label mates and instead chose a band with three albums behind them who have yet to make waves over this side of the Atlantic. Menomena made an immediate impression with the full band lined up on the stage. No single member was given special prominence and the reason for this became clear - Karl Marx would adore this band - everyone plays their part. Every member takes on vocal duties at some point boasting an exciting range of styles from a Kings of Leon howl to a wistful tone reminiscent of Guy Garvey (Elbow). The eclectic nature doesn't stop there as the whole gamut of instruments are on show including saxophone and maracas as drum sticks. This could very easily descend into a muso-friendly smugfest yet each quirk is integral to the song and the band rightly resist the urge to show off. In my experience bands with vast instrumental talent often fall into proggy noodling much to the apparent delight of their worshippers, yet Menomena adopt a clean, almost clinical approach which delivers flair through the variety of components as opposed to a showy stage presence. As commendable as this might sound it would all be wholly redundant if the music was rubbish but the opposite was true. The highlight of this whole night for me was actually discovering Menomena and spotify has been well used as I greedily imbibe all they have to offer. Enjoy the videos below and I urge you to investigate this band.
The mixture of anticipation and impatience before a band come on is one of life's most frustrating experiences. Thankfully The National didn't force us to wait too long after the support and what followed was a quite brilliant performance. I'm not going to indulge in a detailed post-match analysis - I'm sure you will be able to find hundreds of gig reviews which will tell you all you need to know about the band's unexpectedly strong stage presence. Personally I was far more impressed than I expected - as stated earlier on this blog I have grown to really love the band but whereas some bands on record demand to be seen live I have never felt that about The National. The way that I was invited by Craig rather than pursue the tickets myself is testament to that fact. As things turned out the band were far more exciting live than presumed and the songs possessed more energy, passion and at times outright hostility than on record. The perfect example being the primal cry of the chorus on Squalor Victoria. Brixton Academy is perhaps London's finest venue for atmosphere and there was a tremendous sense that the people in the room would each be able to share a story related to how and why they fell in love with the band. I felt a triumphant sense of collective joy as England was sung with verve and defiance. The sense of community was further emboldened by Berninger's quite insane wander through the whole crowd whilst singing Mr November. My heart went out to the poor roadie/security bloke who's job was to follow him and hold up the implausibly long microphone lead. It was a hugely impressive performance, neatly capped off with an acapella performance of Vanderly Crybaby Geeks at the end of the encore.
By the time of the encore I was making ready for my dash to the door as the minutes ticked by ahead of my train home. Craig and I embarked on an exciting mission through the streets of London, guided by an i-phone sat nav which appeared to be on satellite delay a few dead ends were negotiated and the heart was racing. Thankfully by demonstrating the street smarts and courage that only Men of Kendal can conjure we made it to the station on time and the night had ended in triumph.
A good music week was further enriched by sneakily having a listen to the new release III/IV from Ryan Adams- a double album of previously unreleased stuff with The Cardinals which is as fantastic as expected. One thing I would say though is I am kind of glad they have parted ways as I feel far more connection with his solo work. Further to this delight my spiritual guide in the ways of music Ben passed on a fantastic collection from Bon Iver's label Jagjaguwar which neatly showcased a lot of artists I was previously unaware of but warrant further investigation.