Bombay Bicycle Club’s return home to London’s Brixton Academy – the band is from the north of the nation’s capital, but it’s close enough – feels like something of a watershed. Four albums in and two years after their last full UK tour, they’re no longer the bright-eyed, indie-rock upstarts who released their debut months after leaving college. Instead, tonight, they’re displaying newfound maturity and confidence.
It’s as evident in their music as their stage performance. The set opener, ‘Overdone’, is met with a roar from their swelling legion of fans, keen to embrace the cultured sounds of the recently released ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ (review). Doused in yellow light on stage, bhangra samples meet with electro twinges to reach a crescendo of energy. Guitarist Jamie MacColl and bassist Ed Nash are far from forgotten, striding forward to detonate the anticipation.
It’s a spectacle, a blitz on the senses, and certainly far removed from the stale ‘00s jangly guitar stereotype. Of course, Bombay aren’t strangers to dabbling in new sounds – their discography swings from folk to baggy, acid house to rock. But ‘So Long…’ is the first record that’s seen lead singer Jack Steadman take over production duties. In doing so, he’s completely let loose, inspired by travels around Asia.
This is translated on stage by a full-blown brass band accompanying the quartet. ‘It’s Alright Now’ gets peppered with a saxophone and trumpet, providing a wholly live feel so often forgotten in this age of playback. ‘Shuffle’ does to the crowd what its name suggests, while the funkified ‘Your Eyes’, also taken from their third LP, gets hands in the air – dreamy guitar work from MacColl increasing the high.
As much as it’s clear Bombay’s sound is now about beat and rhythm, they don’t forget their roots as a guitar band. The chaotic ‘Emergency Contraception Blues’ harks back to the early days, soon followed by ‘Evening/Morning’, where Suren De Saram’s drums go into overdrive. Steadman’s vocals are crisp, his promise to “owe you anything” returned in equal measure by the crowd.
But the night belongs to the band’s drive for invention. The exotic Middle Eastern vibe on ‘Feel’ sees Steadman ditching the guitar and ending up on drums, its euphoric soundscape building a carnival atmosphere. No wonder Steadman picks this moment to say, “It’s good to be home.”
However, there are signs the jittering liveliness comes at a price. When Steadman sits down at the piano for the beautiful ‘Eyes Off You’, backed by Liz Laurence, the crowd fails to settle properly. By the end you can hear a pin drop, but the initial murmuring suggests that, for some, the diversity is jarring.
Still, Steadman soon gets the crowd’s full attention by wryly dedicating ‘Whenever, Wherever’ to Shakira, setting in motion a final half hour that’s full-on get up and move. The ska influences on ‘Always Like This’ and the equally infectious ‘Luna’ send the crowd into frenzy. Deafening cheers for an encore lead to a rocket-fuelled finale: ‘What If’ blistering into the band’s ‘So Long…’ lead single ‘Carry Me’ – a genre-bending dance number that sees the band, and crowd, losing themselves in the moment.
This is a band on top of their material, increasingly assured and absolutely fearless. Long may it stay that way.
- - -
Words: Alex Taylor
Photo: Burak Cingi (website)