7 June, 2011
In many ways, tonight’s gig wasn’t entirely what I expected from my first ever gig in that London. (I moved out of my beloved Leeds a week or two ago). For a start, it was so quaint – there were chandeliers, and rich staircases providing a cosiness which helped keep my homesickness for the Brudenell Social Club at bay. Also, I was flabbergasted by the amount of space on offer. The place could only have been a third full at most – and there I was thinking that any gig in London (let alone one from a band sporting an ex-member of Le Tigre) was a guaranteed sell-out. There was, however, an overtly sexual gay couple grinding their fannies on each other all night, licking each other’s tonsils. I’m undecided as to whether that should be attributed to that London or to that MEN.
In any case, we were first graced with the presence of Bonjay – a duo from Canada mixing dub and dancehall fused beats. Immediately they endear themselves to me: there are few things a band can do which are more humbling than to be faced with a relatively measly crowd, and to display a genuinely sincere gratitude and enthusiasm towards those who turned up. (Indeed, my formative punkrock years taught me that you need next to nobody in attendance to have a great time at a show – and this was well evidenced tonight). Grinding around the stage, Alanna’s incredible moves are more than matched by her stunning voice. Their rendition of ‘How My Heart Behaves’ definitely gets itself into the running for this year’s particularly stiffly fought Feist Cover of the Year Award, and when Ian peels back the heavy beats a little for the shattering vocal climax, we’re all astounded.
MEN themselves then take to the stage, and open with their album’s opening track ‘Life’s Half Price’, which is fitting in a way, as their live experience – for better for worse – is a pretty solid replication of the album experience. Not that I necessarily mean this to their detriment – MEN’s dance beats and huge choruses really spurred me on on the treadmill as a record, and these songs similarly drive me to dance in the live setting. Songs like ‘Credit Card Babies’ are near pitch perfect slices of music with a singular aim, and one tight focus: to make people dance. They nailed that intention on record, so I’m happy to hear that their live rendition doesn’t alter the recipe too much, by making it more ‘organic’ or, what would be worse still, reeling it in a little. MEN don’t fall into these traps, and songs like ‘Boom Boom Boom’ and ‘Who am I To Feel So Free?’ retain all their bombastic glory. Indeed, they actually expand on their bombastic glory, owing purely to the enhancement of pure volume, making the low end more resonant, and the beats more insistant. This means that album low-points like ‘Simultaneously’ translate a lot better tonight, with the thumping kick drum and bass granting the thing a throbbing pulsation which its studio counterpart lacks. Essentially, MEN provided everything which I had hoped that they would: a loud, brash and largely unaltered replication of their album’s dance-party blueprints.