Friday, November 28, 2014

Back in the saddle: Bombay Bicycle Club at Le Bataclan, Paris

© Simon Poulter, 2014

For those of you playing the home game, Britain's Daily Mail has a thing about the BBC. On any given day, the newspaper can be found seething, on behalf of cardigan-clad middle England, about anything it can spitefully pin on the venerable broadcasting institution - from indignant stories about the Top Gear team's transgressions to obscure rants about cutlery in the Broadcasting House canteen.

Bombay Bicycle Club must be thankful for so far being off the Mail's radar, but it can only be a matter of time before they, via their abbreviated name, fall within the crosshairs. After all, the quartet from London's Crouch End are clearly in the ascendancy. Their fourth album, So Long, See You Tomorrow went to straight to No.1 in the UK, and next month they will headline a sold-out show at that gargantuan art deco cavern, London's Earls Court Arena, on what will be its final show as a historic rock venue (see Floyd, Zeppelin).

Le Bataclan is a more modest venue, and a more modest audience, too, but one no less enthused by the brilliantly infectious guitar-driven electronic pop that has been the foundation of the still-ridiculously young four-piece.

Bombay Bicycle Club. (l to r) Suren de Saram, Jamie MacColl, Jack Steadman, Ed Nash

Guitars, however, were noticeably less prominent on this year's acclaimed album So Long, See You Tomorrow, on which principle songwriter and singer Jack Steadman applied a more worldly approach, influenced by his travels throughout Asia in particular. 

This is evident from the off in Paris as BBC kick off with the album's opener, Overdone, with its Bollywood samples. Limbs in the crowd are already twitching. While there may be less guitar and more electronic dance pop on the album, in concert, Steadman and Jamie MacColl spa with their six strings, like cooler, twentysomething versions of Joe Walsh and Don Felder on Hotel California, playing in double-tracked syncopation of their sprightly, high-necked guitar sound. 

© Simon Poulter 2014
So Long, See You Tomorrow is coloured from somewhat different hues, but BBC in concert have an infectious energy, underpinned by Ed Nash's assured bass work and the exhausting-to-watch power drumming of Suren de Saram, augmented by vocalist Liz Lawrence. Thus, the breezy, 80s pop-flavoured Come To, also from the latest record bounces along, its township jive groove causing limbs to twitch even more. 

Shuffle a little later on gets the audience participation going further, with hand-clapping in evidence as the audience begins to frug mildly to the UK and US hit from 2011's A Different Kind Of FixThe gentle, melancholy Lights Out, Words Gone - with its bitter refrain "Keep your old and wasted words, my heart is breaking like you heard" brings the mood down a little, before Your Eyes from the same 2011 album restores the frug level.

On record, the tonal differences between A Different Kind Of Fix and So Long, See You Tomorrow are more pronounced, but live the contrast is subtle. Luna, with its expansive, global groove brings forth the Asian influences that informed Steadman's writing, blending rhythms you could easily imagine associated with a future World Cup, with Nash's buzzing, fuzz-boxed bass and Lawrence's perfectly pitched counter-vocals.

For all their reputation as up-for-it electronica dance merchants, BBC have a pastoral side. Their 2010 album Flaws covered a lot of acoustic ground - including John Martyn's Fairytale Lullaby - and Ivy & Gold brings out an Unplugged interlude, with a lot of wood and strings (and even a mandolin) being plucked on stage.

In fact, when you take into account the quiet, moody Eyes Off You (which, at the back of Le Bataclan was a struggle to hear above the always-annoying French bar chatter), a cover of Swedish popstrel Robyn's With Every Heartbeat, and the closing number Carry Me, which throws back to 80s rave music it's clear there are many dimensions to BBC, all of which add to their live appeal. Even How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep - the bonus track on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack that didn't actually appear in the film itself, but nevertheless cleverly marketed BBC to a teenage audience - transitions well from uneasy and sparse album song to competently fill out the venue.

© Simon Poulter 2014

Every band usually manages to include in their live shows the one dud to send everyone off to the merchandise stand or the bar, but BBC's infectiousness notably kept the audience nailed to the spot throughout all 21 songs - a generous set, on top of support from the thunderous Childhood (whom I'd only seen early this month in Paris as opener for Johnny Marr). 

What Steadman lacks in out-and-out showmanship, he and his band more than adequately make up for in other departments. Having just reconsidered Tears For Fears for the 30th anniversary release of their Songs From The Big Chair, there are compelling parallels to be drawn with BBC - not least an intensity and earnestness, but also the layers of electronica and rock. As they prepare for the UK arena leg of their tour next week, with that Earl's Court date on December 13 as its finale, this is an already hugely popular band that, with the right care and the desire, can make the leap to filing the biggest venues on a regular basis. They really are that worthy of it.

Image: Bombay Bicycle Club/Facebook

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