British Sea Power, Electric Soft Parade

Alex Worsnip 26/11/2005

It's ironic that British Sea Power and Electric Soft Parade are friends, because they have come to represent diametrically opposed sides of modern British indie music. British Sea Power take things off in mental, inventive directions, consistently individual and quirky, whilst maintaining a sense of melody and songcraft. Electric Soft Parade, meanwhile, plough away relentlessly at their underachieving, cliched, partially angsty indie, painful in debt to the 90s. So it's a good sign that, while both were once widely touted, it's British Sea Power that have won out, whilst ESP desperately try to cling on to their careers, and the British Sea Power get to headline.

But, just for fun, they're the opening support too, playing a 'B-sides and rarities' set. It's no doubt a treat for the hardcore, but on many on the tracks, it's a delight for anyone to watch. The opening 'Heavenly Waters' is a more compact Godspeed, playing out the quiet-loud dynamic excellently, and is the closest they've ever got to pure post-rock. Meanwhile, other tracks allow them to express their particularly weird side - there's constant swapping of instruments and vocal duties for every song - particularly noticeable on the brilliant 'Fakir', an Eastern European drinking song. The omission of 'Childhood Memories' is a shame, but it's good to hear the cathartic 'True Adventures', which sits halfway between tender ballad and orchestral noise-fest (though to call it a 'rarity' is stretching a point given that it's on Open Season).

And then, Electric Soft Parade. They are angry, really angry at the world that it hasn't gone right for them. Amusingly (although they don't see the funny side), the house music is still playing for their first song, the painfully inert stodge of 'Things I've Done Before'. Despite their angry rock star posings, their charisma, next to British Sea Power, is somewhat lacking, and the fact that their touring bassist, who's not even a real member of the band, has more presence than either of them is revealing. They decide to play lots of new material, which is clearly their attempt to salvage their career, heading in various directions that are more experimental and rockier in places, but not much better. Even when they play 'Silent To The Dark', their biggest hit and actually quite a nice song, they manage to beat all the subtlety out of it with big stadium drums, strained live vocals and a pub rock guitar arrangement that descends into horrifically inappropriate soloing. Needless to say, it's short of the closing psychadelic wig-out that made it their most inventive track in its original form.

After this test of patience, we're back to the Sea Power, and after the B-sides set, it, I suppose, is the greatest hits. It's striking just how much that actually seems to be the case, and the set really bears the out the consistency and quality of their songwriting. The loud, insane ones inspire a frenzy of movement - 'Apologies To Insect Life' and 'The Spirit of St Louis' being particularly perfect - and the slower ones, like the simple yet utterly gorgeous 'North Hanging Rock', are heart-swellingly beautiful. In between, we get the flurry of tuneful hits - 'It Ended On An Oily Stage', 'Remember Me', 'Please Stand Up', 'Carrion' - they just keep on coming. But it's the end of the show that is truly unforgettable - an extended 'Lately' that culminates in swinging from beams, blindfolded piggybacks, games of tag, and general insanity. The until-now impassive guitarist Noble goes mental. It's good. They're special, and they're quirky in ways other than just their foliage. They're quite simply one of the best bands around at the moment.