The Maccabbees, Peggy Sue

James Lachno 03/10/2009

People often say that animal owners end up looking and acting like their pets. One only need look to the reams of Fred Perry wearing cheeky chappies who attended Blur's Hyde Park soirees earlier this summer, or recall the wide-eyed, tie-dyed attendees of an early 1990s Happy Mondays# Hacienda rave-up to see that this idea can often be as confidently applied to musicians.

As case in point, tonight's crowd are one of the most appreciative, cheerful and just-plain-nice you are likely to encounter. Even though the murmur of excited anticipation fills the O2 Academy this evening, the crowd is good-natured enough to give lukewarm support act Peggy Sue - who are admittedly hampered by poor sound - a decent reception. Clearly, however, the crowd are baying for the emergence of The Maccabees, as evidenced by the enthusiastic cheering which follows every DJ'd song in the interval between the support band and the headliners' arrival. When The Maccabees do stroll onto stage, shrouded in semi-darkness, and begin to rumble through the first few bars of the darkly compelling No Kind Words, the crowd explodes. Throughout the set, they sing along with virtually every word, dancing and bopping most of the way back towards the arena entrance; a sea of movement periodically permeated with raised hands and pointed fingers.

Such a reception is testament not only to the fierce reputation for a good live show that the Maccabees have built through frequent touring since their 2005 inception, but also highlights the particularly warm reception of their second studio effort, Wall of Arms. Tonight it is received with a gusto that belies the fact that it was released almost five months ago to the day. The smart pop of Can You Give It is off-set nicely against the interesting rhythms of the brass and horn-enhanced Dinosaurs and Wall of Arms, all of which are sung with quivering authority by frontman Orlando Weeks.

However, perhaps surprisingly, it's the songs from first album Colour It In that really come to life here. Whilst viewed by some critics as slightly one-dimensional on record, fast and furious songs such as Lego and early crowd favourite X-Ray sound great tonight, backed up as it is by Sam Doyle's frenetic time-keeping.

On this occasion the Maccabees sound best when they really go for it, and only suffer when they attempt to break the relentless pace of proceedings. Toothpaste Kisses, equal parts beautiful and twee on record, loses its charm in such a vast venue. Furthermore, the decision to include B-sides Accordion Song and Hearts that Strangle, sung by guitarists Felix and Hugo White respectively, is a baffling one. Notwithstanding the less proficient vocals, neither song matches the material from their two albums, and both merely succeed in briefly subduing the crowd and disjointing the show. Their inclusion is all the more surprising considering the choice not play tracks such as the single About Your Dress, and can only be explained by a democratic willingness to give others the opportunity to sing.

This example serves as a microcosm of The Maccabees' main flaw, if they have one: they may well be too nice for their own good. Despite the size and nature of tonight's crowd, and the fact that many of their songs are very good and sound even better live, the band seems to lack the ruthless streak to make this homecoming gig truly superb. As if to further emphasise this point, during the encore (incidentally featuring the marvellous Love You Better as closing track) guitarist Felix suggests this to be 'the best night of our lives'. This humble response to adulation is charming, if not really inspiring, and is indicative of the evening as a whole. On tonight's evidence, if The Maccabees wish to reach the next echelon of achievement - which should be within their grasp musically - they may need to replace their overwhelmingly pleasant demeanour with a swagger suggesting they have the balls to be the best.