Boy Kill Boy, The Automatic, iForward, Russia!, The Long Blondes

Tim Miller 14/05/2006

Drainpipe trousers are back. That is, if you'll follow my simple rock equation. Being 'down with the kids' means you know what's 'in'. These here kids at Portsmouth Pyramids are lapping up the very newest of new talent on the NME New Bands tour. Therefore, they're at the very height of 'in', and they're nearly all 'in' drainpipe trousers. Ergo, drainpipe trousers are back.

Before tonight, I hadn't experienced feeling old at a gig before. And though there seems to be several fellow studenty types and a fair few adults around me, I get the feeling that the majority of older adults are here because their kids are tearing up the mosh pit at the front. Below me is a carpet more suited to a hotel corridor, while above are the remains of the last event held at the Pyramids: giant silver “20” balloons bounce off the ceiling, occasionally floating leisurely down over the bobbing heads of the audience. It is never clearer just why the Portsmouth Pyramids 'live arena' is opposite the 'fun pools plaza'.

However, despite my initial misgivings, I and everyone else there are in for a night of great music. First up are 5-piece boy/girl band The Long Blondes, who have been kicking around for a while now, patiently waiting for their limelight: surely not for much longer. Very much female fronted, by their vocalist, bassist and keyboard/guitarist, The Long Blondes deal in punchy, disco-indie in the Bravery mould, only a trillion times better. Riffs come from their male lead guitarist, beats from the male drummer, completing The Long Blondes sound which they could soon make their own. Their catchy songs stem from clever songwriting, topped off by an incredibly talented vocalist; a voice rich in texture and range, similar to but surpassing a 'Don't Speak'-era Gwen Stefani. Their high point is 'Someone to drive you home', where vocalist and lead guitarist trade advice in a boy/girl life-education lesson, and The Long Blondes have been a perfect start to the evening.

Great work all night by the stage team means that the following acts are onstage on time, and we don't have to wait too long for the next band, the band everyone is talking about. Forward, Russia! are the biggest underground band in the world at the moment, and the hype surrounding them is not a million miles away from the hysteria that preceded the announcement of the Arctic Monkeys to the world. This gig is actually unique, in a way: it's Forward, Russia!'s last performance before the release of their debut album. We are the last audience to see the songs live before they become the most sought after songs everywhere.

If The Long Blondes warmed the crowd up, Forward, Russia! positively churn it up. The mosh pit detonates, and the first of many crowd-surfers go flailing over the top. The excitable young audience goes dangerously into overdrive as soon as the opening bars of the first song sound out. Forward, Russia! make brutal, fast paced rock tunes with a raw edge. It doesn't sound much, or even original, on paper, but it sounds unique live, and by GOD it works. If the songs are half as good on CD as they are live, everyone will have heard of Forward, Russia! by this time next week. The vocalist yelps, screams and moans in falsetto and whispers, backed up by the attractive drummer punishing her kit. The sole guitarist rips an incredible wall of noise out of his six strings, breaking one in the process and having to switch guitars. The bassist cranks up the distortion to nuclear proportions and lays down a furious base to the song structures. Within five minutes, it is obvious to see who should really be topping the bill on this tour, and I spend the rest of the night wondering why they are consigned to a half an hour spot below The Automatic and BoyKillBoy; clearly, Forward, Russia! are going to be huge.
I grab 15 seconds with Whiskas, the guitarist, as he packs up his gear, managing to extract the enticing information that Forward, Russia! will be doing a 10 date headline tour in July, a mouth-watering prospect given that their support is likely to be Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. You read it here first.

I already know I got what I came for, so this may explain the attitude of disdain I end up feeling towards the night's next band, The Automatic. They don't help themselves in my view, though the youngsters lap it up, by swanning onstage to the cringe-worthy-except-on-a-night-out-pissed-at-1am Baywatch theme. Immediately, I'm disillusioned. And the monkey boy, one of those band member types who dances manically around screaming occasionally into a microphone, twiddles some knobs and pushes keys on his Korg box, and ends the night atop the speakers like the rock god he really isn't, comes across tonight as a total twat.
The Automatic think they've made it, and sadly they're probably right, but it shouldn't be like that. They make electro-infused indie 'anthems' like The Killers: anthems in that the songs are simple, catchy and repetitive, often shouting the same lyrics several times over overblown, expansive choruses. The same sort of formula, too, that has made the Kaiser Chiefs so big in the charts, and so despised in music circles. Fans of The Killers will love The Automatic, almost as much as they appear to love themselves. Admittedly, the singer/bassist retains some dignity, looking bewildered at his bandmates' floor-frolicking antics (though the guitarist seems a smug bastard too).
There's no denying that Monster is a smash hit in waiting. Or that Raoul has a fantastic hook which, despite myself, I leave humming at the end of the night. There's also no escaping the fact that the lyrics are repetitive and rather juvenile: “Our ambition got cast aside/thrown away when the batteries died”, and their generic electro-pop tires after a few songs. Come the end of their set, however, The Automatic criminally stride offstage to a louder send off than the two previous acts. Forward, Russia!, at the very least, should have been above these Killers-influenced electro-heads.

With my mood soured, I'm hoping for a good set from BoyKillBoy, who must have had a nightmare trip down from Radio 1's Big Weekend in Dundee the day before. BKB have it all to do; this tour proclaims them as the most exciting prospects of the lot as they top the bill, and they've got the Long Blondes and Forward, Russia! to beat. As you might have already guessed, in my view they don't justify their headline slot.
Portsmouth Pyramids really pull the light show out for BKB, however. Lasers flash wildly, searchlights scan the room and the 70s disco ball which is a permanent feature of the venue really excels. Instead of lighters, mobile phone screens are held aloft to BoyKillBoy. They open with definitely one of their more attractive songs of the night, Back Again. A rollercoaster-paced song with an epic, Muse-esque chorus featuring heart-felt chord changes, BoyKillBoy start highly-charged. It goes a bit downhill from there though, as BoyKillBoy are the third band of the evening to feature synth-driven songs. At times, such as Back Again and sure-fire hit Suzie, it works. On others though, like Ivy Parker, it adds an almost pastiche element to the music.
BoyKillBoy have straightforward, Snow Patrol style rock choruses, and are ready for bigger venues and bigger crowds. BoyKillBoy play safe, for comfortable rock listening like Feeder. But that's almost too mature, too polished when compared with the other three acts on this 'new bands' bill. Live, they come across as the least interesting, even though they dish out some lively tunes with tight, spiky guitars. With Suzie undoubtedly the crowd favourite, it is ironic that it features the lyric “Countdown to the disappointment!”, as it sort of sums up the night as a whole.

Don't get me wrong, it's been a great night of live music, and the future looks so exciting for some of these bands. It just all came out in the wrong order. Clearly, The Killers have a lot to answer for, with both The Automatic and BoyKillBoy offering brands of electro-ridden rock. The Long Blondes are destined for greater things than a half our opening slots, with their poppy take on art-rock. But the evening, nay the tour, belongs to Forward, Russia!, who were by quite a long stretch the best band of the night. With a furious live energy unmatched by the other acts, and songs to bring a gleam to the eye of any music fan concerned about the state of new music, Forward, Russia! are here to save the world, and will probably be on every music channel, every radio station, and everyone's MySpace playlist by the time this review is published. While NME magazine goes from bad to worse, their New Band tour heralds the dawning of the new heroes of new music, and boy, have they got it right again.