Mystery Jets, Fiction, Tribes, Babeshadow

Chris Eustace 07/02/2011

The first time I heard “Two Doors Down” on the radio, I bet my brother that it would go to Number One. In the end, I was twenty-three places out. A respectable position, but way below where a song as good as that should have been. Such is life for the Mystery Jets it seems. Having first emerged from Eel Pie Island as upbeat proggers with more than a passing penchant for Syd Barrett, they've since become one of the best, and almost certainly the most underrated, pop bands in the land, and again, whilst filling Shepherd's Bush Empire is no mean feat, tonight's set not only shows off the slightly overlooked pop gems on last year's third album “Serotonin”, but further serves the notion that they belong in even bigger venues.

Babeshadow are the first of three supports at this NME Awards Show, sharing with the headliners an obvious love for classic English guitar-pop. Their laid-back jaunty sound mixes folk (an accordion is even brought out at one point) with sprightly Vampire Weekend guitars.

Tribes, of whom attendees of MJ's tour last autumn will already be familiar, impress once again. If anything they've got even better in the intervening months, the big stage suiting them down to the ground. Much has been made of their attempts to reboot the US alt-rock sound of the late 80's/early 90's, and while one song does slightly resemble “Where Is My Mind?”, and there's the odd bit of Dinosaur Jr. guitar, they're slowly but surely elevating above being mere revivalists. The longing of “Walking In The Street” casts Johnny Lloyd as some kind of Camden Springsteen, while the searing sarcasm of “Dumb It Down”, tongues slightly in cheek as the bassline from “The Joker” is artfully lifted, takes in the fun, fearless intelligence of pre-“Holy Bible” Manics, whose spirit can also be found in the emotional “Nightdriving”, written for tragic Ou Est Le Swimming Pool singer Charlie Haddon.

Perhaps they're still searching for their “killer” song, the spiky resignation of last song “We Were Children” coming closest for now, but what price them headlining venues such as this in a year or so?

Fiction are a slightly more idiosyncratic proposition. Visually striking, with fairy-lit stand-up drumming and a spot of instrument-swapping catching the eye, there's more Vampire Weekend guitars, mixed in with Gang Of Four post-punk, but the vocals and synth give an icy 80's Human League feel, until the occasional blast of falsetto suggests Wild Beasts. Their skewed pop is hard to pin down, and while not sticking to any one formula means they're quite refreshing, there's something impenetrable about them - easy to admire, but hard to love. That's not to mean they're humourless - Dave their new bassist is hailed with the set dedicated to “all Daves in the audience”, but a little more warmth like this would go a long way in ensuring they win new converts.

The roar that greets Mystery Jets has to be heard to be believed. The best bands are credited with taking the listener to another world, here the crowd do it as well. Bassist Kai Fish is in the crowd even before opening song “Alice Springs” is through, and from there the audience milestones come thick and fast. The first pint is thrown in elation as “Half In Love With Elizabeth” strikes up, the first crowdsurfers go over the barrier as “Serotonin”'s irresistible chorus rings out. A glance upward during “Young Love” shows even those on the balconies are up and dancing, and as “Lady Grey” stomps and bounces like Blur in their imperial phase, this doesn't stop even when they “take it down a little bit” for “The Girl Is Gone”. If anything, you realise that that even the songs not released as singles are great singles.

Their Count and Sinden collaboration “After Dark” sees Guitarist Will Rees take centre stage, beckoning friends on from the side to dance around, a carnival atmosphere ensuing as the band segue seamlessly into “Hideaway”, a dapper Blaine Harrison leading the crowd in a celebratory round of 's. That this set is so slick is testament to how much time the band have spent on the road this past year, and before “Show Me The Light” it's announced that this is the band's last show for a while, with a trip to the US to “find ourselves” and begin album four beckoning. The song's sentiments are perfect for an au revoir, and from then on, the gig becomes a hectic send-off, a one-two punch of “Two Doors Down” and “Dreaming Of Another World” shaking the old theatre to its very foundations, such is the pandemonium of singing and pogoing. Number One in this world at least then.

The heartbroken jig that is “Behind The Bunhouse” ends the main set, before a bayed-for encore that takes in a lip-smacking “Flash A Hungry Smile”, which sees Kai in the crowd once more, and a rueful “Lorna Doone”, before arms and phones are aloft for a soaring, touching “Flakes”. As the band exit triumphantly, it's clear these fans won't stand for them being away for too long. Hopefully when they do return, they'll have the masses more that they truly deserve.