Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Futureheads--Bowery Ballroom, New York City

If you were to ask me who my favorite band was at any point from 2004-2007, I would immediately say Radiohead. Then I would backtrack a little and say that, well, I think Radiohead is the best, the life-changer, and all of that. But my favorite? My favorite might be the Futureheads. I first saw them in London at Barfly in Camden in the summer of 2004 about a week after buying their self-titled debut. I thought the record was fun and fresh (I hadn’t yet started listening to Gang of Four, Wire, or the Jam) and figured that seeing a young British band during my London summer would be a worthwhile experience. I was right - the show was perfect. The venue was small, the company was fun, and the sound was good enough. As I emerged from Barfly that night four years ago, soaked in beer with ringing ears, I had a new favorite band.

Since that night, and not including this Bowery show, I have seen the Futureheads five times. They are the one band I will always see when they roll into town regardless of the night or venue. Only once have they been less than great, and that was because of guitarist Ross Millard’s sore throat rendering him unable to sing (the Futureheads’ vocal arrangements don’t work minus one). Over the past four years though, my love for the band has waned because their studio output has been less than stellar. Their second album, News and Tributes, has some good songs but is a mostly drab affair devoid of all of the excitement and punch of their debut. When I heard their most recent release, This is Not the World, about a month ago I was so disappointed that I think I called it “bad,” which is one level worse than “eh” and one level better than “Make Believe.” After listening to it, I realized that the Futureheads were no longer my favorite band, and probably hadn’t been for a while. I was so down on them that I almost didn’t go to the sold-out show (that I already had tickets to and was a five minute walk from my apartment) to watch game 6 of the NBA finals instead. I ultimately, and somewhat reluctantly, decided to go to the show. The awfulness of game 6 notwithstanding (unless you’re a Celtics fan), it was a very, very good decision.

I tried to time my arrival at the Bowery to coincide with that lull between opener and headliner but somehow I screwed up and got there before the opener even started playing. The opener was called Chief and they’re from (drum roll…..) Brooklyn. We’re to the point now where we should just assume that every band is from Brooklyn and they should tell us if they’re from somewhere else. Because every fucking band is from Brooklyn. I think it’s somehow required for all shows in New York to have at least one opener from Brooklyn, and I think it’s required for every new band to say that they’re from Brooklyn even if their only connection to that borough is that they know it is located on Earth.

Anyway, Chief was excellent. They’re a pretty straightforward four piece with a alt-country / classic rock sound, but what might separate them from the pack is that the three guys on the front line could all sing very well. The two guitarists switched off lead vocal duties while the bassist provided solid backing support throughout. One lead has a Big Rock Voice and the other has a soft, emotional croon that reminded me a lot of Will Oldham. Those elements combined with a good sound and good presence makes me think that, with a couple breaks, Chief could go somewhere that’s not Brooklyn.

One thing though. Sometime during their set, Chief was nice enough to toss copies of their CD out into the crowd. A nice gesture, but it’s probably not the best idea to fling CDs in cardboard sleeves out into a dark crowd Frisbee-style. Those corners could put someone’s eye out! All I could think about as I stood there dodging tunes was 1) I’m glad I’m wearing glasses, 2) there are a lot of liability issues in play here, 3) I hate lawyers, 4) I suck, and 5) I’m old.

Between sets I started to get excited. It had been two years since I last saw the Futureheads and had the same feeling I get when I’m about to meet up with an old friend. My old friend looked the same when they appeared on stage. They grabbed their instruments without a word and immediately sent a message with “Decent Days and Nights.” The message was this: tonight, the Futureheads are not fucking around.

On stage, the Futureheads seem more like a gang than a band. A non-scary British gang that anyone from the States would laugh at upon meeting them in a dark alley, but a gang sure enough. They all perfectly compliment and act off of one another like a basketball team that’s played together for years . They know where each other will be on stage intuitively - I still can’t believe that front man Barry Hyde and guitarist Ross Millard didn’t smash into each other at least once. Millard is a whirling dervish of energy, stopping periodically to deliver some essential yelps into his microphone. Barry Hyde is a great front man - energetic and twitchy when necessary, but generally the front-and-center glue of the band. Bassist Jaff (just Jaff) is tall, solid, and generally minds his own business stage right. Drummer David Hyde, brother of Barry, keeps the beat, helps out with backing vocals, and looks bored, which is fine because everyone is watching the Millard / Barry Hyde / Jaff combo anyway.

The set consisted mostly of songs from This is Not the World and their self-titled debut. The band wisely steered clear of News and Tributes, save a good rendition of “Skip to the End.” Before that song, Barry asked the crowd to jump up and down during it because it “looks fucking awesome.” Note to self: don’t wear sandals to any more Futureheads shows. If I had 11 toes, they would all be broken. But I only have 10 so I’m all right. Anyway, the songs from This is Not the World sounded much better live than on the record, notably “Beginning of the Twist” and “Radio Heart”. I definitely appreciate the album more after seeing the songs preformed. Tracks from their debut were outstanding as always. A few songs after “Decent Days and Nights”, they played “Meantime” and then closed with the ridiculous three song combo of “Hounds of Love,” “Carnival Kids,” and “Man Ray”. I almost wish the show ended there, but they came back on for an encore of “He Knows” and unrecorded to my knowledge live staple “Piece of Crap.”

Other than that first time I saw them, this is the best the Futureheads have been. They’ve somehow jacked up their energy and tightened up their sound where I didn’t think it could be further tightened. I don’t know if it’s because they’re now on their own label and are trying to prove something to someone, but shit this was a great show. I left the Bowery that night with the same feeling I had four years ago - I have a new favorite band.

--Jim Powers

1 comment:

Brian said...

Hey look at Jim Powers going to all these concerts and writing about them. I wish I lived somewhere that had concerts where the singer doesn't get stabbed to death. Nice review.

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