The queues snaking around the block, further than the eye can see, may belong to Kasabian who are playing in the larger Academy venue next door, but the 600 or so who make up the sold-out audience for British Sea Power‘s return to Birmingham are in no doubt which of the two gigs they would rather be at.
Before the Kendal-cum-Brighton (via Bury) band take to the stage though, Tom Williams (formerly of Tom Williams & The Boat) brings his acoustic troubadour show to the Academy 2, now minus his nautically-themed group but with help from a second guitarist. He is well-received by an already quite full room before local lads July Skies take his place to showcase their stately grandeur which sits somewhere between iLiKETRAiNS and Red House Painters, which, let’s face it, is a pretty great place to sit.
The on-stage foliage, the owl atop the speaker stack, the heron chilling by the bass amp – it could only be time for British Sea Power, who are in town touring their recent Let The Dancers Inherit The Party album, which makes up a decent chunk of tonight’s set. Valhalla Dancehall‘s ‘Who’s In Control’ kicks off proceedings though, a suitable call to arms for the audience who are animated from the off. A quintet of new songs follow, with recent single ‘Bad Bohemian’ thrown in early and already sounding like a BSP classic. Frontman Yan Wilkinson’s brother Hamilton takes over lead vocals for ‘What You’re Doing’ before handing back over to bro who takes the reigns for a stellar ‘Praise For Whatever’ and the song just begging to be made into a band name, ‘Electric Kittens’.
The new stuff, then, is going down just fine, but the appearance of a Galaxie 500 cover (from their 2004 E.P. The Spirit Of St.Louis) ups things a notch before a very welcome appearance for ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies‘, from the band’s most commercially successful album to date, 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? This is nothing though, compared to the audience’s reaction to one of the band’s early singles, the uproarious ‘Remember Me’ which has bodies flailing and drinks flying, one of them directly into your writer’s left shoe.
The six-piece British Sea Power is an adaptable and resourceful outfit, keyboard player Phil Sumner picks up a cornet from time to time, while some supernatural sound engineering somehow renders every note from Abi Fry’s violin crystal clear in the midst of the ever-loudening band. Guitarist Noble leads the crowd in a little good-natured Kasabian-ribbing; as soon as he mentions that the Leicester boys in the next room have a song called ‘Easy’, the audience pick up on what is coming next – ‘No Lucifer’ with its chants of, well, “Easy easy easy easy“.
In these difficult times, it is a moment to touch the heart when BSP anthem ‘Waving Flags’, a song with a strong anti-racism message, is sung football crowd-style back to the band in a truly euphoric manner. The song is all about inclusion, and the warmth of the band’s demeanour certainly encourages that tonight. That’s notwithstanding one audience member’s loud observation that Jan isn’t saying much tonight. His response? “It’s good to be in Birmingham…classic on-stage banter”.
A touching ‘Skua’ ends the set, before the band march back on, this time wearing gold outfits that they themselves have described as making them look “like a cross between a baked potato and a spaceman”. A five-song encore ensues, Machineries Of Joy‘s tuneful title track being the only song to represent that album, while ‘Carrion’ still sounds absolutely mighty. By the time the band have finished a cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Funtime’, suddenly two hours of hits and non-hits have come and gone in an instant.
Drummer Matthew Wood’s grin, as he is the last one to exit the stage, speaks volumes – tonight was a celebration of a very special band.