The eclectic live performance of this north London quartet (live: a sextet) ranges from the folky acoustics excavated from their sophomore album Flaws – notably in the lovable banjo-led jig Ivy and Gold – to the synth-led encore Shuffle. Such diverse styles are alloyed with Jack Steadman’s knack of making these sounds catchy for their indie devotees, many of whom came out for the York Barbican performance.It seems as though the acoustic guitars have largely been replaced by electric guitars since the release of their impressive latest album, A Different Kind of Fix. No bad move: these twenty-somethings are too young to be rooted to their bar stools for acoustic sets.
The most striking aspect of Bombay’s performance was the jagged, uncompromised movement and dancing displayed by the frontman Jack Steadman, who tentatively hunched over to caw into his microphone, regularly darting from the stand back to the mid-ground like a rabbit back into its hole to flay away at his guitar strings in songs such 2006 EP stand-out, Open House. Although not a natural showman, it is easy to appreciate the lack of pretence in his performance – a virtue echoed by his surrounding band mates.
Speaking of which, regular guest Lucy Rose had a sweetening female influence on the Bombay boys’ club. Dressed like a teen from the 1970s, she seemed adorably limited in what she felt she had license to do. When drafted to the front of the stage for the relaxed Leave it, it seemed she didn’t want to attract attention from Jack Steadman’s quirky performance.
Her talents were honoured by the gorgeous piano ballad Still (which pleasingly opened with a few impromptu bars of what sounded like Joni Mitchell’s The Last Time I Saw Richard), where she duetted with Jack Steadman. Lighters were out and the audience were reduced to near-silence by the distinctive falsetto of Steadman teamed with the Rose’s harmony over a series of drawn-out peaceful chords.
The beautiful effect seemed to sedate the otherwise energetic audience until their magnum opus single Always Like This peaked the night. Even though Bombay must have played this song innumerable times, it didn’t seem any less poignant for either them or the crowd, who rejoiced at the bouncing bass line and anthemic yet personal chorus cries of “I’m not whole/I’m not wh-ole-oh/you waste it all.” Not a single person there could have told you what that meant, but no one would have denied that it meant something to them.
The few “flaws” would be in the scripted aspects of the performance. For example, the drum solo in the middle of the folksy Ivy and Gold seemed out of place and gimmicky, as did the overuse of the ‘throw all the ingredients into the pot’ climaxes. These endings are pleasantly uncharacteristic of most indie bands, but the ‘all instruments in’ approach in songs such as Evening/Morning ended up sounding more like an amateur post-rock pastiche (even if it is testament to the group’s musical abilities).
Bombay Bicycle Club show all the traits of a great live band not yet fully realised; they are still trying to find their niche. They do have the energy, the talent and the eccentric charm to make the ticket price seem as if it belongs to a past era, but they still have some way to go in honing their live set. For example, I could think of more effective closing track than What If, a good but standard album track from their début. In some ways they remind me of an early Arcade Fire: untamed but with flair, energetic in numbers, and clearly having a blast – and so were we.