Athlete (supported by Tahiti 80 / Fonda 500) - Shepherds Bush Empire, London
It’s possible through a spot of good timing to catch a band on their meteoric rise to fame whilst being supported by bands too good for the support slot. At the Shepherds Bush Empire tonight, we not only get Athlete, a band panned by the NME but presumably loved by everyone else if the ticket sales are anything to go by. This is an extra date added onto the end of the tour due to demand, and as Alfie and Repairman were obviously not booked, it was left to entertaining weirdoes Fonda 500 and underrated eighties pop revisionists Tahiti 80 to warm up the main event.
Fonda 500 were fun in their eccentric panderings to what seemed to be anything animal or Japanese-culture related, but they were met mostly with indifference from the crowd. They play fan favourites Computer Freaks Of The Galaxy and Super Chimpanzees amongst other songs littered with sci-fi humour, but they soon outstay their welcome, and will never transcend beyond their cult status.
Tahiti 80 are so good that their only crime amongst the buying public seems to be their nationality; had they been British and not French the public would lap up their soulful eighties’ dance pop, instead they contend themselves with supporting Athlete, and ponder the low sales of brilliant second album Wallpaper For The Soul. Starting off brightly with The Train, it’s clear that lead singer Xavier Boyer is the French music genre’s answer to Julian Casablancas in his retro fashion, and he certainly knows how to rock with his band, which comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with Tahiti 80’s lush production values. Tracks are split between their latest album and debut Puzzle, with the highlight being new single 1000 Times and a groovy version of Yellow Butterfly. Instrumentals also pepper their set, with a stomping finale of Revolution 80 force-feeding the band on the audience’s memory, and they go down a storm.
But not as much as Athlete, who open with past single Beautiful to rapturous fan applause. Granted, they do look like sixth form good boys playing at their local Deptford youth club after school, but they certainly know how to play for their fans. By the time El Salvador follows Beautiful, practically everyone in the audience is eating out of lead singerJoel Pott’s hands, and everyone is already singing along.
What they do, they do well. They’ve only released one album, and the majority gets a rendition tonight here in Shepherds Bush. Two new songs are even debuted, but everyone knows that what we really want to hear is You Got The Style, Le Casio and the band’s catchiest track Westside, which they gratefully provide during the encore. Even One Of Those Days, a b-side from their debut EP pads out the set, to cheers from many down the front.
Often slightly bemused by their appeal, Athlete are a word of mouth success, which is pleasing news considering most of their singles fall just short of the ‘Top 40’. After seeing them live and listening to their album Vehicles And Animals, it’s hard not to cheer them on, like you would cheer on your little brother in an adult tennis championship. They do badly need to age before they can ultimately be taken seriously, but here, at stage one of their ascent towards greatness, they appear to have passed with flying colours.