NME Awards Tour 2011 - Cardiff University
Time was when you could bowl up early to an NME tour and, with barely a handful of other vaguely interested punters for company, catch a future global superstar in action while the rest of the world took advantage of the stupidly cheap beer in the heaving student bars. Those days are long gone and tonight Cardiff University’s main hall is rammed to the rafters with eager punters well before tonight’s opening act hit the boards but, oh cruel fate, why do you mock them so?
The Vaccines aren’t bad but, irrespective of the hype, probably deserve their place at the foot of a four band bill; it certainly isn’t their fault that the hand of history is pressing down with a crushing weight of expectation. Guitarist Freddie Cowan has at least made an effort, sporting a look pitched midway between Richey Edwards and BAD era Mick Jones, but the rest of the band are disappointingly anonymous. Attention soon begins to wander in the ranks but ‘Wreckin’ Bar’, appearing at the tail end of a peculiarly pedestrian set, finally kicks the evening into life, the spark of recognition flickering against the tinder of some Gabba Gabba Hey riffage. Who knows? Maybe one of them will marry the girl that plays Hermione in the Harry Potter films and they’ll end up playing the half time set in the 2020 Superbowl but I wouldn’t put my house on it.
It’s still all to play for but Everything Everything do nothing nothing to up the ante or even engage the audience, and thus the fourth wall stays resolutely in place while they participate in some syncopated standoffish noodling which occasionally breaks out into something vaguely akin to a rock concert . The likes of ‘My KZ Your BF’ ultimately save the day but it’s touch and go and, at half-time, one wonders whether the NME has been caught ball watching.
Thankfully Magnetic Man have arrived in the mood to party and are taking Cardiff along for the ride. It’s a remarkably simple formula, which revolves around arsequake basslines conjured up by the Magnetic DJs with occasional punctuation provided by booming requests to 'Get your jazz hands in the air Cardiff!', but it’s highly effective. They provide the first memorable moment of the night when they succeed in getting the whole crowd to light up the venue like the Arena di Verona with their mobile screens and lighters twinkling in the air. This is where the package tour format definitely succeeds as, judging by the t-shirts on show, much of the audience probably wouldn’t have normally considered venturing out to a Magnetic Man gig and yet here they are, luvved up and hands skyward. Magic.
It’s not often that I go to a gig and end up on-stage but, with Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass deciding that photographers will be barred from the pit, here I am, not that many will have spotted me as the show is performed in a 50-50 mix of complete darkness and fit inducing strobes. Crystal Castles are a force of nature and you either go with it or you bury your head under a pile of damp coats and hope it all blows over in time for the last bus. Glass, sporting a broken foot, enters the fray in a staged set-piece reminiscent of Cobain’s infamous Reading appearance, struggling on crutches while swigging thirstily from a bottle of Jack Daniels. It may not be conventional but, finally, a brief episode of rock and roll has broken out in Cardiff.
Glass spends the set alternating between bellowing into the front row and collapsing in a heap under the weight of her impressively sturdy plaster cast. The kids go suitably mental, the ShowSec guys cower and cringe and everyone goes home happy. As NME tours go, this one is unlikely to go down in history but it was certainly a value-for-money eye opener and long may it continue to be so.