The Zutons - Birmingham Academy
It would be a disservice not to comment on support band The Grates (expect them to be huge!) and their own brand of fun-fuelled rock but this night belonged to the main act and the main act only. Having seen the Scousadelic chappies (and, of course, lady) twice previously at summer festivals, I was expecting more of the same - not that this would have been a disappointment in the slightest, being that the band were a highlight of said festivals. However, they pulled it out of the hat - and then some - to deliver the Brummy crowd with a non-stop tour de force of a set that has only been bettered, in terms of entertaining, by Scissor Sisters in my gig-going experience.
After opening with the earnest and urgent stomp of new single Why Won't You Give Me Your Love, the band stuck two fingers up to taking a breather by propelling head-first into the one-two sucker punch of Don't Ever Think Too Much and Pressure Point. They pressed on with a setlist that featured the biggest numbers off their debut long-player but also gave Birmingham their first chance to hear tracks from the new album in a live setting. Hello Conscience is as anthemic a crowd-pleaser as they have ever written, and the album's title track Tired of Hanging Around has the kind of killer-hook chorus that allows it to get away with revolving around one lyric and nothing more. Another highlight is How Does It Feel, a ballad that runs its cuppeth over with cynicism and apathy, juxtaposing nicely with the jauntier numbers. However, even the majority of these feature lyrics as black as night, this oxymoronic stance towards toe-tapping music versus unsettling lyrics possibly being what has lured many a listener into the band's engrossing trap.
The songs themselves wouldn't be as great as they are if they weren't performed with so much fervour by the band. Everyone chipped in on vocals but it's frontman Dave McCabe and saxophonist Abi Harding who take top honours for their contributions. McCabe is an unglam but appealing focal point; his ability to work the crowd (during the likes of an extended You Will, You Won't) came to him as easily as his genuinely impressive vocals seemed to do, these retaining his Scouse accent but, now and then, transforming into a powerful and soulful husk. However, every time I've seen this band, Ms Harding seems to have nabbed more and more of the spotlight with each performance - understandably so. Decked out in a black dress that showed off pins that could play to a full house, she managed to (perhaps dangerously) draw attention away from McCabe by fully engaging with her sax and the music as a whole, dancing away like she was enjoying the show as much as everyone in attendance.
And this is what I think is the biggest sell when it comes to The Zutons. Their music hasn't changed the rule book, although their songs are undeniably crafted with care, but they completely commit to their output during a performance as if they are fearful they won't be top of the tree for very long. Their seemingly never-ending (thank God!) encore led me to this impression, Zuton Fever and Valerie (which I predict you will hear on many a radio come July/August) performed in a manner that wrings out every drop of enjoyment to be had in these songs for the audience's benefit. The Zutons are, first and foremost, crowd-pleasers. As they progress in the future, I hope this one fact remains the same. Oh, and that Abi continues to get her groove on like nobody's watching - what a star!