NME New Music Tour 2006 - Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall
Ah, NME. What can one say about a publication that seems like it's been running since the first musical notes were discovered? With good ol' rawk'n'roll seeing a resurgance in popularity these days, it's as popular a weekly seller as ever. And this is most likely why we have the NME New Music Tour, as the mag takes what it does best - discovering and promoting new bands - and goes all out, pimping a selection of this month's 'next big things' out around the UK. A tenner to see four promising new bands? It certainly sounded appealing. Gladly, it wasn't a wasted venture.
The first band to grace the stage were The Howling Bells. And grace is certainly the word to use. Their evocative sound, consisting of intense and menacing songs complimented by brooding guitars, was a beautiful thing to behold and all the more precious when contrasted with the shouty blasts of pop-punk the other bands on the bill provided. Sultry singer Juanita Stein is all one could ask for in a frontwoman - she's all Karen O style but has the gift of an astonishing and, at times, bewildering voice that evokes one PJ Harvey. It was really a blessing in disguise that I managed to catch them rather than The Long Blondes, a band who are playing the remaining dates of the tour in the slot allotted to the Bells. Their debut album came out on the same day they played this gig, and it wouldn't be unwise to snap it up as soon as humanly possible.
Having sneaked a glimpse of their live show when I saw We Are Scientists last month, I had high hopes for iForward, Russia! They certainly did not disappoint with a set that caused the kind of riot usually predicted by a certain group of Chiefs. Their semi-hardcore post-punk was the perfect soundtrack to a moshpit of eyeliner and skinny jeans, and singer Tom Woodhead did nothing to halt their rapturous reception by bounding across the stage like a manic Energiser rabbit, apparently threatening to strangle himself with his mic lead. The tunes themselves admittedly merged into what can only be described as an overall sound - but what a sound that is! If you can, check them out when they tour in June. If nothing else, you can admire their matching stage gear. Don't be surprised if the symbols adorning their T-shirts is world-renowned (or, at least, UK-renowned) by the end of the year.
Those mourning the demise of Test Icicles might be relieved to be told that The Automatic possess the same high-energy sound. Unfortunately, they cross the line that separates 'quirky' and 'annoying', proving to be the biggest disappointment of the night. No doubt they will probably prove to be the most successful band of the four once the tour is over. Make no mistake, a couple of their songs are very agreeable, an example being their new single Monster (however, even the singalong chorus to that wears thin after a couple of listens). Their biggest fault is a stage presence that is intrinsically 'emo'. The synth player, when not plonking his keys, ran the length of the stage screaming into his mic like a hyperactive monkey - and not the good kind. Perhaps they're a grower of a band but they were definitely the weakest link of the night. Alas, time will tell...
And so we come to the grand finale, the headline set from East London band Boy Kill Boy, the latest name to drop on the scene if you want to sound cool. I'm happy to say that their set was good fun, new single Suzie possibly the highlight of the entire evening. However, despite having some good tunes to their name (Civil Sin is sure to take radios by storm come summer), they are the latest in a long slew of bands whose electro-indie sound is nothing short of generic. The fact that lead singer Chris Peck looks disconcertingly like The Mighty Boosh's Vince only adds to my uncertainty. Enthusiasm on the band's part made up for what originality their music might be lacking, though, and they were certainly a step up from the poor showing of The Automatic.
All in all then, a mixed bag. I'm glad I didn't linger in the pub and that I hit the venue as soon as the doors opened, otherwise my night would have been significantly less eye-opening. The Howling Bells and iForward, Russia! were easily the most impressive acts of the night, if not the biggest draws nor the ones with the most mainstream potential. However, it's this diversity that makes tours such as this so intriguing and I congratulate NME on putting on a good show. I know I'll be purchasing at least one album on the strength of the night's performances, and that means that it was successful.