Darwin Deez - The Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
Tucked away from the main city centre in the comparative calm of Kings Heath, the Hare & Hounds is a venue I'd never had the pleasure of experiencing. It's pretty appealing, just the right combination of plush and student scruff, but tonight's gig is confined to a sold-out upstairs room, meaning the ambience and decor are second-placed on the priority list below attempting to get to the bar/toilets and trying not to get a girl's heel slammed into your toesies (unsuccessful). However tightly packed and sweaty it may be though, it is in the best kind of way - which brings us to the reason the room is sold out in the first place...
Six months ago, Darwin Deez was a name you wouldn't find dropped in the UK beyond the pages of the coolest music bibles (inclusive of TMF, of course). Fast forward a mess o' festival dates, some gathering hype and one Katy Perry radio cover later, and we have a crowd of enthusiastic - or just very drunk - young 'uns, from late teens to early thirties, clustered up all snug waiting to embrace a showing from the next indie go-getters. Such an eager crowd appetite is only whetted by 'ones to watch' (and no, those are not sarcastic quote marks) Little Comets, a promising quartet from Newcastle who prove dynamic over a brief support set that blends the delicate pop of Maccabees with the angular assets of fellow Geordies, The Futureheads.
'Dynamic' is a word that, upon listening to Darwin Deez's self-titled album, you might think doesn't apply to frontman Darwin Smith and his band. That's not a slight in any way: I love the album! It's just that, over ten tracks of deceptively simple guitar pop, a signature DIY sound takes shape. Anyone expecting ten chirpy, bouncy indie hits to be delivered straight in concert can expect to be surprised. Within minutes of Darwin and his three male band members taking to the stage, any assumptions can be safely discarded.
Synchronised dancing and impromptu rap battles are the order of the day, with the music almost sandwiched in as an afterthought. Almost. The main attraction remains songs like 'Constellations' and 'Up in the Clouds', sounding as if they were lifted right off the record and retaining all their joyous frivolity. 'The City' adds a darker undertow, but the shiny happy stuff is what gets the sweaty boys 'n' gals dancing - and the band themselves! All four members partake in some moves that might make OK Go get all twitchy, with random bouts of shape-pulling to the likes of Beyonce, Beastie Boys and Enya (!) their own kind of star attraction between tracks. While this could be dismissed as mere tomfoolery, it adds an energy to proceedings and Darwin and his boys are in possession of an easy charm so that it never becomes an annoyance; we can get down to a guitarist rapping about skateboards and Joanna Newsom or simply enjoy just how visibly drunk - on life or sumink else - the bassist is. Darwin himself is all limbs and it's hard, watching this lanky giant of cool (he made this year's NME 'Cool List', don't ya know?), not to get caught up in the fun. The bitingly mean lyrics of highlight 'Bad Day' contrast directly with Darwin's warm embrace of the Brummy accent and, by the time set closer 'Radar Detector' is detected in the offing, no-one cares that they no longer have the privilege of personal space. Mr Smith reminds us that he and his band will be returning to Birmingham in March for a show at the new HMV Institute and, judging on tonight's reaction, I really wouldn't be surprised if the larger venue has even more folk jostling for dancing room come their return.