The Pipettes / The Magic Numbers at Concorde2, Brighton
Our regular readers will surely already know how much we love The Pipettes, ever since we first caught a gig of theirs at the Borderline, way back in November last year. The Pips were supporting The Magic Numbers at that gig and, demonstrating impeccable good taste, The Numbers had The Pips supporting them again. The gig at Brighton's Concorde 2 last Wednesday (11th) was a timely occasion at which to take stock of the bands to see if they've lived up to the expectations built on our first impressions.
Both bands have seen great progress in the past six months, with The Pips getting a decent mention in the NME this week and things looking well on the up for a band who, if sheer hard-gigging has anything to do with it, will make their mark in the world. Support slots are difficult but The Pipettes played to a packed room, nominally not 'theirs', with guts and gusto.
The number of gigs they are acquiring under their belts is evident in the confidence demonstrated on stage, with those clever lyrics matched with unembarrassed and unashamed delivery. Slight mishaps on stage are dealt with easily and with a shrug of the shoulders. Make no mistake, the girls (and boys) of The Pipettes (and The Casettes) are a band who have paid their dues and they now make for an incredibly tight ensemble. And in Rose - the brunette Pipette - they have someone who oozes charisma, looking as if she owns the stage, revelling in performing to a larger crowd. While The Pipettes are a very much a band, there could be no doubt that last week's gig belonged to her. She is the prime jewel in an already amply-decorated crown.
As for The Magic Numbers, well, they shouldn't need any more introduction. With Forever Lost at number one in the XFM Music: Response charts tonight (ahead of that shower of shite by Oasis), the momentum behind them is incredible but, as with The Pips, entirely justified.
The last time we saw The Numbers in Brighton, a few months ago in the same venue, they were on their joint tour with HAL. That gig, as is normal with The Numbers, was well-received but the reaction of the crowd was exponentially greater in the love stakes this time round. And that's the thing with The Numbers, you cannot but help feel the love in the room when they play. Initially feeling that they were playing to a sceptical crowd ("Are all these songs new to you?" asked Romeo at one stage), The Numbers could be in no doubt that the crowd was theirs when later on they engendered a sing-along - to a new song! The band were in such control that night they debuted another new song and Romeo seemed reluctant to tear himself off the stage. (We believe this wasn't mere mastery of 'this is a real encore, you know, not a set-listed one', because before the last encore, Angela had actually taken herself backstage and had to be recalled, returning with a 'blimey, Romeo, are we really carrying on? I'm knackered!' expression.)
It's difficult to review the Numbers now, as they are just so routinely excellent there are no superlatives left to assign. However, the gig in Brighton was a worthy one for review consideration as it happened to be the night before The Magic Numbers' biggest gig to date at the Forum in Kentish Town. Were the band nervous? You betcha: "I wish we could just take all of you and put you at the front at the Forum because we are shitting ourselves," said Romeo to the Brighton crowd...
The Magic Numbers at the Forum, Kentish Town
Concorde 2 has a capacity of 550; the Forum holds up to 2,000. No bloody wonder the Numbers "have been shitting ourselves for months about this gig," as the scatologically-obsessed Romeo confessed to the Forum. Could they pull off that transition comfortably? Well, astute management has, of course, given them some experience of playing that size of venue (and larger) with support slots with the likes of Doves. So whilst this was their biggest headlining gig to date, they're no strangers to large crowds. In fact, tonight should be easier, as the crowd have paid good money to see The Magic Numbers as headliners.
Could they pull it off? Being indie snobs, Londonist prefers small intimate gigs played in cramped sweaty venues to the larger gigs so we had a certain prejudice against the Forum. Any doubts we had about this gig were dispelled within seconds, however. The bond between the band, formed of so many performances together (and, of course, those well-documented familial ties), ensure that the larger stage does not affect the technical competence of the performance. And once the band start to realise that the Foum is theirs for the taking, there's no stopping the emotional exuberance overriding the technical side and becoming the overarching feature of the night.
Hearing Oh, Sister performed was an unexpected highlight for us, as we thought the arrangement of the piece would hinder any live attempt. As it turned out, there were some technical difficulties which meant the song had to start again but The Numbers are beyond having to worry about a crowd turning against them, especially when the rest of the set is performed with such aplomb. Angela was on excellent form (we suspect her throat hasn't been right at recent gigs but there's no doubting the strength of her voice at the Forum); Michele, when you actually concentrate on her playing, is a deceptively brilliant bass player; Sean is, well, he's the drummer but he keeps the rhythm section going well with Michele; Romeo's smile alone could light the venue and one suspects that it won't be long before that smile lights up much larger venues. (We'd have put our mortgage on them being main stage headliners at Glastonbury 2006 if it wasn't for the fact it won't take place.)
To repeat ourselves, "It's difficult to review the Numbers now, as they are just so routinely excellent there are no superlatives left to assign", but this gig really does take The Magic Numbers to another level. We cannot think of any single band that has made us feel so in love with music as this lot and given our age (ahem, thirtysomething), that isn't a mean feat. Quite frankly, we are obsessed.
We've spent a lot of time watching The Magic Numbers and tried to work out what their secret is. Things like the sweet harmonies and the ability to play live well (not something to be taken for granted) are obvious, so we've been trying to work out what it is that make people smile like crazy at the gigs and go round telling all their mates how good The Numbers are. What we've worked out so far is two things:
1. Not content with one melody line, The Numbers will often cram two or three into their songs.
2. Those sweet melodies often disguise surprisingly anguished lyrics. Radio 2 listeners are catered for by the former; XFM-listening bedsit poets catered for by the latter.
A winning combination all round, The Magic Numbers produce the sweetest melancholy you will ever experience. Don't be afraid to be swept up in the euphoria and just be grateful that this band exist. We are going out on a limb here, as we haven't heard the album yet, but as a live proposition The Magic Numbers are the best band in Britain today. The music they produce is the greatest argument for the existence of a higher being that there is right now.