Friday, April 11, 2014

Sceptred Isle, Watery Neptune

Despite last year’s Machineries of Joy being British Sea Power’s bestselling album since 2008’s Mercury-nominated Do You Like Rock Music?, they chose to build on this new success by playing only two tracks from their most recent product at their showcase London gig at Koko last night. Having opened up their tour set list to suggestions on social networking a few weeks ago, they presented a set from the rockier end of their repertoire, laced with some forgotten gems. It is this lack of music-biz cutting edge that inspires devotion to the Sussex-based band.

Opening with the ethereal instrumental Heavenly Waters, a tune only to be found on US versions of their debut album, the band quickly ‘krank’ it up with a lively quartet of tracks. Beginning with Fear of Drowning – the lyric “tonight I'll swim from my favourite island shore” reminding us of the band’s preoccupation with this sceptred isle and watery Neptune - and ending with the riotous Atom, the sequence prompts an outbreak of serious stage-front pogoing; not moshing - surely BSP are a punk band at heart…

Before lead singer Yan switches to his brother’s bass to allow Hamilton to deliver his more fragile vocals on a run of mellower songs, the band perform We Are Sound from the neglected Valhalla Dancehall. Their Britishness is set in a European context less celebrated than that of the welcome and tolerance of Waving Flags: the opening line, “oh come now, you can barely string two words together/and you think Europe's own worst spectres are coming back to haunt us all”, tilts at the insular narrowness of some who seek to define the current national view.

After a rare outing for the title track of 2010’s EP, Zeus, with its puzzling couplet, “Rick Stein, pleased to meet you, I did not mean to be so rude/ I just didn't know that you were so famous for your food”, the band’s peerless first single, Remember Me, ushers in a crowd-pleasing home straight of Waving Flags, Carrion and All In It, broken only by the epic swirl of instrumental, The Great Skua. This sequence of anthems turns the audience, in the former Edwardian variety theatre, into a sea of surging singalong. When they encore with the title track of 2004’s Japanese import, The Spirit of St. Louis EP, the buoyancy is momentarily lost; but when the “easy, easy” terrace chant of No Lucifer heralds the onstage appearance of mascots, the Bi-Polar Bear and Ursine Ultra, the triumphal mood is restored for a raucous finale.

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