NME Tour – JJ72, Amen, Alfie, Starsailor – Liverpool University

And so everyone has fully discussed what a weird line-up it is.  But then it wouldn’t be the NME tour without it, would it.  Always keen to show us what eclectic bastards they are, you can see Wells et al cackling like pigs at all the indiekids who are crying because Amen have just kicked the living crap – musically speaking – out of Alfie.  But like we care, we’re just here to see four bands on the up before they all get too big for this sort of malarkey.

Starsailor are hardly the next Coldplay like every man and his parrot have been saying.  If ‘the next Coldplay’ extended only to a band that uses acoustic guitars then there may be some truth in the comparison, but they could just as easily be the next ‘no-mark-average-white-indie-band’, coming soon to a supermarket signing session near you.  Nice songs, sparse instrumentation, and at times true heart-felt emotion.  Yep, they’re gonna be big and we’re all gonna be pissed off with them by this time next year.  File under ‘more boring than Travis’.

Alfie on the other hand could quite possibly sink without trace, or perhaps someone should help drown them.  They’re not particularly bad as such, just average, which is surely worse – better to provoke some reaction than none at all.  Coming to you from Twisted Nerve Records – the buggers who have been shoehorning everyone in Manchester with an acoustic guitar on to a CD – there is something quite sinister about this Manchester Acoustic Scene.  Is this the last ‘roll over and die’ before London completely takes the reigns on the UK music biz forever and ever, never to give them back?  If so, then Alfie are the city’s death rattle and it’s a sorry sound.  If they could be any more like the Charlatans playing acoustics they’d be a covers band.  Duffle coats and ruffled hair.  About as energetic as a dead sparrow.

But Casey Chaos eats dead sparrows for breakfast.  Big loud air-raid sirens go off and suddenly its carnage – most people seem to be here to see the hardcore Amen.  Opener ‘cK Killer’ rips through the venue and a thought strikes you that no matter how good a nice gentle band are, a band like this will always blow them away.  Chaos is climbing speaker stacks and there is furious riffing – it’s hard to imagine Alfie ever graced the same stage in their lives, let alone half an hour ago.  With their sloganeering and glamour, Amen look like the perfect anti-nu-metal band, so much more MC5 than Blink 182.  There is none of Chaos’ famous (yet frankly wrong) self-mutilation tonight, but there is an energy that things like that will go off if there is the slightest bad spark here.  They conclude with previous Kerrang single of the week ‘Price of Reality’; with its ‘abortion holiday’ hook line, it is evil incarnate.  And you expect JJ72 to be able to follow that?  Pah!

But for a bunch of EMG-era Manics rip-offs, they cope admirably.  Maybe its because they sound a little more like Holy Bible-era Manics or even a little like Nirvana themselves, Mark Greaney no doubt worrying how they will follow Amen and performing evasive action accordingly.  The guitar is dirtier, the bass is throbbier and the drums are louder, and it suddenly as though everyone realises that this is a totally good thing.  Everyone knows the words to the singles, and JJ72 show that they actually do have star quality after their lack-lustre debut album.  ‘October Swimmer’ has everyone bouncing, and the beauty of songs such as ‘Undercover Angel’ can still come across in such a manic environment.  Not that Starsailor and Alfie will have taken any lessons from this – they need not sacrifice their energy to try and make things more beautiful, but their reactionary tendencies will always make them do it.  Don’t get me wrong – they both could offer something great to music – if only they’d follow Casey Chaos’ and Mark Greaney’s examples and take a few risks – it is not such an anti-indie ethic to entertain your guests you know…

Collen Chandler