I'd been waiting to see The Fratellis for an extremely long time. I nearly got tickets to their reunion show, way back in 2012, but unfortunately the plans fell through, so this show had been many years in the making.
Opening up, The Crookes were the epitome of indie-rock fun. I hadn't heard of them until they were announced as the opening act on this tour, which was surprising - they've been around since 2008 and they play just the kind of music I'm always wanting to hear more of.
Starting with 'The World Is Waiting', a track from their new album 'Lucky Ones' that's being released in January, I was hooked by how upbeat their songs were - it was the perfect sound from an opening act, because it really got the crowd moving and having a dance.
The Crookes play just the kind of almost-pop that would fit perfectly in a festival environment, similar to - but still standing out from - The Kooks and early Vampire Weekend. My favourite of the tracks they performed was definitely 'Backstreet Lovers', because it really allowed vocalist George Waite to perform to the best of his abilities. I really like the tone of his voice, but it's not the only thing that makes the band stand out - musically they're all talented, and they all work so well together that you can tell how well-connected they are.
'If Only For Tonight' and 'I Wanna Waste My Time On You' were made for much bigger rooms than this one, and if the rest of 'Lucky Ones' sounds anywhere near as well-crafted and expertly written as those, I might as well pre-order now.
The band have announced an extensive tour all through February, so if you can get along to any of the dates I'd highly recommend it. Unfortunately I won't be able to catch another show as none of the dates are close enough for me to travel to, but you won't regret going along - it'll be a lot of fun!
The World Is Waiting
Maybe In The Dark
If Only For Tonight
I Wanna Waste My Time On You
Now, I hate to say this - really, I do - but I was disappointed by The Fratellis. It's completely my fault, because I hadn't listened to either of the albums that they've released since reuniting - I know, I'm an awful person, but I just didn't have the time, and after what I heard last night I think I might have made the right decision.
Bursting onto stage with the can can music was definitely the most unique starter to a show I'd ever experienced, but it suited the style of the band and it ramped up the anticipation immediately. Most recent single 'Baby Don't You Lie To Me!' has the energetic, anthemic songwriting and style that I've come to expect from The Fratellis, so opening with that really got the crowd going, and following it up with their debut single 'Henrietta', had everyone singing along. With two opening songs such as these, I thought it was going to be one of the most fun shows I'd ever been to, that it would be filled to the brim with singalong songs that work perfectly in a live environment.
But after the first two songs, everything just got so... Repetitive.
The singles still stood out: 'Flathead' getting a great reception, 'Whistle For The Choir' being the emotional moment everyone would have expected, 'We Need Medicine' inciting a spontaneous little clap-along, and 'Baby Fratelli' and 'Chelsea Dagger' getting the entire crowd up on their feet and dancing around. But the rest of the set?
The rest of the set kind of felt as though it was stuck on a loop. There were a few standout moments, namely 'Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie' and 'Dogtown'. 'Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie' stood out because it's an early song so it was just so different from the rest of what was being played (plus it was introduced by vocalist Jon with a little anecdote about how him and Barry met, decided on the band name and the title of the first album, but didn't have a band until they met Mince - it was very touching, from a band who've been around so long). 'Dogtown' was the song that fitted with the set the least, because it has this crazy keyboard intro that makes it sound like it's being performed by another band - it doesn't sound anything like the rest of their music, or any other song that I've heard, which I really appreciated.
Alas, the rest of the set dragged for me. Songs like 'Impostors (Little By Little)', with its chorus "little by little by little by little by little by little by little" repeated four times, even 'We Need Medicine' with the "we need medicine, we need it now" repetition... The songs sounded brilliant musically, and I can't fault their skill with their instruments or the beauty with which the songs are written, but after about half an hour I just felt like putting my head through a wall.
It might be because I didn't know the songs, or it might be because a 22 song set is just too much for me to take unless I'm in an arena or stadium environment. It would have been better to hear fewer songs performed, with possibly more crowd interaction inserted (the band spoke to their fans two or three times, but other than that just dived from song into song). Whereas shows in the Oxford O2 Academy usually feel intimate and special, this show seemed quite impersonal, and it was a little bit uncomfortable. It was nice of the band to thank the crowd during the encore, saying "thank you for keeping us in a job all this time, without you guys coming to see us play we're all just a bunch of reprobates", but the band/crowd interaction just seemed stilted for the majority of the show.
I know that the band have changed since 'Costello Music' and 'Here We Stand' were released, but I don't think I'd realised quite how much. They've gone from being a pop-rock band with standout songwriting capabilities to performing indie music in a mature fashion (for mature, see 'boring'). I can understand why they've still got a huge fan base, but I can also understand why their more recent albums haven't performed anywhere near as successfully as the earlier ones.
I might like the songs recorded better than I like them live (it's exactly what happened to me while seeing Mumford and Sons at Reading festival), so I'm definitely going to try to give the albums a go, but while this was a show that was played flawlessly, it just wasn't a flawless performance for me.
Baby Don't You Lie To Me!
Seven Nights, Seven Days
Acid Jazz Singer
Impostors (Little By Little)
A Heady Tale
Whistle For The Choir
For The Girl
Me And The Devil
This Old Ghost Town
Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie
We Need Medicine
Too Much Wine
She's Not Gone Yet But She's Leaving
Runaround Sue (Dion cover)