Saturday, 13 December 2014

Koko pops. Live review of Lower Than Atlantis at Koko

Lower Than Atlantis ****1/2*
Lonely The Brave ***1/2**
Decade *****

Koko, Mornington Crescent, Monday 8th December 2014

It's a party. A Christmas party. Time for some pop music. 

There, I said it. Pop. You 'eard. 

Before I dive into tonight's poptastic performances, just a small rant. What's wrong with saying pop?

The Beatles were pop. The Rolling stones too. As were Abba. And so are Coldplay. U2. And so on.

The biggest selling music on the planet? Pop. Why are we so derogatory about one three letter word? Yup, we all know it's  diminutive of popular and it's a little facile to drag up that old semantic argument; but actually therein lies the crux: popular. So why has it become a dirty, cheapened word? Why do bands shy away from it? If they're after success, then surely becoming a pop band is the ultimate goal.

'Hi. I'm in an unpopular band. Playing unpopular music.' Might get you laid by some counter-culture bedroom-dwelling, black leather clad miserable goth emo groupie but it's not going to pay for the mince pies. Let alone the Champagne.

In a world obsessed with badging, naming, branding, conventions, taxonomies and labels, we often forget to move up to the broader end of the classification system. Pop covers a multitude of music. Some good. Some shit. But it's popular.

So, tonight, three popular bands are performing some popular music. Pop. 

Decade *****
First up are pop punkyesque Decade. A bit of a rum mixture. One minute pleasing pop rock with terrific harmonies and solid riffs, the next, clich├ęd double-time infused predictable quasi pop punk.

A seriously schizophrenic bowl of cereal. Hearty and tasty as hell in parts. Watery and whiny in others. But it's true to say that tonight's huge Christmas cake of a venue with its legendarily brilliant hi-fidelity front of house sound quality seems to suit the band's sound.

Having seen them many times in smaller sweat bunkers and bogs, they appear to be far happier in plusher, fuller surroundings. Well, who wouldn't be? Anyway, I'm led to believe that their next step on the pop journey is well underway and they are moving further away from the predictable pop punk noodlings and maturing their sound. On tonight's meaty performance, between the annoying and needless double-time reveries, there's enough evidence to suggest that they'll only move onwards and upwards if this is the case.

Pop rating: Pop corn. Generally tasty but too much unnecessary noise in and among the good stuff.

Lonely The Brave ***1/2**
Another interesting party selection on offer. Definitely well on their way up and fresh from their great joint headline tour with fellow tipped-for-the-top tyros Marmozets, this fenland five piece serve up stadium-friendly pop rock with a melancholic edge. But bizarrely seemingly without too many discernible choruses, hooks or refrains yet still capable of sending shivers and tingles down spines and up necks.

There's more than a hint of Elbow in their work, with limelight dodging David Jakes' mellifluous vocals covering the dense and rich guitar infused cake with smooth icing, but much of their oeuvre sounds too similar. 

Like a box of delicious choccy bickies that have slightly different shapes but ultimately all taste pretty much the same. Tasty alright, but a little repetitive maybe and crying out for a change of accent or flavour now and again. Nice though.

Pop rating: Pop socks. Warming, practical, functional, will be hugely popular, tantalising, but not as exciting as stockings and largely hidden from view.

Lower Than Atlantis ****1/2*
A collection of the most famous Chrimbo pop tunes get the huge sell-out crowd going in the run up to the headliner's Christmas address putting everyone in a pop party mood.

Kicking off with the insanely catchy English Kids in America from their brilliant self-titled fourth album (definitely one of the greatest albums of the year) Mr Duce and his boys tear into a set so wonderfully constructed and cleverly thought through.

Marrying huge singable refrains with butch riffs and perfect playing, this is a s good as I've ever seen LTA. And they look like they're lapping it up.

A box of goodies to truly deliver delicious taste sensation after taste sensation. Half a dozen or so taken from the newest long player are melded seamlessly into a joyous selection of feel good pop rock at its very, very finest.

Spiced up with tasty treats from earlier on their voyage with the punky vibes of FarQ, the almost post hardcore-infused Marylin's Mansion and firm face-splitting favourites like Deadliest Catch, Motor( Way of life) and Beech Like a Tree, there's not a fucking horrible coconut surprise or shitty coffee cream in sight: every one is a delicious favourite.

There's even a first ever live  outing for the novelty Christmas tune Merry Christmas (Wherever You Are)  to add to the party vibe.

The only slightly awkward moment of the evening is, because of the callow, youthful nature of a lot of the assembled throng, they have no idea what to do at the faux conclusion of the set. After the initial cheers at the end of the Christmassy 'set closer' there's an embarrassing silence. When did crowds stop shouting 'more!'. It's simple. Do the yoof of today consider it too rude, lame or uncool? Just fucking shout MORE! It says what it does on the tin. The One More Song thing that seems to have replaced it at more yooffull shows just feels too contrived. Nope, let's get folk shouting MORE again.

Anyway, the hideously embarrassing moment where Mike Duce comes out from backstage to cajole the crowd like some sort of shifty pantomime character is the only tiny downer on what is nigh on an evening of pop perfection.

The spine tingling sing-a-long of Another Sad Song kicks off the encore section with the whole glityzy chocolate box of a venue singing its very gonads off before bog rolls are thrown during Beech and finally the anthemic and driving dropped C rifftacular Here We Go 
brings the house down for one last time.

As LTA have developed, they've garnered a lot of deeply unfair criticism. Selling out? Getting softer? Even Kerrang! magazine churlishly, stupidly and unforgivably omitted the album from their top 50 of the year (guys, really?). But, you know what, if they keep producing such brilliantly crafted, considered and catchy pop as they are, then it won't just be any old Champagne with the mince pies, but a case or three of '69 Dom Perignon.

Tonight's performance has cemented LTA as true pop craftsmen. Without doubt national treasures in waiting. Without stigma. Without shame. Pop and proud,The songcraft has always been there, it's just been tightened up. The melodies and hooks better than ever. The smiles have largely replaced the scowls. Long live glorious pop and roll.


Pop rating: Pop tarts. Hot, tasty, addictive, unpretentious, fun, clever. Yum.

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