This is an interesting time to be seeing The Long Blondes. They have struck out in a superficially new direction on their second album, but on close inspection it is a bit of a case of the Emperor’s new clothes: aside from some prominent Sheffield-style synths on a couple of tracks, the new direction has mainly involved flattening, tightening and straightening the sound of the first album, while lyrically it veers between the acute drama of old and a new sense of almost crass self-pity. Full marks to them for not just serving up the first album re-heated, but on balance I feel they have gone down something of a blind alley.
Unlike Elbow’s excellent show of the previous week, this gig didn’t really unlock the nuances of the new album: instead, it battered the songs even more relentlessly into submission. And in as far as it goes, it’s a pretty successful approach: the songs are fast, hard and powerful. Kate Jackson’s impressive voice is deservedly the focus of the sound, while she maintains a captivating and lively stage presence, not least due to her striking ensemble of stripey Gallic-style top, beret and black hotpants: she’s not classically pretty, but certainly manages to be sexy.
While the sheer brute force of the performance overcomes some of the weaker moments on the album – though why they chose to open with the witless dirge of Round the Hairpin is beyond me – it has a generally mixed effect on the older material. Some of the tracks from the first album are done excellent justice – the crowd goes predictably mental for Oce and Never Again in particular, plus main set closer Giddy Stratospheres and encore Lust in the Movies. But elsewhere they just take the songs too fast and too hard: Weekend Without Makeup in particular loses much of its claustrophobic intensity, but a few other tracks are similarly ill-served. Which is not to say they’re not enjoyable – the band just don’t do them justice fully.
All told, the Long Blondes remain an energetic live experience, although they sometimes press the right buttons in the wrong order: banter from the drummer, shimmying from Kate and a ferocious treatment of the songs. If they can put the same elements together in a slightly more coherent package, they’ll be one of the top live acts in the country – I’ll be interested to see if they get it right touring their third album.