So on one of the coldest and wettest nights of the week so far, how do you stay warm? Simple, have one of the hottest in tickets in town for Maximo Park. The Institute tonight is Sold Out and heaving. Bodies turning up early to catch support act La Femme as they plough through a slightly electronic and dancey suport slot. Every member bar co-singer Clémence Quellenec appears to have meaty sideburns. Something that instantly stands out to a fellow sideburn-wearing coinnesseur. Their set is greeted with a mix of people “getting it” and enjoying the anglo-french mix of hybrid pop/disco, and others who just don’t seem bothered. It’s a shame, tracks such as “Packshot”, “Paris 2012″ and closing track ‘Antitaxi” have great potential to go on and be widespread hits given the right production and corporate exposure. The end of their set is greeted by a huge cheer, I am not sure whether that band should be offended or just laugh it off.
The night belonged to the Northern boys though. Having last played the tiny in comparisson Glee Club earlier this year to launch latest album The National Heath, tonight was a chance to showcase the album to a more wider audience. The setlist saw 10 songs off the album mixed with a whole host of tracks from their back catalogue. The lights faded and the room erupted into a chorus of screams and anticipation as the band strode on stage, completed moments later by enigmatic frontman Paul Smith. Opening with the gentle ‘When I Was Wild’ which segues instantly into the rauchous explosion of ‘The National Health’. For a split second I turn to look away from the stage and see the majority of the audience finger pointing towards the stage singing the words back, everyone word perfect… Even upstairs on the balcony.
An early highlight is ‘Hips and Lips’, the single that launched the latest album. As soon as the electro beat starts to build up there are rumblings from the crowd who follow Paul Smith prowling around the stage and in unison explode as the chorus kicks in. This is pretty much how the whole night pans out. Each trach greeted by a level of excitement and enthusiasm, just goes to show how much of a cult following the band have built up over the years. One thing to be said for the band tonight is the connection they make to each individual. In a venue of this size and stature it is always remarkable to see an act who can make it feel so intimate. The between song banter is like talking to a best mate, maybe the working classes in music still connect to the working classes who attend gigs. There’s a lot to be said for hard grafting to perfect your art, and Maximo Park have done it like this for years.
The obvious hits of the night are ‘Questing Not Coasting’, ‘The Kids Are Sick Again’, ‘Apply Some Pressure’ and ‘Our Velocity’. Each greeted like an old friend, and each played out like it is the last song the band will play ever. More less well known tracks to the masses such as ‘Graffiti’, ‘The Coast Is Always Changing’, ‘Wolf Among Men’ and ‘Kiss You Better’ show off the many sides this band have. From the tender more sublime and intimate moments through to the rauchous and almost punk inspired tracks, the audience seem to push the band on to want to play better and better.
Kudos must be given to the rest of the band. It is so easy to focus purely on the enigmatic characteristics of frontman Paul Smith as he is the central focus, but the guitar playing from Duncan Lloyd tonight is top notch, without his riffing half of the songs would have struggled to come across live and be less recognisable. The powerhouse of rythm section Archis Tiku on Bass and Tom English on drums is the driving force. Without these two the songs would fail to be held together let alone Paul Smith being able to time his jumps and brilliant dancing across the stage to return in time for his vocal cue. Finally Lukas Wooler on keyboards adds that final quality to each track. Without his input some of the newer material off ‘The National Health’ would have sufffered live without their electronic counterpart. With a band of brothers working so well and knowing each others quirks this band may have slipped into the history books a long time ago without trace.
The encore tonight starts with the gentle semi-acoustic tone of “Pride Before I Fall”, it results in the HMV Institute beginning to sway in each others company. Paul Smith then takes tome to address the crowd, thank us for coming. He dedicates messages of goodwill to people calling out with “Birthday shouts” and “Anniversary wishes” along with “Anything else that people could shout out for but get’s lost because everyone else is shouting at the same time”. If ever this band go under, I am sure a career as a comedian could be on the cards following his witty banter tonight. But with a final farewell the band give us the double whammy of “I Want You To Stay” seguing into an explosive finale of “Our Velocity”. The latter naturally enticing the crowd to lose it and blow the roof off the grand old venue. As the band disappears off stage to a gaggle of excitment and anticipation of perhaps one more encore, the house lights come on and there are whispers of excitment and just how good that was. Birmingham tonight was certainly given “The Northern Treatment” and let’s just hope it isn’t too long before a repeat session.
Band website: maximopark.com